“Do not put a stumbling-block before the blind.” This commandment prohibits anything that “gives the means, or prepares the way for wrong,” according to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (see Carmi Wisemon’s essay at My Jewish Learning).
There are so many ways in which language can “give the means, or prepare the way for wrong.” And changes to our usage can mean big differences in the way we think and act.
Many of us have seen changes in our lifetime in some of the harmful ways language was employed in early decades. For example, we no longer use “he” to stand for “one” (of any gender) and rarely see locutions like “lady-doctor.” This has helped to address some forms of sexism. But there are many ways in which our language continues to place stumbling blocks in front of us all, including in acceptance of varieties in gender expression. And this is no mere “semantics” issue. How language views certain groups of people translates into rights, respect, and basic safety issues.
The questions raised in yesterday’s post are primarily ones of language: When does language include people and when does it elide over difference? Usage can contribute to acceptance or promote danger for various groups.
Are we experiencing an “uprising” in Baltimore, finally after decades of oppression, or are some random “thugs” rioting? (Just one piece to consider)
Was the Boston Tea Party about revolution or property damage?
Vocabulary in such cases is everything and can mean, ultimately, a difference between life and death.
[Back in 2015, when this blog was running a series counting the Omer, this post closed with the previous night’s count and exact blessing for the date of the post; in an attempt to avoid confusion, the exact info is removed, but the general sentiments about using the Omer to learn and address oppression remains.]
Making the Omer Count
from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.
So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:
Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.
Thoughts and sources welcome.
Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.
Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.
I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:
Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.
Today is ______ in the Omer.
Hayom ___________ yamim la-omer.
In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.
The “stumbling-block” prohibition is one of the commandments read in this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim (“Be holy,” Lev. 19:1-20:27; see below).
לֹא-תְקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ–וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר, לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.
Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but thou shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.
לֹא-תַעֲשׂוּ עָוֶל, בַּמִּשְׁפָּט–לֹא-תִשָּׂא פְנֵי-דָל, וְלֹא תֶהְדַּר פְּנֵי גָדוֹל: בְּצֶדֶק, תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ.
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor favour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.
לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה
Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people; neither shalt thou stand idly by the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.
לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.
Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.
לֹא-תִקֹּם וְלֹא-תִטֹּר אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ: אֲנִי, יְהוָה.
Thou shalt not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.
— Lev 19:14-18 (Old JPS, Mechon-Mamre)