Monday, September 12, 2011

Protecting the Blind

Parshat Ki Tavo
D’varim 26:1 – 29:8
18 Elul 5771 / September 16-17

Protecting the Blind
by Rabbi Dan Horwitz, MH Mid-West Regional Director and Chaplain

“Cursed be the one who misdirects a blind person on his way.” 
Devarim 27:18

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, the Children of Israel learn of the various blessings and curses that await them (depending on their commitment to God) as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.  One of these curses, shared above, involves taking advantage of the blind.  The Torah often goes out of its way to mention the blind when listing those peoples potentially oppressed by the greater community.  For example, in Leviticus 19:14, in the portion of Kedoshim, we learn that one shall not “place a stumbling block before the blind.”

How do we treat those in our society who are blind? Are we taking adequate steps to ensure that those who are unable to see are capable of functioning as fully autonomous individuals?  My travels to Australia made me question some of the institutional stumbling blocks we take for granted.  In America, all of our bills are the same size – whether they are worth $1 or $100.  There is no way for those who happen to be blind to distinguish between the bills they are carrying.  In Australia, the bills are sized differently based on their value, allowing those who are blind to more comfortably navigate financial transactions, without fear of being taken advantage of.  This is but one example of a small change that would make a world of difference for our blind brethren.  Can you think of others?  Can you spare a few minutes and share them with your friends, family, Congressperson?

Given the Torah’s demand that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18), such commandments to not misdirect or place a stumbling block in front of the blind might at first glance seem a bit superfluous.  However, the ancient rabbis interpreted blindness as not only literal blindness, but figurative blindness as well.  For example, for the ancient rabbis, knowingly giving someone who has asked you for directions a wrong answer would be an example of the “misdirecting” the Torah warns about.  So too would knowingly offering a beer to an alcoholic, or smoking a cigarette in front of someone trying to quit.  As we approach the High Holidays, take a moment and reflect on those in your life you might have led astray by virtue of their figurative blindness, how you can best go about apologizing to them, and how you can resolve to be more conscious of such actions in the future and seek to avoid them (because believe me, we have all slipped up in this way).

Our tradition teaches us that as human beings, we all possess a divine spark, regardless of any disabilities we may face.  We have the power to create a community, country and world in which the dignity of all human beings is respected, and we must strive to do so.  Small changes in the way we approach those who are literally and/or figuratively blind are an essential first step.

Shabbat shalom


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