By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
“You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). The Torah’s dual prohibition beckons us to empathy for the vulnerable. We must not take advantage of those with physical, emotional, or developmental challenges or personal limitations. We must not victimize or make sport of such individuals… even (perhaps, especially!) if they will be unable to identify us or to discern that we are their malefactors.
In addition to its literal application, this verse also prohibits us from leading others astray, as by providing sources of temptation, devising opportunities for sin, or knowingly offering harmful advice… causing them to “stumble” in personal relationships, religious observance, or business dealings.
On the most fundamental level, these prohibitions teach us that simple human decency is a prerequisite for a life lived in accordance with the Torah’s moral vision. Prayer, personal piety, and ritual correctness – all admirable qualities, highly to be prized – are insufficient. A life that truly reflects Jewish religious tradition must also be grounded in ethical refinement and kindness toward others.
Perhaps Mark Twain had our verse in mind when he observed that “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)