Blindness is a dreaded impairment. Every civilized society recognized the need to help the blind. It comes, therefore, as a surprise that in this week’s Torah portion the Torah finds it necessary to admonish us” Before the blind you shall not place any stumbling blocks.” Who, in his right mind, would get his amusement by watching a blind person stumble over a piece of wood placed in his way? What kind of maniac would do such a dastardly thing and desist because of the the Torah’s commandment not to do so? In short, why is there a need for such a commandment?
With respect to other comandments, by contrast, where there is a natural inclination to violate, one needs to be told to overcome the temptation and resist the urge to steal or commit adultery, to cite two common examples. But, to put a stumbling bock before the blind?
Our sages, anticipating this question, cite the oral tradition that explains this law figuratively: Do not incorrectly advise an unsuspecting person. Even if the advice is sound and rational for himself, if it is bad advice for another don’t give it. Alternatively, our sages explain, this commandment is intended to prevent people from casuing others to violate the law.
There are people who would never overtly cause any harm to another, because they are concerned with the reaction of others. Many people with malice in their hearts therefore attempt to harm others, but they do it by concealing their real intentions. They sound as if they wish to give helpful advice, knowing that it would be harmful to that individual.
Because this type of evil can not be detected by other people, the Torah exhorts this individual “And you shall fear G-d.” Realize that you cannot hide your intentions, sweet words notwithstanding, from G-d.
There is yet one more dimension of this commandment. Blindness is also a metaphor for lack of awareness and knowledge. This metaphor has been used Biblically to describe those who do not see G-d’s presence in this world and in their lives. Anyone who is objective — and has not been blinded by self interest and other biases — sees Divine providence in all that happens. But there are those who do not see Divinity in this world because there are stumbling blocks.
A stumbling block is a metaphor for the various objects and ideals that we glorify and deify. For some it is money, for others it is glory and power. Either way they help tarnish our ability to see the reality of existence in an objective and unhampered fashion.
When you see a Jew whose ability to see G-d’s presence in this world, is hindered, or if you see one who cannot see the needs of others, becasue they are so ego-centric, do not put a stumbling block before them. This means do not enhance their misguided sense of ego, but be honest with them. becasue, when there are no stunbling blocks and all biases and prejudices are removed, then everyone naturally seees the presence of G-d and the needs of others.
The Messianic age is characterized as the age when all of these stumbling blocks wil be removed, so that each of us can see each other and thereby respect and love one another in consonance with the dictate mentioned in this week’s Torah portion: “Love your fellow as yourself.” This can only happen by removing the stumbling blocks to the reality of G-d and His commandments, the prelude to the Messianc Age.