Towards Acceptance, Holiness and Removing Stumbling Blocks

This week, we are once again reading Parashat Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27). Biblical scholars commonly refer to these two chapters of Leviticus as the holiness code due to the numerous interpersonal commandments (mitzvot) that are found within. These mitzvot form the foundation of Torah and are applicable to everyone. In addition to loving our neighbor as ourselves and showing deference to the elderly in our communities, we are also commanded, in Leviticus 19:14 neither to curse a deaf person, nor to place a stumbling block before a blind person. In reference to the latter commandment, an entire category of halakhah (Jewish law) has been developed, known as Lifnei Iver—before the blind. This category of halakhah is derived from the figurative reading of this commandment by the medieval French Biblical commentator par excellence, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki—better known as Rashi—who sees the blind referred to here as a figurative, rather than a literal class of people. Those who are blind, according to this reading, are those who are ignorant of a given matter. We cannot, therefore, lead people astray, take advantage of them or give advice which we know instinctively is bad advice—all good things and all things I wholeheartedly support. However, from my perspective, Rashi’s figurative reading and the laws which grew up from it, have, for all intents and purposes, written those with a visual impairment out of this text entirely. I imagine that the very thought that someone might place a physical stumbling block in the path of a blind person was seen as so abominable that it was taken for granted that we don’t need a commandment to prohibit people from acting so insensitively. I have always found the emphasis on Rashi’s reading deeply frustrating as someone who is in fact blind. I wish to take this opportunity to explore this verse from the pshat or literal perspective. I speak for myself alone and cannot claim to represent all blind people, let alone all people with disabilities.

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