SALT - Friday, 23 Iyar 5777 - May 19, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, 
whose yahrzeit is Sunday 18 Iyar, May 14.


            The Torah in Parashat Behar commands, “ve-lo tonu ish et amito” (25:17), which forbids “aggrieving” one’s fellow, a prohibition understood by Chazal (as cited by Rashi) as referring to ona’at devarim – hurtful speech.  Rashi gives the example of intentionally offering a person unsound advice, suggesting a course of action that would be detrimental to him.

            A number of writers raised the question of how to reconcile Rashi’s comments here with his comments earlier in Sefer Vayikra, in explaining the famous prohibition, “You shall not place a stumbling block in front of a blind man” (19:14).  Rashi interprets that prohibition as referring to offering a person unsound advice – the precise same case which Rashi here includes under the prohibition of ona’at devarim.  The question naturally arises as to why Rashi classifies this prohibition, against offering harmful advice, under two different Biblical prohibitions.

            Rav Chaim Shaul Kaufman (Mishchat Shemen, vol. 1, pp. 295-296) suggests a possible answer in light of the question addressed by several Acharonim regarding the parameters of the prohibition of “lifnei iver lo titein mikhshol” (placing a “stumbling block” before a “blind person”).  This prohibition also includes leading somebody to sin, and a number of Acharonim addressed the question of whether one violates this law if he lures somebody to sin – such as by giving him non-kosher food – but that person resists temptation and avoids wrongdoing.  Does one violate “lifnei iver” by luring somebody to sin regardless of the outcome, or must the person actually commit the sinful act for the prohibition to be violated?  The Chazon Ish (Y.D. 62:25) writes that one does not violate lifnei iver unless the individual whom he lured indeed committed the forbidden act in question.  According to this theory, Rav Kaufman writes, we may perhaps have an answer to the question of why Rashi includes offering unsound advice under two prohibitions.  Whereas lifnei iver depends on a forbidden act resulting from the unsound advice, and is violated only when a person actually “stumbles” as a result of his fellow’s misleading suggestion, ona’at devarim is likely violated irrespective of the outcome.  The prohibition of ona’at devarim involves hurtful speech, verbally causing a person distress and aggravation.  Possibly, then, one violates this prohibition by giving harmful advice even if the individual does not follow it, or if no harm results, because the person experiences distress when he realizes that he was being misled.

            We might apply this concept also to the reverse case – to sincere but unsuccessful attempts to help another person.  Even if our efforts to help our fellow ultimately prove ineffective, we have nevertheless performed an act of kindness.  Just as a person feels hurt by being intentionally misled even when no harm results, conversely, a person feels encouraged and supported when others sincerely try to help, even if their efforts do not yield the desired results.  As long as we are sincere in our attempt to help and we do the best we can, we can feel confident that we have done something valuable for the individual, regardless of the tangible results of our efforts.