The Stumbling Block of Misinformation

Posted on April 22, 2021

by Hazzan Barbara Barnett

This week’s Torah portion is the double header of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Deep within the portion, in Chapter 19 of Vayikra (Leviticus), is a listing of ethical admonitions punctuated by the words “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (“Va’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha”).

Within this list we find “Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind” (Leviticus 19: 14) On the surface, it’s a simple commandment. My mom was legally blind most of my life; we took care to make sure there was nothing ever hazardous in her way so she wouldn’t trip. But like many things in Torah, you have to look beneath the surface and into the subtext and metaphors to understand what G-d is trying to say to us in our time.

How many of us get multiple phone calls and emails every day from scam artists promising pots of gold or, conversely, threatening to send the IRS or the FBI knocking at the front door unless we pay up?

Misinformation. Disinformation. Stumbling blocks for the Social Media Age. Rumors morph into “facts” and even conspiracy theories twisted into ill-informed realities and urban myth—spread like wildfire on Facebook, Twitter, texts, and beyond—stumbling blocks, believed as truth by enough people to cause genuine harm. Whether it’s COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions, Jewish space lasers, or vast QAnon-style pedophile conspiracies, they prey upon the uniformed—the metaphorically blind, and to corrosive effect.

“Do not place a stumbling block in front of the blind”—a commandment from G-d as relevant today as the latest social media post.