THERE IS A mitzvah, in this week’s parsha, of not placing a stumbling block before the blind. It is not talking about an actual stumbling block before a person who is actually blind. We have other mitzvos that address such acts of cruelty.
Rather, this mitzvah is as explained by Rashi:
Before a person who is “blind” regarding a matter, you shall not give advice that is improper for them. Do not say to someone, “Sell your field and buy a donkey,” while you plan to cheat him since you yourself will take it from him. (Rashi, Vayikra 19:14)
What Rashi means is that the person only told their friend to sell the field to buy the donkey because they knew the owner would have to borrow money from them at some time. Since the field had a lien on it from a previous creditor, it could not be used as collateral for the loan. The donkey however purchased with the proceeds of the sale of the field could be. Hence, the “friendly” advice.
Basically, this is a mitzvah not to mislead people. The question is, why do we need it if we already have a mitzvah not to lie? Because this is different. In fact, it is the difference between false advertising, which is illegal, and misleading advertising, which is legally rampant. False advertising misrepresents a product. Misleading advertising takes advantage of people’s naiveté and exploits their weaknesses. Hence the saying, “Let the buyer beware,” which is good advice no matter what you are “buying.”
This is really quite a remarkable mitzvah. It’s like the mitzvah to not speak loshon hara, which is the basis of much of the news published daily. Everyone agrees that it is wrong to lie about someone, especially in a defamatory way. But the world-at-large seems to have no problem with defaming someone if everything reported is true. People get paid good money to dig up such true but incriminating information.
It is the Torah that says that just because something is true does not mean revealing it in public is the true thing. A truth can be a single statement. But speaking the truth incorporates a lot more than just what is being said. It also has to take into account the impact of it, and if that impact is contrary to a Torah goal, then it becomes “falsehood” to share it…even if it sells millions of newspapers and magazines.
Similarly, the Torah does not like it when a person takes advantage of another’s shortcoming. It is pure selfishness to try and get ahead at the expense of another, but even more so at their unwitting expense. Yes, the buyer should be aware as much as possible to protect themself. But the seller should also beware…that God is keeping track of how they represent the truth, and He will not buy into causing others to stumble.
AND WHEN WE say unwitting expense, we don’t mean that they do not know what they are getting into. For example, a shaylah was asked about whether or not it is permissible to make a shidduch between two people who will not observe the laws of family purity, or even get married according to halachah with kiddushin and chupah.
The answer is no, because by making the shidduch it would be placing a stumbling block before the blind. This is true even if they said that they know the halachos and choose to ignore them anyhow. Not having learned Torah, they simply don’t appreciate the importance of getting married k’da’as Moshe v’Yisroel, and this makes them halachically blind.
It’s quite the level of sensitivity. It doesn’t say let the buyer beware. It says let the seller beware on behalf of the buyer, to be concerned about the greater good for other people. This is especially so when they cannot be concerned about it for themselves. After all, that is what God does for us, and we were created in His image, so-to-speak, so it is how we are supposed to behave as well.
I was trying to explain this to one of my grandchildren on Shabbos. They asked me for some chocolate which I gladly gave them. But they enjoyed it so much that they wanted the whole bar. So I said that it would not be fair to others who would enjoy it as well. They did not buy it and still wanted the rest of it which, to their dismay, they did not get.
I’ve watched adults do the same thing. I have a hard time finishing off something I know others would enjoy, because my parents put that consciousness into me when I was young. But I’ve watched people help themselves to something and then take more than might be considered fair by others who enjoy the same thing. I’ve seen some think about it and hold back from taking too much, some think about it and take the “extra” anyhow, and some not think about it at all and just take what they want regardless of others.
Then someone might disappointingly say, “Okay, who finished off the …?!” at which time the guilty party realizes what they did and apologizes for taking so much. They might even offer to share right off their plate from the “untouched part,” but who ever says yes to that?
This of course is just another way of saying that every Jew must be a guarantor for their fellow Jew, and in many respects, for their fellow man in general. It is specifically for a fellow Jew because it means also sharing in their sins, and that is just too much to ask given the growing population of the world and different national goals.
Such a level of social responsibility is about more than just making the world a friendlier place. This mitzvah and others like it are in this week’s parsha about kedushah—holiness because they help with achieving it. When you think of a holy person, you do not usually think of a selfish one. But do you think of a holy person if you think of a selfless one? Are they really that intricately connected?
The Torah says they are, and Rashi alludes to the reason why:
You shall be holy: Separate yourselves from sexual immorality and from sin, for wherever one finds a barrier against sexual immorality, one finds holiness… (Rashi, Vayikra 19:2)
The previous parsha ended off with a long list of forbidden sexual relationships. Rashi is telling us that it was the introduction to this week’s parsha about being holy. We understand why abstaining from such relationships is crucial for being holy. But why are they the central reason for lessening kedushah?
ONE OF THE differences between a good parent and a bad parent is that when a good parent tells their child they can’t have or do something, it is for the child’s own good. When a bad parent says it, it is for the parent’s own good.
God, of course, is the best parent there can be. Everything He tells us to do or not to do is for our own good, either directly or indirectly. He doesn’t need us to do good for His benefit, and if He did, He could just make us do it.
That’s not what the snake told Chava back in Gan Aiden, and that’s not what the yetzer hara tells us each day. It may not always try to convince us that our loss is God’s gain, like the original, external yetzer hara. But it does make us feel that the illicit thing we pine for is really something we ought to have. It’s only after we have sinned that we realize, if we’re mature enough to own up to our mistake, that we were wrong.
So even though it takes two to have a forbidden relationship, each one is doing it for their own benefit, the ultimate selfish act. They’re using each other to get their own pleasures, unconcerned about the spiritual implications for each other. If they truly loved the other person, they would not subjugate them to such a self-destructive act, no matter how much the other person seemed to consent.
In this parsha is also the mitzvah to love your neighbor as yourself, or as the great Hillel put it, don’t do unto others what you would not want done to you (Shabbos 30a). This, Rebi Akiva said, is a great principle of Torah, meaning that the entire Torah is based upon it. As Hillel said, “the rest is just commentary.”
Similarly, there were only two words on the tzitz worn by the Kohen Gadol: Kodesh L’Hashem—Holy to God. Kabbalah explains that this was to remind him, and us, that the goal of life is to elevate everything, especially ourselves, to be holy. Being kadosh is not just a nice thing to become, but the thing to become.
If A equals B and B equals C, then A must equal C as well. If caring for others as much as yourself is the basis of Torah, and Torah is about becoming a kadosh, then caring for others as much as ourselves must be the same as becoming a kadosh.
This would explain why it was so important for the Jewish people to reach the level of k’ish echad b’levi echad, like a single person with a single heart, before receiving Torah. Selfishness interferes with kedushah. Selflessness opens the door for it. It makes a person more objective and therefore more capable of hearing truth. As the Gemora says, the seal of God is truth (Yoma 69b), so accepting truth is accepting God, and God starts off this week’s parsha by saying, “You shall be holy, for I God your God am holy.” Accept truth, accept God. Accept God, accept holiness.
Today, it seems, many fight for rights and equality, but at a cost to others. They’re not thinking about what is best for society as a whole, and about how their acquisitions might be at a selfish cost. They’re mostly interested in personal empowerment and taking it away from others if need be. It’s making for a very unholy world.
That’s what the world was like before the great flood in Noach’s time. That’s what the world has been like countless times since and before some disasters like World War I and World War II. And surprise! It’s that way once again as the possibility of a third world war, God forbid, looms.
The world may be too far gone to correct it on its own. But as the Gemora says, every person is a world of their own. If we fix only that one, it will be a great accomplishment and will have a greater effect on the world around us than we can imagine.
