14-5770 Mitzvah N-76
February 21, 2010
Negative Mitzvah 76 – This is a negative commandment: Do not cause your fellow man to stumble over anything.
Hafetz Hayim – As Scripture says: “nor shall you put a stumbling-block before the blind” (Lev. 19:14) – Which means that if the other person is blind about something and he comes to ask advice, we are not to give him counsel that is not right. This includes everything, whether in worldly matters or in matters of Torah. It is forbidden, too, to bring someone, or to help him or cause him to come, into the power of sin. It is even forbidden to bring a heathen to transgress the laws of the Torah for which he is enjoined to observe (any of the seven commandments for all descendants of Noah). This applies everywhere and always, for both men and women.
If we were to take our verse alone, that it is forbidden to place a stumbling block before the blind, we would have a law that forbids cruelty to the disabled. It is a worthy ethical principle alone. The Sages, however, had more in mind when they read this law. It was not just about the physically blind, but it is about anyone who is blind to what you are doing to them.
This is also more than not giving someone bad advice. Sometimes we don’t know if the advice we give is good or not and that is just the chance someone takes when they come to us asking for our advice on a matter.
This is about purposefully leading someone astray. Perhaps they are seeking information about a job and you are also applying for that job. Perhaps they are asking about an investment and you are part of the team and not an uninvolved party to the transaction. Perhaps your advice will bring you more business, or help you turn a profit. Perhaps you did not have a good experience with this company and you will send your friend away with an unfair opinion. Or maybe your opinion will constitute insider trading or other insider information that could bias your advice.
There are more nefarious reasons to give bad advice. You dislike this person and see an opportunity to get revenge. You have a low opinion about this person and want to see them look silly or foolish. Perhaps this person is a competitor and you would like to see his business fail. Perhaps you would advise him to do something illegal so he will go to jail or have his reputation ruined. Perhaps you see him as a rival and would want his relationship to fail so you could date his ex
In matters of Torah, you might advise someone that something is permitted that is really forbidden. You could advise someone that the law is one way when you know it is different because you want him to fail an exam or seem foolish before his peers, or to get him in trouble with his Rabbi. All of this because you have an underlying scheme that the person asking advice does not know about and if he or she found out about it, he or she would not be asking you for advice. All of these are forbidden by the law of not placing a stumbling block before the blind.
This law even goes beyond the bounds of your fellow Jew. It applies to all human beings. It is forbidden to give tainted advice that will cause someone else pain, anguish, cause him to sin or create for him extra trouble. If you cannot give meaningful and true advice, then the law tells us it is better to give no opinion and send that person off to get advice elsewhere.