Step # 3
ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל
And you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14)
After reading the following story to my students, I would ask them to tell me what lessons they learned:
Once, the grandchild of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein saw his grandfather pass by on the street and he immediately ran over to him with several of his friends. Rav Moshe wanted to warmly greet his grandchild but didn’t want to hurt the feelings of his grandchild’s friends.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, one of the most revered men of the 20th century, renowned for his great Torah wisdom, bent down and kissed his grandson, and then proceeded to kiss each of his grandson’s friends.
We learn from this story that Rav Moshe Feinstein was considerate of the feelings of even very young children, and wished to avoid causing any feelings of envy among them. We learn also that Step #3 applies equally to children as it does for adults. And we also learn that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was more concerned for the feelings of a small child than he was for his own kavod (honor).
A Related Mitzvah:
לא תונו איש את עמיתו...
Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow…
This negative commandment is known as אונאת דברים – painful words or verbal deception. It is related to Step #3 because it also prohibits us from saying things that would deliberately deceive our fellow man. The following are some examples of this prohibition:
- We may not take the time of a salesperson in a store if we have no intention of buying anything.
(We not only mislead him, we may cause him to lose other customers who sincerely want to make a purchase.)
- This prohibition should also be applied to children.
(Parents should avoid hurting their children’s feelings or embarrassing them.)
- We may not call anyone derogatory names.
(Even if we say it in jest, it can still hurt someone’s feelings.)
- We may not scare a person or play tricks on him.
(The sense of discomfort that results is very real.)
- We may not engage in misleading advertising.
(For example, putting less of a product in a larger box.)
Another Related Mitzvah
לא תלך רכיל בעמיך...
You shall not go about as a gossipmonger among your people…
This is the mitzvah that forbids us from speaking lashon hara—to speak badly about people behind their backs, even if the information is true.
The following is a list of some of the many excuses that people give for speaking lashon hara (none of them is valid):
- “I wouldn’t mind if someone said that about me.”
- “She’ll never know about it.”
- “We’re close friends so she won’t mind.”
- “I did the same thing myself.”
- “I was only joking.”
- “Everybody knows it anyway.”
- “I’d say it even if he were here.”
- “But it’s really true.”
One could write volumes about the evils of lashon hara, gossip and all other forms of tale-bearing. (The Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, has already done so.) When discussing the many ways we can be hurtful to one another with our speech, my students enjoyed learning the following poem:
Gossip: The History of a Lie
- First, someone told it,
- Then the room could not hold it,
- So busy tongues rolled it
- Till they got it outside.
- Then the crowd came across it,
- They stretched it and tossed it,
- And never once lost it,
- Till it grew long and wide.
- This lie brought forth others,
- Evil sisters and brothers
- And fathers and mothers –
- A terrible crew.
- As headlong they hurried,
- The people they flurried,
- And troubled and worried,
- As lies always do.
- So, evil it boded,
- This monstrous lie goaded,
- Till at last it exploded
- In sin and in shame.
- But from mud and mire,
- The pieces flew higher
- Till they hit the sad liar
- And killed his good name.
- Outside of School
In my last column I shared some of my students’ suggestions to help avoid violating Step # 3 in the classroom. The following are suggestions of negative behaviors outside of school:
- • Telling someone whom you know is gullible something that isn’t true
- • Deliberately giving people the wrong travel directions
- • Telling someone you will meet him at a certain place and you don’t show up.
- • Saying bad words in a language the other person doesn’t understand.
- • When you’re playing ball and someone tells another player go back a base and then gets tagged out
- • Telling a young child, “I’ll give you two nickels if you give me one quarter”
- • Telling someone that everyone will be dressing as clowns on Purim and then they all dress as kings and queens
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.”
By Stanley Fischman