The prohibition “Do not put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14) seems like an odd commandment. After all, who but a truly mischievous, mean-spirited prankster would put something in the way of the blind to cause them to trip and fall? Surely, common human decency requires that one not do this (and it certainly must be forbidden by the Americans with Disabilities Act).

Since the Torah does not waste words on the obvious, what is the purpose of this prohibition? Metaphorically, blindness also refers to someone lacking knowledge, whether general information or a specific fact. Do not put a stumbling block before the blind is also understood to be a prohibition against deliberately giving bad advice–like telling someone to invest in a business that you know, through personal knowledge, is likely to fail.

The sages took this commandment one step further and understood that this biblical statement required people to go out of their way to help others not violate the Torah. For instance, offering non-kosher food to another Jew, even if they don’t observe the laws of kashrut, would be considered a stumbling block.

Through this prohibition against misleading others, the sages emphasize the importance of carefully considering each of our actions. Where we put things (like allowing a trash can to roll into the street), how we say things (that might be misconstrued as advice) and the impression that our actions make on others (leading them to do things improperly) should always be at the forefront of our thoughts.

This Treat was originally posted on October 23, 2008.

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