and the Blind
by Nurith Cohen
I give this D’var Torah in loving memory of my dear parents and my very special brother Ian.
A few weeks ago we read Parshas Kedoshim and my talk is based on some interesting explanations of a phrase which is contained in it and which was given by Rabbi Yisroel Jungreis. May this talk elevate the souls of my dear parents and brother (zl).
One of the commandments mentioned in Parshas Kedoshim is this: “You shall not place a stumbling block in front of the blind” (Leviticus, 19:14). This statement is not meant to be taken only literally – in other words, if we see a blind person, we should not block his or her path so that he or she trips or falls; it also means that we need to be careful not to give advice which could be misleading. We also have to make sure that we do not have any hidden agendas and that our motivations for giving advice are pure. The question that arises, however, is this: why does the Torah not simply say that we are not allowed to mislead others. Why is this figure of speech used, “You shall not place a stumbling block in front of the blind”?
The Torah wants to explain to us the seriousness and the importance of trust. Even as no sane individual would consider tripping a blind person or allowing him or her to step in front of a moving vehicle, so too, misleading someone who is unaware is equally deplorable and unacceptable. We all know how very painful it is to discover that we have been betrayed by people in whom we have placed our trust, so we should take good care not to do this to others. All relationships are built on trust. Neither individuals, nor families, nor societies can survive when trust is missing. When we come to this understanding and realise that deceiving or misleading someone is no different from allowing a blind person to walk into traffic, we will surely be more sensitive to every word that we say.
Another aspect is that we should not cause someone else to sin. Judaism does not see each person as a separate individual who needs to be concerned only about his or her own spiritual well-being. We are required to care about the spiritual well-being of our fellow human beings. This means that we should not cause a person to do something that is spiritually damaging to another individual.
The prohibition of placing a “stumbling block in front of the blind” is highlighted in the sin of loshon hora (gossip). The person who gossips places a stumbling block in front of the listener, because that person is prone to repeat it to others, who may themselves repeat it, all of whom in turn indulge in the sin of loshon hora (gossip). How much more so if there is not just one original person who listens, but a group of them, who encourage the original tale-bearer to hold court and embellish his or her story.
TODAY AND IN THE FUTURE: Let us be careful not to mislead or betray people by the words we speak.