Years ago when my nephew Yoni Hendel was about to become a Bar Mitzvah he sent me a letter in which he wrote that he had recently re-read Kedoshim, this week’s Torah portion, and I had a few questions about it. One of his bigger questions was, “How do you incorporate this parsha to today’s lifestyle?” Yoni also asked what did the Torah mean when it said,” You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but you shall fear your God I am God ” (Leviticus 19:14) As a directive it makes sense to not put a stumbling block in front of someone who would trip over it. It is plain evil to hurt someone in general, let alone someone who cannot see. But why is it a problem to “curse the deaf.”
Despite the near decade since his Bar Mitzvah I have been thinking about this pasuk and Yoni’s question of relevance in the context of reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown. In her brilliant discussion of vulnerability she asks if we believe that people are basically doing the best they can with the tools they have. If you do not think people are doing their best you will be judgative (thank you Yishama for this word). By contrast, here’s what she says about the people who believe people are doing their best:
They were slow to answer and seemed almost apologetic, as if they had tried to persuade themselves otherwise, but just couldn’t give up on humanity. They were also careful to explain that it didn’t mean that people can’t grow or change. Still, at any given time, they figured, people are normally doing the best they can with the tools they have.
…Every participant who answered “yes” was in the [research] group of people who I had identified as wholehearted— people who are willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth. They offered examples of situations where they made mistakes or didn’t show up as their best selves, but rather than pointing out how they could and should have done better, they explained that, while falling short, their intentions were good and they were trying. (Rising Strong)
So now I want to go back to Yoni’s questions. What is the connection to Brené Brown? Even if they cannot hear the curse and will not be impacted by our curses because they are deaf, we who curse will be impacted. Cursing them is our having given up on humanity and not living wholehearted lives. I think the Torah’s instruction to not curse the deaf is asking us to treat everyone as if they are doing the best they can with the tools they have. I still strive to incorporate this message today.