Thursday, September 11, 2014

Judaism's Top 40 Elul 18, #24 Lifnay Iver Lo Titen Michshol (Don’t put a Stumbling block before the blind)

"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)."

Really, would anyone literally do that? Well, it’s wrong to humiliate those with disabilities, but this Jewish value goes beyond the literal meaning of the verse. The idea is that we should not deceive others or mislead them, even unintentionally.  It even extends to scenario where, let’s say, a congregant sees his rabbi sitting in McDonalds with a kippah on.  Would it lead that congregant to believe that McDonald’s hamburgers are kosher?  If I don’t protest something morally abhorrent, would I be leading someone astray through my inaction?  Passivity, selfish advice, wrong intent, “bait and switch” negotiations, entrapment and false advertising… these are all examples of “lifnay iver.”

That’s a lot for a simple line from the Torah, no?

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." 

Here are different types of stumbling blocks, as detailed in MyJewishLearning:

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.'"

By striking an older child who is likely to verbally or physically retaliate, the parent creates a situation in which the child may violate the biblical prohibitions of hitting and cursing one's parents.

Thus the fourth category:

Creating a situation or an emotional state which will lead a person to harm him/herself and others and/or lose control of his/her cognitive decision making abilities. (click here for more)

For those looking to take this to the next level, see this fascinating, detailed analysis from Jlaw  and this from YU

No comments: