INSIGHT

5767 - #36

BLIND IN THE DARK

T.B. Megilla 24b presents a problem that Rabbi Yossi had with Devarim 28:29 which eventually, the gemara informs us, this tanna was eventually able to solve. Part of the Tochecha, the presentation of curses (lo aleinu), this verse states: “And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind man gropes in darkness.”1 Rabbi Yossi wondered: what difference is there, for a blind man, between light and darkness? Through an encounter he had with a blind man, walking at night and holding a torch, he found the answer to his question. Rabbi Yossi asked the blind man why he was carrying a torch; the torch would seem to have no use for him. The blind man answered that as long as he had a torch in his hand, others, who can see, would still be able to assist him. With the comparison to a blind man groping in darkness, the verse adds the further dimension that one will not only not be able to help himself/herself but that one will also not be able to assist others in helping him/her. As Rabbi J.H. Hertz, Devarim 28:29 explains, the effect of the curse will be that individuals are “without a ray of light to exhibit their distress to the compassion of men.” This is indeed a tragic occurrence

             Maharsha, Megilla 24b still finds this answer somewhat lacking in its explanation of the language of the verse. The concern for groping at night is, still, similar for both a blind man and a sighted individual found in thick darkness. While Rabbi Yossi’s words explain the seemingly confusing image of a blind man holding a torch, it still doesn’t explain why this image is worse than the case of any sighted person groping in the dark without a torch. The Maharsha explains that a sighted person is still in a better position than a blind person for the sighted person may have a memory of his/her surroundings from seeing them in the day. The image of a blind man without a torch thus has a further sad message in expanding the futility of the state described by this verse. One will not solely be lacking the immediate tools to help oneself but also one will be lacking past experiences upon which to build for the future.

             The words of Maharsha actually are helpful in understanding the halachic argument that is the basis of this gemara in Megilla. There is a disagreement between the Rabbis and Rabbi Yehuda on whether a blind person can recite the blessing of Yotzer Hamei’orot, the Creator of the Lights.2 The rabbis say that he can, applying Rabbi Yossi’s explanation, for a blind person also benefits from the light via another’s vision. Rabbi Yehuda, though, says that one who was blind since birth cannot recite this blessing for the one reciting this blessing has to have some minimal direct knowledge of the beneficial power of light and sight. There are many dimensions to the talents, attributes and abilities which God has bestowed upon us. While, as a community, we can mutually benefit from the myriad of different qualities that exist within the group – and, indeed, are commanded to do so -- nevertheless, there is still a distinction between the one who experiences the ability directly and one who does not. According to the Rabbis, this distinction is not enough to preclude any blind person from saying this blessing, for the blind individual can still benefit from the light through the sight of another, through the interaction of community. According to Rabbi Yehudah, the recitation of the blessing still demands some level of direct knowledge of the ability and the benefit. As such, one who has never experienced light cannot say this blessing although he indirectly continuously benefits from the existence of this ability in others. We clearly benefit from the sharing of our individual talents with others but the reality of our distinctions, also, cannot be lost.

             These few words, “as the blind man gropes in darkness”, thus offers great insight into the dynamics of human relationships, both on the personal and communal level. In connecting with the other, we often lose sight of the singular nature of each individual. Those blessed with an attribute often do not recognize the full extent of the effect of that attribute. Those in need often do not know the full extent of their lack. The distinctions in characteristics and abilities often can form a bar to communication. We often feel that it is relatively easy to deal with a problem yet differences may yield difficulties beyond what is first perceived. One thinks he/she can solve a problem by undertaking a certain action, not recognizing that the perceived solution will only further the underlying mechanisms beneath the apparent problem. One thinks he/she can describe a problem and thus communicate a need, not recognizing that differences in language will actually only create a further bar in moving towards a solution. A grouping is not made of similar individuals with common understandings and thus able to fully share a knowledge of the common need and able to define the common solution. A grouping is made of distinct individuals all with their own personal attributes and experiences that they, ultimately, cannot fully share with the other. The challenge of bonding is the challenge in responding to this reality.

             The blind man groping in darkness describes two weaknesses that we must overcome. There are our personal limitations. There are also the limitations of reality including the inability of being seen, whether emerging from ourselves or others. In effect we are all blind; there is a bar in our ability to truly see the world and others in their full context. We are also all groping in darkness for there is also a bar in our ability to let others see us, be it in the way that we communicate, or a lack of full knowledge of our place in existence. To create a better place, we must recognize these challenges and directly confront them and conquer them. Otherwise we will be left to the natural consequences of our being – which may be the greatest curse. As we read the Tochecha, we should also recognize the great lesson that God is giving us in these verses. They are not simply punishments for wrongdoings. They reflect the natural consequences of a thoughtless life. To avoid the pain of the curses, we must confront the challenge inherent in our very being and determine, with careful analysis, how to overcome them.   .

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Footnotes

1 Translation from the Koren Tanach.

2 This blessing is the first one in the set of blessings that precede the morning recitation of Shema Yisrael. The actual discussion in the gemara concerns an ancient custom known as poreis et haShema that allowed, in certain circumstances, for individuals who have prayed individually, to say some of the communal prayers if they now have a minyan. In concert with other prayers, this custom included the repetition of this blessing before the Shema. Further on this concept, see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, chapter 69 and, specifically the words of Rema 69:1 which states that this practice is effectively not done today.

Nishma, 2007


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2006 NISHMA