Acharei Mot: The Stumbling Block

A peculiar commandment is seen in Leviticus 19 about not placing a stumbling block before a blind person. When interpreted literally it seems as if this would be an easy commandment to follow, as most people presumably never feel the desire to trip someone who cannot see. But what is the deeper meaning of this commandment?

In God’s commandments, we see many miscellaneous ways in which we are to love God and love our neighbor. An interesting example of the latter is seen in Leviticus 19:14, which says, “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.” Because of the seemingly obvious nature of this commandment, many have asserted that the literal command here is somewhat hidden behind this imagery. The traditional interpretation is that the blind man is not someone who is physically blind, but rather is intellectually or spiritually blind. To put a stumbling block before this person means to provide the circumstances where harm will come to them or they will sin. The ending of the verse states that by following this command, you are acknowledging that even though the blind man or the deaf man wouldn’t know who treated them this way because of their disability, and thus the offender would be able to get away with it, there is a Judge who sees and hears.

We receive a more complete understanding about stumbling blocks by examining the use of this phrase in the prophets. For example, when God is explaining to Ezekiel his role as watchman and prophet over the people of Israel, He gives him this warning: “Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:20). Is this verse saying that God places stumbling blocks before the righteous, violating His own commandment? Obviously this is not the case. We see that the verse says, “if a righteous person turns from his righteousness… and I lay a stumbling block before him.” Therefore, we see that the stumbling block is the inevitable consequence of that person’s path toward sin. If Ezekiel fails to point out that the people were walking along a dangerous path, then God will hold him partially responsible for the stumbling block because it was his duty to point out to people that the only possible end to their walk of sin was to stumble (Proverbs 24:16, Isaiah 24:20).

We see again in the book of Ezekiel an example of a stumbling-block, this time because of the priests: “‘Because they [the priests] ministered to them [the people of Israel] before their idols and became a stumbling block of iniquity to the house of Israel, therefore I have sworn against them,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘that they shall bear the punishment for their iniquity'” (Ezekiel 44:12). The priests themselves were a stumbling-block to the people because of their idol worship. The Levites were supposed to be the religious leaders, but instead of leading the people to God, they became as false shepherds leading the people astray (Ezekiel 34:1-10).

Yeshua (Jesus) reinforces the previous warnings about becoming a stumbling-block: “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:6-7). To be a stumbling block does not necessarily mean it is done with the intention of causing harm. As we saw with Ezekiel and with the Levites, a neglect of duty on our part can cause others to fall into sin. Yeshua warns us that we must pay close attention to our words and actions so as not to be a stumbling-block to others.

Furthermore, He warns us against stumbling ourselves: “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell” (verses 8-9). Not only are we to be careful not to cause others to sin by our actions, but we must also be sure we do not ignore our own path. Paul gives a similar message when he warns, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

So we see that the commandment to not put a stumbling block in front a blind person is much more far-reaching than initially is revealed. While it is essential that we take heed to guard ourselves and others from encountering a stumbling-block, the only way this can truly be done is by allowing God to lead us in all things: “O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; make Your way straight before me” (Psalm 5:8). With all of this in mind, let us direct our love and our trust toward God as we seek to always walk along the path He has laid out before us.

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