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May 22, 2024
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Seven Steps to Mentschhood

Step # 3

Part 1

ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל

And you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14)

Q1) Why are we not permitted to offer unkosher food to a Jew who does not keep kosher?

Q 2) Why are we not permitted to lend money to someone without a witness present?

Q 3) Why are parents not permitted to hit their grown children?

(Answers later in the column)

Here are the words of the pasuk that teach step # 3:

You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block in front of a blind person, but you shall fear your God for I am Hashem.

When teaching this step to my students, I ask them how the prohibition to curse the deaf and avoid placing a stumbling block in front of the blind are related. The typical answer is that in both cases the person is unable to protect or defend himself. (Parents may wish to ask their children why we can’t curse the deaf since they cannot hear it anyway. You may be truly inspired by the answer you get. As “Daphna” answered, “If you curse the deaf, you’re cursing Hashem, for Hashem created them that way).”

What We Learn From Our Rabbis

Our rabbis teach us that the “stumbling block” in the pasuk is the admonishment to avoid giving bad advice to an unsuspecting person. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that by following this law we help ensure that people are guided on the right path. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in Mesilat Yesharim teaches us that to follow this step we should only give the advice that we ourselves would want to receive (Step # 1).

We are also taught that when giving advice, we must be exceedingly careful to follow the halacha properly. As is very clearly noted, the very next pasuk warns us: Lo saasu avel bamishpat, you shall not be unrighteous in judgment. Finally the Rambam explains that, taken literally, we sometimes take advantage of the handicapped because we are less afraid of their reaction. Therefore the pasuk concludes “you shall be fearful of Hashem.” Most fundamentally, we are taught that we are to refrain from deceiving people in order to avoid causing them to sin.

This is why we don’t offer non-kosher food to a non-observant Jew lest he think that the food is kosher for him to consume. We don’t lend money without a witness, to avoid tempting the recipient from claiming he did not receive it, thereby becoming entrapped into stealing. Parents should never hit their grown children lest they react emotionally and commit the grievous sin of hitting their parents in return.

We now understand how following Step #3 can help people from inadvertently causing others to sin. For children, the strong message of Step #3 is to avoid deliberately tricking or misleading people.

Learning to Apply Step #3 in School

One of the most common behaviors one can find among children in the school setting is the tendency to make fun of one another and play tricks on each other. More often than not, the child guilty of this behavior will say, “It was just a joke” or, “I was only kidding.” But the truth is, no normal person wants to be made fun of or be the butt of jokes. Nor does anyone want to be tricked or made to feel foolish. The problem becomes more complicated when students who might not engage in this behavior run the risk of falling into disfavor with some of their more “popular” classmates by not joining in the “fun.”

The problem is also exacerbated by the general culture in which we now live that promotes this behavior. Social media offers a never-ending stream of vignettes featuring the humiliation of others for fun and entertainment. Today’s children are bombarded with a host of technological opportunities that literally brings this corrosive entertainment to their fingertips.

Therefore, for some children, the classroom, instead of serving as a nurturing environment for empathic and supportive social interaction, is often a place of anxiety and discomfort. Some children wait in fear anticipating the next time a joke will be played on them or when they will be ridiculed in the presence of their classmates.

Over the years, I have asked my students to list behaviors in the classroom that fall into the category of violating Step #3. Each year I receive dozens of examples. (My book lists more than 75!) The following is a small sampling:

Giving the wrong directions to a new student.

Giving someone the wrong Hebrew translation or the wrong homework.

Telling someone there’s no homework when there really is.

Tricking someone into giving the wrong answer.

Deliberately getting someone into trouble.

Sticking your foot out so someone trips.

Taking someone’s belongings and putting them in someone else’s desk so that the victim yells at the wrong person.

Inviting someone to sit next to you in the lunchroom when you know there is food on the chair.

Teaming up against someone in gym.

Telling someone she’s your best friend but not meaning it.

By Stanley Fischman

Stanley Fischman has been a yeshiva elementary school principal for 35 years. Most recently he was the director of general studies at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. He recently celebrated his 50th anniversary of educating young Jewish children. He is the author of “Seven Steps to Mentschhood – How to Help Your Child become a Mentsch.”

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