Vort From the Rav: Kedoshim

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Vayikra 19:14

וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשׁל – You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person.

Chazal have interpreted this verse in many ways. It cautions us against any careless word or act that in any manner could endanger the material or moral welfare of another. The term blind person refers not to one who is physically blind, but to one who is intellectually or morally “blind” or “blinded” by strong emotions.

What if one actually were to place a rock in the path of one who cannot see? Would he be in violation of this prohibition? One can infer from the words of Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 232) that this would not be the case. Sefer Hachinuch states that violation of this prohibition does not carry the punishment of lashes because there is no physical action associated with it. Obviously, actually placing a stone in front of someone who cannot see constitutes an action. Apparently Sefer Hachinuch considers only the interpretation of לִפְנֵי עִוֵּר as normative, and not its literal meaning.

This idea apparently conflicts with the maxim ein mikra yotzei midei peshuto, one cannot ignore the literal meaning of a verse (Shabbos 62b). How can Sefer Hachinuch completely ignore the literal meaning of this phrase?

It appears that placing a stone in front of a blind person is such a cruel, grotesque act that the Torah did not even think it worthy of mention. For a Jew to act with such evil intent would cause us to question his very Jewishness (see Bamidbar Rabbah, Parashas Naso, 8). Because the Torah is addressing the Jewish people exclusively, mentioning such a prohibition explicitly was unnecessary. (Halachic Positions, Vol. 1, pp. 175-176)

According to a passage in Sanhedrin 7a, the verse one who praises a compromiser insults God (Ps. 10:3) refers to Aaron. The Gemara relates that Aaron saw Hur slaughtered when he attempted to stop the people from making the Golden Calf. Aaron thought to himself that if he also refused to allow them to build the Calf, the people would murder him as well, and their sin would never be forgiven. Aaron reckoned that it was better that they make the Calf, with the possibility that God would forgive the sin, rather than kill him, with no such possibility of forgiveness.

The application of the phrase from Psalms to this incident clearly indicates that Aaron did not act appropriately—he should have allowed himself to be killed rather than acquiesce to the people’s request. By extension, it can be inferred that one must give up his life rather than violate the prohibition of לִפְנֵי עִוֵּר in the case of idol worship. In fact, there is a difference of opinion between Ba’al Hamaor and Nachmanides whether one must give up his life rather than violate לִפְנֵי עִוֵּר in such a case, and this passage in the Gemara supports the opinion of Ba’al Hamaor that one should give up his life. One can also infer that the violation of לִפְנֵי עִוֵּר in the case of all three cardinal sins for which one must sacrifice his life rather than violate is tantamount to violating the cardinal sins themselves. (Shiurei Harav – Sanhedrin, pp. 74-75)

About Arnold Lustiger

Dr. Arnold Lustiger is a research scientist and has edited multiple volumes of the Rav's Torah, including the recently published Chumash Mesoras HaRav.

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