Cursing

Shevuot (4:13) | Yehuda Gottlieb | 12 years ago

The last Mishnah in the fourth perek of Shevuot discusses the variations of language which cause a person to be bound under oath. In this Mishnah all these oaths contain the Shem Hashem which causes a person to be liable if the oath is transgressed. The Mishnah then tangentially describes various cases where one would be liable for cursing using G-d’s name. The Mishnah states:

One who curses himself and his friend (with the above mentioned names) has transgressed a negative prohibition

What transgression is there in cursing oneself? The Gemara (Shevuot 36a) states that in this case the prohibition is not for saying Hashem’s name in vain; rather, one is chayav because we are warned in the pasuk, (Devarim 4:9) “Only be weary and look after your soul”. This pasuk teaches us that there is a prohibition against causing any harm to our bodies. The novel idea here is that this prohibition of not harming oneself extends even to merely words which one may think do not have substance and may not even be fulfilled.

The Gemara continues by stating that one who curses his friend transgresses a different prohibition. The pasuk in Vayikra () states “Do not curse a deaf person”. This pasuk seems to be specifically referring to a deaf person. How does the Gemara claim that this is the source for cursing any person?

Rav Bartenura states that this is the source of the prohibition of cursing any person by logic of a kal vachomer. The Rav states, that the subject of the pasuk is a deaf person and since he cannot hear you, will be unaffected by your curse. However, the pasuk still states that there is a prohibition of cursing such a person. Consequently it is logical that if you curse any other person - who can hear and will be affected by your curse – then you should be liable.

The Rambam (Peirush Hamishnayot) adds an idea based on this pasuk. The Rambam states that indeed one is liable for cursing his friend. However, there are limitations. If a curse befits that person (i.e. he did an improper action which leads to the curse being stated) - the mekalel would not be liable. The Rambam brings a diyuk from the words of the pasuk which states “one may not curse a deaf man”. The Rambam understands that this prohibition is only in place when one curses someone who is “deaf” i.e. deficient of a certain negative action which does not deserve a curse.

It seems that the Rav and Rambam are focused on protecting the subject of the pasuk (the “cheresh”) from a curse, whether that be extended to any person, or people that are ‘deaf’ (undeserving of a curse). This idea is also supported by the Sefer HaChinnuch. The Chinnuch writes that it is possible that Hashem created in man a “supernatural element” which has the power to act even on things that is beyond its control. Therefore, in warning not to curse people the pasuk is protecting the one who is cursed, in case the words that were spoken by the mekalel do in fact take effect. This concept is also highlighted by Chazal in their advice elsewhere – “Al tiftach peh l’Satan” (do not give an opening for the Yetzer Hora).

In contrast, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch highlights an interesting idea from this pasuk. He notices that the word for curse – k’lalah is made up of the root – kelal (to lighten). When one curses, he wishes to inflict pain upon his fellow. However, at that moment he is unable to carry through with his wishes. Therefore he inflicts a curse upon his fellow which “lightens” his anger. Interestingly, his focus is not necessarily to protect the one who is being cursed. Rather, there is a need to highlight the chisaron in the person doing the cursing – to recognise the negative attributes that lead a person to get to the point of cursing somebody.

Once a person can recognise this point, he is able to put measures in place in order to ensure that he does not become accustomed to vengeance and anger and an eventual degeneration of positive character traits.

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