Parashat Kedoshim

Stumbling Blocks

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

"You shall not place a stumbling block in front of a blind person; and you shall have fear of your God--I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:14)."

Would any of us really place an obstacle that a blind person could trip over?

Very few people would have such low morals as to transgress the Torah commandment according to this most literal interpretation. Mankind in general has the basic moral fortitude not to want to harm the blind or the disabled for no reason.

canfei nesharimRashi, who usually follows a literal interpretation of the biblical text, takes pains to explain this verse figuratively, as referring to the placing of any sort of obstacle that could cause harm to a person.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch details actions that fall into the category of placing a stumbling block: "he who deliberately gives wrong advice, who gives the means, or prepares the way for wrong…who in any way actively or passively assists or furthers people in doing wrong….transgresses this prohibition. Thus the whole great sphere of the material and spiritual happiness of our neighbor is entrusted to our care."

Many Types of Stumbling Blocks

The halakhic midrash, Torat Kohanim, introduces many types of stumbling blocks. According to this midrash, we are prohibited from placing a figurative stumbling block before a person by either:

Providing incorrect information which may cause someone to transgress a Torah law (such as marrying a woman whom he is forbidden to marry) or

Providing misleading advice that may cause financial or physical harm (traveling at a dangerous time or selling property).

Other rabbinic sources extend the concept of the stumbling block to include providing access to situations that are more likely to result in a person sinning.

The third category is therefore:

Making an object or situation available that can lead a person to succumb to moral, physical, or financial damage.

There is another form of the transgression that is so subtle that we may not even be aware that we are stumbling or causing others to stumble. This fourth category is that of creating or placing a person in a situation where he or she will be unable to exercise self-control and will sin impulsively because of an emotional vulnerability.

In Tractate Moed Kattan the Talmud states: "It once happened that a maidservant of Rav Yehuda Hanassi's household saw a certain man who was striking his mature son. The maidservant exclaimed, 'Let that man be excommunicated for he has transgressed the prohibition of 'You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.'"

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Carmi Wisemon is Executive Director of Sviva Israel, an educational-environmental organization based in Israel.