the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
The Parable of the Blind and the Lame
Dr. Rachel Reich
In connection with the phrase that occurs in this week’s reading, “when a person [Heb. nefesh = soul] unwittingly incurs guilt” (Lev. 4:2), several sources present the parable of the blind and the lame, which deals with the joint responsibility of body and soul in incurring guilt.  Here we present the fable according to the version in Leviticus Rabbah (Margolies edition, pp. 88-89), chapter 4:
When a person unwittingly incurs guilt… Rabbi Ishmael compared this to a king who had an orchard in which there were excellent first fruits. The king placed guards to watch over the orchard, one of them lame and the other blind, instructing them to safeguard the fine first fruits. Some while later the lame man said to the blind man, “I see fine first fruits in the orchard.” The blind man said to him, “Let us eat them.” “Do you not realize that I cannot walk?” said the lame man; “Do you not realize that I cannot see?” said the blind man. So the lame man rode on the blind man, and together they went and ate of the first fruits, and then they each returned to their place.
Some time later the king entered the orchard and asked, “Where are the fine first fruits?” The blind man answered him, “My lord the king, do you not realize that I cannot see?” The lame man answered him, “My lord the king, do you not realize that I cannot walk?” The king, being a wise man, what did he do? He placed the lame man on the back of the blind man … and said to them: Thus you did, and then you ate the first fruits.
Similarly, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to the soul: Why did you sin to Me? The soul answers: Lord of the Universe, I did not sin; it was the body that sinned, for since the moment that I departed from it like a pure bird flying away in the breeze, how have I sinned to You? Then He says to the body: Why did you sin to Me? The body answers, Lord of the Universe, I did not sin; it was the soul that sinned, for since the moment that it left me I have been like a stone cast upon the earth, and as such how could I sin to You? What does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? He brings the soul and casts it into the body and judges the two of them as one, as it is said, “He summoned the heavens above, etc.” (Ps. 50:4) – He summoned the heavens above to bring the soul and the earth to bring the body to be judged with it.
It is clear what this parable refers to: the blind man is the body and the lame man, the soul; and they cannot survive one without the other. But why does the parable specifically use the imagery of a blind man (sumah) and a lame man (higger)?
Rashi, in his commentary on Sanhedrin 106b (s.v. haggira, with reference to Balaam the lame) notes that haggira is an Aramaic translation of pise’ah = lame. Likewise Zohar Hadash, vol. 2 (Megillot) Megillat Ruth 39b presents the same parable, using the Hebrew words pise’ah and sumah, instead of higger and someh, for the lame and the blind:
“He feels only the pain of his flesh, and his spirit mourns in him” (Job ), for they participated together. What is this like? Like a king who appointed two guards to watch his garden, one of them lame (Heb. pise’ah), the other blind (Heb. sumah)… The lame man rode upon the blind man…
This suggests to me that the basis of the parable of the blind and the lame may have come from Greek, in which σόμα (soma) means “body”, which resembles Hebrew suma “blind,” and ψύχη (psycho), phonetically resembling the Hebrew word pise’ah, one who is lame, means “soul.” A psychosomatic illness, as we know, has both mental and physical aspects. In an argument between body and soul, therefore, it is fully understandable that the Sages, who knew some Greek, would have deliberately chosen the metaphor of a blind person (sumah) and a lame person (pise’ah). In time, the Greek context of this parable was forgotten, the word pise’ah was replaced by higger, and thus the play on words which provided the basis for this homily was lost.