This week’s Parashah, Parashat Kedoshim, contains one of the most famous commandments in the entire Torah: “Lo Tekalleil Cheireish VeLifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol VeYareita Mei’Elokecha Ani Hashem,” “Do not curse a deaf man, and do not place a stumbling block before a blind person, and fear from your God, I am Hashem” (VaYkira 19:14). This Pasuk seems to convey a nice sentiment which is in line with the common theme in the Torah of caring for the less fortunate. However, Rashi (VaYikra 19:14 s.v. Lo Tekaleil Cheiresih and Lifnei Iveir Lo Titein Michshol), famously writes that these injunctions do not apply only to the deaf and blind. Rather, the Pasuk is saying that you should not curse any living person, or give anyone bad advice in order to profit off of his or her mistakes.
Ramban (VaYikra 19:14 s.v. Lo Tekaleil Cheireish), on the other hand, understands this verse literally. He says that this is the inverse of the obligation not to curse a prince or judge (Shemot 22:27). Whereas that Pasuk warns us to protect the honorable and powerful, the Torah here is trying to protect those who cannot protect themselves. The blind person cannot see the stumbling block or the person who placed it there. Similarly, the deaf man cannot hear the curse that someone may have placed on him. Therefore, the Pasuk ends with the phrase “And you should fear from your God,” because although the victim cannot comprehend what was done to him or her, God can, and He will act as an avenger for the victim.
In addition, Rabbeinu Bechayei (VaYikra 19:14 s.v. Lo Tekaleil Cheireish) writes that the Torah uses the deaf person as an example because if one is not allowed to curse a deaf Jew, even though he will not be directly embarrassed by the insult, of course one cannot curse a Jew who can hear, who will be embarrassed and angered by the words of imprecation. Furthermore, no one will ever know the sin of someone who curses a deaf person if there are no bystanders. Therefore, this restriction is also necessary, with the goal of guarding the language that we use every day.
Rabbeinu Yonah, in his book Sha’arei Teshuvah (3:52), writes that this Pasuk is an explicit warning to Torah scholars that they must be diligent not to lead the Jews astray with false halachic rulings. This also applies when the scholar instructs them falsely unintentionally. Rabbeinu Yonah further elaborates on this mitzvah in his commentary at the end of Masechet Chullin (no longer extant, but quoted in the Beit Yoseif). He writes that this prohibition applies to a case where one would cause another Jew to sin. For example, based on this Pasuk, you are not allowed to give food to someone who does not know how to say a Berachah (without teaching him or her the Berachah), because it will cause the recipient to sin. However, the Beit Yosef, quoted by the Shenei Luchot HaBerit (Shaar HaOti’ot, Kedushat Ha’Achilah, Ma’achalot Assurot 8:3), writes that this prohibition does not apply to giving food to a poor person.
The reasoning of the Beit Yosef is compelling; if the point of this mitzvah is to help those who are less fortunate and cannot help themselves, then it would not make sense that the specifics of this prohibition would make it harder to accomplish this goal. However, this prohibition is not only meant to help the poor, but also the one who gives to him. Thus, it is clear according to this interpretation why Tzedakah is the exception to this prohibition. Tzedakah is meant to improve the giver, to help him or her become a more giving person. Therefore, we allow Tzedakah to override the general rule of Lifnei Iveir; as the goal of both commandments is to improve one’s attributes and protect the weak, one should not preclude the other.