It seems that whenever there is a tragedy in the heimishe olam, almost always the horrific, premature loss of life due to a car crash, a drowning, a freak accident or mindless violence/terrorism, it immediately is followed by a chorus of anguished voices screaming out the need to do teshuva.
Somehow, it seems that the two singular issues everyone deems responsible for the numerous misfortunes that have afflicted our community are lashon harah and tzniut – speaking negatively about others and immodesty. While it is never said out loud, one can’t help get the impression that the finger of fault is pointed at women, with the implication that gossiping and showing your elbows, knees or a strand of hair brings Hashem’s wrath upon us.
That attitude, in my opinion, is very misguided, as men too are guilty of a lack of modesty and indulging in idle talk. When one drives a fancy car or wears a watch that costs the equivalent of a year’s tuition, or acts in a way that calls attention to oneself like bragging about a big raise, that is immodest behaviour. And swapping stock market tips during leining or at the kiddush club on Shabbat, is the epitome of lashon harah – harah in this case being bad or very inappropriate speech.
However, equalizing blame is not the point of this article. What is, however, is my belief that across the board, the klal is oblivious of the big picture. Immodesty and lashon harah are just two of many components of a more insidious behaviour that is pandemic in our community – putting stumbling blocks in front of a blind person.
In Sefer Vayikra, 19:14, the Jewish people are exhorted to not curse the deaf, “or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your G-d.” Rashi interprets the word “blind” as being metaphoric, not to be taken literally. Blind can be read as unsuspecting, ignorant, naive or trusting. He understood that this was not merely a statement to help the visually impaired walk without impediment, but rather is a brilliant, all encompassing blueprint as to how to behave properly when dealing with your fellow man.
The basic message to be gleaned from this pasuk is that one should control their “inner beast” and not take advantage of someone weaker or vulnerable; to not “pull the wool” over someone who is uninformed and puts their trust in you; to not mislead the gullible into doing something that is not in their best interest – but is in yours.
The great sage Hillel taught that the Torah revolves around the concept of not doing to somebody that which you wouldn’t want to have done to you; and arguably, the wording of this pasuk is a foundation for this conclusion.
There are so many areas in our daily lives when this G-d given rule should be internalized and utilized, yet to our tragic undoing, voracious greed, preening arrogance, blinding jealousy, chronic apathy and indifference, and blatantly misguided good intentions have caused many to fail miserably in doing so.
I will focus on two huge arenas in our lives where “stumbling blocks” are deliberately and wilfully set up much too often with enormous consequences to the ‘blind” – these being financial matters and shidduchim.
I will begin with an epidemic of what I call the “gelt uber alles” mentality that turns what appears to be erliche Jews into predators. How many people, to their ultimate dismay, or worse, are convinced by seemingly sincere, up-right, kippah/tzitzit wearing sales people, store-owners, tradesmen or handymen to buy something or pay for a service that those selling know is shoddy, over-priced or just a bad fit for the unsuspecting individual and is an injurious waste of his/her time and money?
How many unsuspecting shoppers or diners were sold or served food that was advertised as fresh, but should have been thrown out, yet the owner of the grocery store or restaurant saw that the people were from “yenem’s velt” and not part of the “community” so it was OK to give them, for example, the “fresh” barbecued chicken that was in the refrigerator for several days, warm now from being microwaved and appearing “straight off the grill.”
How many out-of-towners, moving into a new neighborhood, were pressured to raise their offer for a property because the sheitel-wearing, “sleeves up to the wrist” real estate agent told them that there was another, higher offer? But only in her imagination.
How many hard-working baala-battim were told they were one of the lucky few to get in on an amazing money-making venture, guaranteed to double, even triple their investment, a once in a life-time opportunity, offered by a well- regarded member of the “tribe.” At best, some may have lost only money; some however, may have ended up losing their home and savings; other may have been charged as accomplishes to a crime.
In all these scenarios, people assumed that the advice, information or product they were offered was in their best interest; doubting the integrity, honesty or the purity of motive of Torah-observant Yidden was unfathomable. However, these Yidden are guilty of putting stumbling blocks in front of a “blind” person, and as expected, their victims’ physical, financial, emotional and in many cases, spiritual well-being was grossly undermined.
I have no doubt as to what kind of impact this unethical, hypocritical behavior on the part of people they are supposed to look up to, has on young people already teetering off the derech.
In my next column, I will discuss the avalanche of stumbling blocks that have ruined the lives of so many whose dream was to build a bayit ne’eman b’Yisrael – but instead ended up trapped in a nightmarish house of horrors.