Based on Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
What could be more relatable than the commandment, “Do not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person”? (VaYikra-Leviticus 19:14) Is the common man really heartless enough to go ahead and trip a blind person in the middle of the street? C’mon!
Maybe not, but it turns out that the Jewish legal definition of “blindness” includes dozens of different ways that a person’s vision may be obscured. Take this example:
What does “do not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person” mean? [It means] do not place a stumbling block in front of someone who is blind in regards to an issue. He came to take advice from you? Do not give him bad advice. [For example], do not tell him to go out at earliest waking hours, because [you may be endangering him to be] attacked by vandals, [or] to go out in the afternoon, because he may be caught in a heat wave. [Don’t kid yourself] lest you say [to yourself], “It’s good advice that I’m giving him!” Because in truth this matter is dependent upon the heart, as it says, “And you should fear your God”. (Toras Kohanim)
The blind person here is someone in need of advice to help him find a solution to his problem. He is as vulnerable to his advisor as someone literally blind – as the Toras Kohanim says, “blind in regards to an issue”.
If you are the advisor, then his life and the direction it takes is in your hands. Yet an intellectual response is not sufficient. The Toras Kohanim explains that, even more importantly than intellectual acrobatics, giving good advice demands emotional integrity. It is your own internal level of integrity that will determine the quality of your advice. Otherwise, even the most reasonable-sounding advice may reflect your own biases, prejudices, and personal agendas.
Advice is truly a matter “dependent upon the heart”, lest the lies you tell yourself end up being the same lies you tell other people. What right do you have to put stones in their path?
Setting Our Kids Up for Failure
Another example of blindness according to the Torah:
“’Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person’; the verse is talking about someone who hits his or her child when the child is over a certain age.” (Talmud Moed Koton 17)
Hitting a child over a certain age is just as forbidden as tripping a blind person on the street. You’re not allowed to do it. But what is that “certain age”? The age at which the child is old enough to hit back. Rav Shlomo Wolbe, ztz”l, recently asserted that in our generation that age is between two and three. This is the general consensus amongst modern-day poskim (Jewish legal authorities).
Why is spanking a child over two such a terrible sin? Hitting a child when angry has always been forbidden at any age, but that is not what this quote from the Talmud is talking about. How is giving a three-year-old a “potch” similar to placing a stumbling block in front of a blind person?
When a child is old enough to hit back, she probably will. By spanking your child, the Torah asserts that you are the one who made that happen. The mitzvah of kibud av v’em, honoring one’s father and mother, is a very serious commandment to transgress and you made it happen. You put your child in an emotional state where transgressing that commandment is likely. That is one of the sins that the verse “do not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person” is warning against.
But what if your kid did something really, really bad? The Talmud is saying that whatever you are trying to teach your child is not worth setting him up to transgress kibud av v’em. So don’t set your kid up for failure.
The Smell of Easy Money
Another type of blindness:
“Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Anyone who extends a loan without witnesses transgresses ‘do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind’.” (Talmud Baba Metzia 75)
Handing over a loan without any witnesses puts the debtor in an emotional tug of war. On the one hand, he is obligated to return the money that he borrowed. On the other hand, without any witnesses to the loan, who is going to make him return it? Proving him guilty is practically impossible.
The smell of the easy money is a terrible seduction. It’s almost like a stumbling block before the blind. And who put that stumbling block there? The loaner who failed to ensure witnesses to the loan.
All these examples point in the same direction. A Jew has to look further than his own moral wellbeing. A Jew is obligated to look after the moral wellbeing of other people as well, not to mention their wellbeing in all areas.
We are all blind in certain ways. We all have our vulnerabilities, our “blindspots”. Becoming sensitive to this mitzvah will enable us to be there for each other when it really counts.