The “Middat HaShavuah”, taken from this week’s double Torah portions of Parshiyot Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, instructs us not to deliberately cause someone to fail. The verse reads as follows:

Parshah: קְדֹשִׁ֣ים 

Key Verse: וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל  

(ויקרא י״ט:י״ד) 

Middah: Do not deliberately cause someone to fail

Personally speaking, this is probably the pasuk from the Torah that I quote most often, and I have endeavoured to make it part of my personal and professional code of conduct. Literally, the pasuk means “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind.” The pasuk is found as part of what scholars call “The Holiness Code,” a collection of laws found in this week’s parsha that instruct us to “be holy, for I, your God HaShem, am holy.” There are many short but important instructions given in the holiness code, including “Love your neighbour as yourself.” But for me, the pasuk that provides the clearest moral imperative is not to put a stumbling block before the blind, or rather, the idea of not deliberately causing someone to fail. If we really want to be a good neighbour, if we really want to help our fellow human beings, we need to give them every opportunity to succeed. Helping people succeed, lifting people up when they are down, leads to a life of meaning and purpose. To be a “bucket filler” as opposed to a “bucket dipper” elevates us in Kedushah, elevates us in holiness.

There is a related idea to this middah. There are people who actually take joy or pleasure in causing someone to fail. This is what scientists call “Schadenfreude,” which is a compound of the German words “Schaden”, which means to cause damage or harm and “Freude”, which means joy. In other words, Schadenfreude means taking joy or pleasure in watching someone fail. Too often in our everyday lives, I see people taking pleasure and joy in watching the pain and suffering of others. Examples of Schadenfreude are things like laughing when your annoying coworker falls out of his chair, or when your know-it-all classmate gets a bad grade on a test, or when your loud neighbours get their power cut off. If you’ve ever felt joy when something bad happened to someone else, you’ve experienced Schadenfreude. 

This week’s Middah is so important to help us succeed as a community. It reminds us to always be a source of strength for one another. It reminds us to be positive and to see the good in all situations and not the bad. It reminds us that we have the power to change our lives and the lives of our neighbours. It is a simple adage to live by, and when we do, we can certainly make our world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach,

Moreh Alan