A doctor and a lawyer were at a cocktail party, when the doctor was approached by a man who asked advice on how to handle his ulcer. The doctor mumbled some medical advice, then turned to the lawyer and remarked, “I never know how to handle the situation when I’m asked for medical advice during a social function. Is it acceptable to send a bill for such advice?” The lawyer replied that it was certainly acceptable to do so.

The next day, the doctor received an invoice from the lawyer: $200 due for legal consultation.

“Before the blind, do not put a stumbling block”Leviticus 19:14.

What are the everyday implications of the Torah’s cautionary remark about sensitivity towards a blind man?

Here are some that come immediately to my mind:

  • Not discriminating against people who are handicapped.
  • Not exploiting people when they are vulnerable.
  • Not setting out alcohol in front of a recovering alcoholic.
  • Taking responsibility for other people’s spiritual wellbeing, and not tempting them to sin.

Rashi, When you give someone advice, don’t let your personal agenda be a part of itthe Torah’s foremost commentator, says that I’m wrong about what’s being implied here. Personal liability is a topic that’s already been laid out in the Torah in graphic detail; by now it’s obvious that G‑d doesn’t let us hurt people who are at a disadvantage. In fact, we also can’t hurt people who are not disadvantaged, and we must make restitution even if damage was done unintentionally.

So, Rashi wants to know, what’s the new mitzvah that G‑d is teaching us here?

He quotes the Talmud:

Someone who is blind in the matter at hand, you should not give advice which is unsuitable for him. Don’t say, “Sell your field and buy a donkey,” while you [plan on] setting him up and taking [the field] from him.

The Torah is saying: Don’t give someone dishonest advice. Not necessarily bad advice, just dishonest.

Let’s look at the example: “Sell your field and buy a donkey.” Not necessarily bad advice. In some cases, a donkey can be more valuable than a field; it works hard, produces offspring and is mobile. It may be a good idea to trade in the old field. But what’s problematic about this advice is the hidden agenda; it’s dishonest because it has the best interests of the advice-giver embedded within it. He wants that field.

The Torah is not telling us that we shouldn’t hurt other people; that’s obvious! It’s not even telling us that we shouldn’t give fictitious advice. The example about the donkey and field seems quite benign. And Rashi chooses this example since it’s hard to discern whether the advice is good or not. But what’s easy to discern is that it is good for the advice-giver.

So what the Torah is really telling us is this: When you give someone advice, don’t let your personal agenda be a part of it. Even if you’re not exploiting the other person with your advice. Even if your advice may be beneficial for him. If you stand to gain from it, then it’s murky advice.

It’s quite natural to look at any situation and search for personal benefit. But G‑d says that that’s not being a mentch. That’s not an authentic way to communicate. “Love your neighbor as yourself!” When he asks you for advice, put yourself in his shoes, invest yourself in his dilemma as if it were yours. Then you can give some quality advice.1