“I’m telling you, your wife will love this Palm Beach timeshare. Just sign here.”
“You are going to love this remote start feature and the six-CD changer.”
“But aren’t CDs becoming obsolete?”
“Not in the Jewish world. Sign here please.”
In the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avos, we learn, “Hafoch bah v’hafoch bah d’kulah bah,” search in her, search in her, for the Torah contains all. Perforce, it must also contain all the factors that contribute to our ability to be convinced to buy something. And it could pertain to anything from getting upgrades we do not need on a car lease to signing up for a gym membership to sinking our savings in a timeshare.
How Does It Work?
How do we get convinced into doing these things? What follows is an analysis of six main factors that contribute to our tendency to become influenced, as well as the Torah sources that indicate that the factors are both real and devastatingly effective. This is especially true when we face two or more of these factors.
They Give Us Something
The pasuk in Devarim (16:19) tells us: “Bribery makes blind the wise and upsets the pleas of the just.” There is a concept called “hakaras ha’tov,” recognizing good, which is ingrained in our natures. This is called the “reciprocity principle” by Dr. Robert Cialdini, a noted expert on the psychology of persuasion. When someone gives us something, we feel an obligation to return the favor. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than Purim. When we deliver mishloach manos, the recipient gives one back. By the same token, when a salesman gives us something, we feel an obligation to give something back or to buy something from him. This can also be true in the form of tzedakah. If we asked someone to donate to a charity of ours, and he does, then we feel an obligation to repay the favor. Sometimes it will be in buying something that the person is selling. The Midrash applies this verse to Yitzchak Avinu regarding Eisav. How much more so does it apply to us.
We know that Avraham Avinu underwent ten nisyonos (tests). There is a great dispute as to what exactly those ten tests were. All opinions agree, however, that one of those tests was to perform a bris milah on his son. The question can be asked: there are numerous people who have performed a bris on every one of their sons. Does this mean that they are greater than Avraham Avinu? And the answer is that when Avraham Avinu did it, no one else was doing it. In our society, any Jew who cares about his heritage performs a bris on his son. The fact that everyone does it makes it like there is no nisayon at all.
Shlomo HaMelech said in Mishlei (9:17): “Mayim genuvim yumtaku — stolen waters are sweet.” If the salesperson convinces us that the item is the last one left or this sale is for today only, then we get the feeling that we cannot get it ever again. We don’t really care if it is an item that we don’t need; we are taken in by the passion of the moment. “We can’t get this again! They are giving us the rare opportunity to invest here; we should jump at the chance!”
We are often influenced by the fact that an authority figure is standing behind it. There is a fascinating Gemara in Kesuvos (52b) where Rabbi Yochanan regretted giving his family members advice in regard to a financial dispute between two parties. Although there is an obligation to help out family in legitimate ways, there is a limitation known as “adam gadol sheini,” a great man is different. People listen to authority figures and they carry much more influence.
In a similar vein, the Gemara in Sanhedrin 36a, based on a spelling of riv without the yud, states that protocol in a capital case is that the youngest member speaks first so that he not be influenced by the thinking and rationale of the older members of the Sanhedrin and thus not pervert justice.
We see clearly that when an authority figure opines on a matter, it influences others. Thus, when an authority figure has purchased that same product, that is enough for people to stop thinking and just go for the product. “If the rabbi or the rosh yeshiva or organization X honored that person at a dinner, let us trust him with this decision.” That is the thinking.
Liking The Person
Rav Dovid Altshuler (1687–1769), author of the Metzudas Dovid on Mishlei, explains that when one likes a person, he is liable to do all sorts of things that his intellect would otherwise not have sanctioned (5:19). There is a ma’amar Chazal: “Ha’ahavah mekalkeles es ha’shurah,” love forces a person to act illogically. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 55:8) tells us that Avraham Avinu could have used his numerous servants to prepare his donkey. He did so himself, which ostensibly was illogical to the outside viewer, out of love of Hashem. When we find a person likable, we tend to buy the items that they are offering. A salesperson will often go the extra yard for a potential client, and the result is that the client will find that person eminently likable. That likability will cause him to buy or invest in something or do something that he otherwise would not have.
There is a fascinating Seforno (Bereishis, perek 3) that explains how it was exactly that the serpent convinced Chava to partake of the forbidden fruit of the Eitz HaDaas. She gave him a foothold he could latch on to. She said to him, “Why should we risk death when we can eat of all of the other fruit trees in the garden?” To that the serpent responded that Hashem only commanded that because “He was jealous of you (k’v’yachol) and He lied about it.” Chava had given the serpent a foothold, and the serpent ran with that, casting doubts in Chava’s head about the nature of Hashem.
By the same token, a salesman will try to find an opening in the form of some sort of commitment. Once we have committed, that is it for us. We do not rethink it or reexamine it. We have gone with a decision and we end up sticking it out. At first, the person we are giving our funds to may give us a few mini-wins, but that ends up getting us committed to invest fully. This is not to say that the investment may be bad per se, but we must always do our due diligence independently and not simply rely on what the person is saying.
Shlomo HaMelech says in Koheles (2:14): “A wise person has his eyes in his head.” Let us always do our due diligence.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.