This is an excerpt from the Introduction to a new book called, What The Doctor Ordered: A Torah Perspective On Healthy Eating, due to be published, b”H, within two weeks. It will be available in Kindle, paperback, hardcover, and PDF formats. The paperback will retail for $14.95, but you can advance order it here for $10.95 plus $4.50 US shipping.
I NEVER REALLY argue with my doctor, who happens to also be a close personal friend. I have great respect for him as a person and as a medical practitioner. I trust him implicitly. But this was the second time we argued about this one topic.
Actually, I had gone to him because of back problems. But before we got to the real reason for my visit, he checked my record on his computer and casually asked me if I had kept my weight off. After years of trying without much success, I had finally lost about twenty kilos over about six months of serious dieting and exercise.
“Most of it,” I answered a little sheepishly. I was still exercising, but though I was watching what I ate, it was usually on its way into my mouth.
“What do you think the greatest obstacle is to successful dieting?” my doctor asked me.
I thought about it for a moment, and recalling what worked for me finally, I said, “Not controlling what you eat enough, and not exercising enough.”
“Nope,” he said. “It’s what they have been saying for the longest time now, but I just didn’t really appreciate it until now. Patience.”
I immediately agreed because I remembered telling my wife the same thing once I saw how, if you stick with it long enough, you begin to see progress, and that is encouraging. We all want to lose weight quickly, but it doesn’t usually happen short of a stomach operation and a strict diet after it.
People are desperate enough to want a silver bullet when it comes to losing weight that they have made a lot of diet pill pushing billionaires…even after the law suits. They just don’t have the patience to do it the sure-fire over time process of little-by-little.
“Cutting out food is just too difficult for most people, so it can’t last for very long,” the doc said. “You have to be able to eat what you want. You just have to exercise portion control…”
“But that is so very hard to do,” I jumped in. “Torah gives us so many occasions to eat, starting with Shabbos and Yom Tov. There are the kiddishum and smachos, like a wedding or a bris where all kinds of delicious and fattening food are served!”
Once upon a time, we didn’t have much money, everything was home-baked, and almost always in limited supply. Today there is an abundance, b”H, and even people who can’t afford it still tend to put out quite a spread. Even people who did not suffer lack in Europe serve and eat as if that might happen again.
How many times have I heard guests on Shabbos say, “I am SO stuffed!” and then eat more. The Rambam would not approve. Doctors do not approve. Our bodies do not approve, evident by all the health issues now plaguing the Torah world as well.
I am at the age now when I am seeing children whom I knew since they were in Cheder getting married. And I am seeing young men who barely gained a pound for over ten years all of a sudden become overweight with their first two years of marriage!
What’s going on? Did their mothers not serve them much food when they were growing up. Did they starve at yeshivah and never go out for pizza or a burger?
I know what changed for me. We started having guests for Shabbos. Afraid to not have enough food for guests to eat to their hearts’ content, we cooked more than we needed. Once we cooked “just enough” on my insistence, and while I felt great about it, my wife was anxious the whole meal and told me after, “Never again!”
Enter the leftovers. It would be years until we had kids old enough to eat them, so I did. I grew up in a home that always had enough, thank God, emphasized not over-eating, and would not throw out leftovers until they could go on their own.
It did not help that I love my wife’s cooking, or that I was used to eating what I wanted without gaining weight years earlier. Now I ate what I wanted and more, and by age 30, it was becoming embarrassingly evident. By 50, it was overwhelmingly evident, and I began trying to lose it by dieting and exercise. I never lost enough to make me feel successful at it.
In fact, I was scheduled to have an operation to reduce the size of my stomach, as it was becoming the thing to do. A few people had quietly done it, disappeared for a couple of weeks, only to show up significantly thinner and happier.
I had gone through all the preparatory procedures, the last one being dieting to get used to a smaller appetite. I cut back on my intake and increased my exercise and lost some weight. Surprised and encouraged, I canceled the operation and decided to do it the old-fashioned (and safer) way: willpower…