Table for Five: Kedoshim
In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles
Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist
You shall not curse a deaf person. You shall not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and you shall fear your God. I am the Lord.
Peretz Rodman, Head of Israel’s Masorti Bet Din
The first two clauses are (punctuation notwithstanding) a parallel pair. In such parallels, the second line usually adds some “punch” to the first. What is alike about cursing the deaf and deliberately tripping up the blind, and what is different?
Both take unfair advantage of someone’s impaired perception to anonymously inflict harm that the victim cannot avoid. The difference? The deaf person may remain oblivious to the curses hurled at him, even afterward. The blind person, though, who stumbles on the impediment placed by the offender knows right away that something is amiss. He may even intuit, as he stumbles and perhaps falls, that his predicament is no accident but a nasty individual’s doing.
The B-intensifies-A pattern would make us think that the stumbling block is worse than the curse. But think again: The blind person knows he is in trouble without having to be told. One person alone is responsible. For the deaf person to know he’d been cursed, however, someone else would have to compound the damage by communicating to him what had been said to or about him. Completing that sin, then, requires an accomplice—and volunteers would be numerous.
The “stumbling block” prohibition has been interpreted metaphorically to ban acts that might entice others to transgress. The “cursing” half of the pair should be read the same way. Enticing someone else into completing the damage your behavior can cause is even more morally depraved than doing all the damage yourself.
David Porush, Student, teacher, writer at davidporush.com
Don’t curse someone deaf. But wait! They can’t hear, so what’s wrong?
Rashi explains: don’t curse anyone, even the deaf. It’s all part of Torah’s utopian revolution for former slaves: treat everyone with civility because all humans, however humble, have a God-given soul that demands respect.
But what if no one’s around to hear your curse? You’re just talking to yourself, right? No harm no foul. Ramban brings down where it’s wrong. Don’t forget the end of the verse, he cautions. “Fear your God, for I am HaShem,” because, Ramban adds, “God sees the secret things!”
This suggests an even more profound and mindblowing revolution wrought by Torah. Humans have a private interior territory – a realm of intention before action that includes our innermost discourses with and commentary to ourselves. The Divine has dominion over that sanctum, too. The deaf may not hear our curses, but we ourselves are always the first audience for our intentions and thus their first, maybe even their primary, victim. We are diminished (the Hebrew for “curse” carries the sense of “to make smaller”) by our grumblings, even if we only think them.
Let’s flip it. How healing and gracious would it be, especially for our relationship to our self, if we silenced the incessant babbling of the evil tongue in our heads and instead articulated, even inwardly, only the shining attributes and blessings of our loved ones or even strangers? What a sweet and healthy way that would be to live!
Yehudit Garmaise, Reporter and teacher
The Ramban says that we must not curse those who have no way of hearing. We must remember this when our grievances remain unanswered.
When Hashem tells us not to curse a deaf person, perhaps He is telling us to stop kvetching and simply accept others as they are.
Many people will never hear us, and continually cursing them will never help.
Rashi interprets the mitzvah “not to place a stumbling block before the blind,” as Hashem forbidding us from giving others misleading advice. Perhaps, however, Hashem also commands us not to mislead ourselves by relentlessly looking to point fingers when we feel frustrated and ill-treated.
So few others think as we think as we do and behave with the precise elements of consideration, warmth, and manners that we would like, we think with a sigh.
When we feel distressed, Hashem tells us, we must stop constantly cursing others for their “failings,” but rather: look within, and ask ourselves, “What can we do better?”
We, perhaps, are the “blind people,” and the “stumbling block” is a large, bulky rock of blame that we continually choose to put in our own way. The boulder of blame that we place in front of us prevents us considering what we can do to positively contribute to every path we travel and every room in which we dwell.
By clearing our paths of that forbidden rock of blame, we can freely stride ahead and plant colorful blossoms of positivity along the way.
Tova Leibovic-Douglas, rabbitova.com
We live in a world that privileges power, money and fame. There is nothing wrong with these motivations. Yet, we know in our hearts that these values mean little if we are not also heeding the essence of this verse. At face value, the message is straightforward: we must do what we can to be kind and avoid undermining the dignity of a fellow individual at all costs.
When we examine this verse from the perspective of the neurodivergent individuals in our world, we know that the many stumbling blocks and curses are felt nearly every single day. We often see the curses and blocks: the stairs without a ramp nearby, the lecture without an ASL interpreter, and the school that will not allow the child to attend.
The many individuals I have the privilege of teaching, counselling and learning from have experienced a world with many stumbling blocks and curses. The people whose hearts are broken time and again see this verse and ask when they will no longer navigate such pain. We live in a world where our Torah can serve as a guide. We state this as an aspiration for ourselves and for building a world predicated on values, one in which reverence for the Divine means that we treat every individual with that same reverence and dignity. It is time that we live out this essence and build a world that privileges accessibility, inclusivity, and equity, in other words, a world of our dreams.
Nina Litvak, accidentaltalmudist.org
Why must we be told not to curse a deaf woman, or trip a blind guy? The message of the entire Torah, according to Hillel, is “Do not do to another what is hateful to yourself.” This would seem to include an imperative to show respect to the differently-abled, especially since the Torah repeatedly exhorts us to be kind to those less fortunate. Does God think so little of us that He expects us to be cruel to people with profound physical challenges?
Rabbenu Bahya (Spain, 1255-1340) explains that it is actually God’s love for us that underpins this instruction. “The prohibition to curse the deaf is not based on the Torah’s consideration of the victim, rather it is for the protection of the person doing the cursing.” The theoretical deaf and blind victims are mentioned for our own benefit. If we insult someone who can’t hear us and therefore can’t be hurt by our words (i.e. a rude driver), we normalize the behavior and eventually will insult those who can hear, be hurt, and in turn hurt us. If we act in a way that could harm another under the cloak of invisibility, we will later harm those who see who we are and can punish us.
Just as we would be afraid to insult a person who can hear, or trip someone who can see, we should be afraid to insult the deaf or trip the blind. Bad behavior breeds bad behavior, and God hears and sees all.
With thanks to Rabbi Peretz Rodman, Dr. David Porush, Yehudit Garmaise, Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas, and Nina Litvak
Image by Tatiana Syrikova via Pexels
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