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Parashat Kedoshim 5779 — 05/11/2019

Parashat Kedoshim 5779 — 05/11/2019

L’ilui nishmat Chezkiah Nachson Meir ben Tzvi Arieh

Vayikra 19:1-20:27

Do not place [lit: “give”] a stumbling block before the blind, and you shall fear your Gd, I am Hashem. (19:14)
All Israel are responsible for one another. (Talmud, Shavuot 39a)
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (19:18)

Those who love to read the Bible literally and only literally will have a lot of trouble with the stumbling block quote. Why, in the magnificent Word of Gd, do we need to have such a seemingly simple and straightforward command on a relatively trivial issue? Does anybody really go around tripping blind people for laughs?

Fortunately, the Rabbis recognized a metaphor for what it is, and expanded the meaning of our commandment. R. Goldin identifies three such levels of expansion:

  1. Do not mislead someone. If someone is “blind” to some aspect of reality, do not cause him to take action that will lead to his harm. Do not give him advice that will cause him to lose money.
  2. Do not help someone sin. Even if he knows what he is doing (i.e. is not “blind”) do not help him to sin. He is obviously “blind” to the deleterious effects of sin on his soul.
  3. Do not create an environment that would encourage or lead another to sin.

The first is a rather obvious extension, but it is the other two that I would like to consider. Why is helping somebody else to sin itself a sin? What are the parameters of this sin? R. Goldin goes in some depth into some of the halachic considerations behind the sin of the “stumbling block before the blind.”

One important issue that our Sages have debated is whether or not one is culpable if the sinner could perform the sin on his own. The example given is a nazirite (one who has taken a vow to abstain from all grape products inter alia) and asks you for a bottle of wine. If he can get the wine himself (you, he and the wine are all on the “same side of the river”), you can give it to him. Presumably the reason is you are not really abetting him in his sin, you are simply helping him do something he could do without your help. The onus is totally on him. If, however, you and the wine are in one place and he is in another, and the wine is inaccessible to him (“opposite sides of the river”), then if you get him the wine somehow, the onus of the “stumbling block” is on you.

R. Goldin also mentions a more contemporary application of this debate: someone in the business of outreach to unaffiliated Jews wants to invite someone to his home to experience Shabbat. The person lives too far away to walk, and it is clear that they will drive on Shabbat, which is a serious transgression. Yet the experience of Shabbat in an observant home can have a profound, positive affect on the person. Is it permitted to invite him? As stated, the answer is “no,” because we will be taking some of the onus of the person’s sin on ourselves, even if that person will drive somewhere, and to a less promising environment, on Shabbat anyway. On the other hand, if we have an extra bedroom and we offer to host the person over Shabbat, then if he declines and drives, we have done our best and we are not liable for placing a stumbling block – indeed we have removed a potential stumbling block! Not everyone accepts this leniency however.

What is the basic difference behind these two approaches to the stumbling block? R. Goldin writes:

A critical, unspoken issue emerges as central to the rabbinic discussion: Is [the “stumbling block”] an “other-directed” or “self-directed” prohibition? Am I enjoined from aiding another in his violation of the law in order to prevent him from sinning or because even indirect participation in a sinful act is detrimental to me?
   The potential ramifications of this question play out in a very practical way. What is the law, the rabbis ask, if the individual can act without my assistance? What if others will help him upon my refusal? If the mitzvah’s purpose is to prevent the “other” from sinning, the prohibition against rendering assistance should not apply. This individual will sin whether or not I aid him. If, however, the “stumbling block” is self-directed, I should be prohibited from rendering assistance even if the sin will occur without my help.

I would like to take R. Goldin’s distinction a bit deeper. A basic principle of Rabbinic thought is that the people of Israel is like one body; each individual member of the nation is like a limb of that body. In other words, although we appear to be separate individuals on the surface, on a deeper level we are connected. Or, looked at from the direction of the unified level, we are all one entity, and our individuality is simply an expression of that unified whole.

This view comports well with the view of modern physics that all forms and phenomena in creation are simply patterns of vibration of an underlying, unbounded Unified Field. So too, even if we include the non-physical realm, the ultimate reality of life is that there is one unified Being, and all of the manifold diversity we see around us is nothing other than expressions of that Being. Sin occurs when one part of the Whole, which perceives itself to be separate and independent, acts in a way that is detrimental to the Whole. Thus, Torah tells us that we must rebuke our neighbor when we see him contravening the Torah’s laws, and certainly we must not aid him!

Is this “other-directed” or “self-directed”? On the view that the other and myself are really one, the question makes less sense. If you sin, it hurts me, because we are two parts of the same body, the same entity. If I aid and abet your sin, I am going to suffer for it. The sin of the stumbling block is teaching us a great lesson – that everyone is responsible for everyone else, because everyone is responsible for himself! Furthermore, we must love our neighbor as our self, because, at the deepest level, he is our self. The demand Torah is making is that we rise to a level of consciousness where this ultimate Unity becomes the living reality on the level of our perception.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Kedoshim

Kedoshim” presents two of the six major statements of Torah:

“Be thou Holy, for I Am Holy”
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

The other four are:

“I Was, I Am and I Will Be”: Gd’s answer to Moses when Moses asks Gd “What shall I tell the people when they ask Who You Are?
“Listen [not just “Hear”: Listen!], Oh Israel: The Lrd, thy Gd, is One?
“Be Still and Know that I Am Gd”
“Thou shalt love the Lrd, thy Gd, with all thy heart, all thy soul, all thy might.

How to be Holy!

Gd commands: honor thy parents, don’t worship idols, contribute to the poor, be honest and not greedy. Overall, to be holy we need to orient ourselves toward Wholeness, respecting everyone and everything as an expression of Wholeness, not getting lost in a part.

How to love our neighbor as ourselves?

First, we need to know ourselves and to love the self we know. This gets easier as we behave in the moral way the first statement tells us — we begin to know ourselves as Wholeness, Pure Love, Single Self, not just our limited individuality.

Baruch HaShem