Talmidav Shel Aharon
9-5769: Mitzvah N-45
March 3, 2009
Negative Mitzvah 45 – This is a negative commandment: Do not curse another Jew.
Hafetz Hayim: This prohibition is derived from the verse, “You shall not curse the deaf.” (Leviticus 19:14) It speaks of a deaf person to make a stronger point – that even though this individual does not hear and suffers no distress from the curse, nevertheless one transgresses by cursing. If a person curses himself, he likewise violates this. However, one who utters a curse does not commit the transgression unless he does so with the Divine name or a substitute name of God. If it was even with any term by which the heathen calls the Holy one, blessed be He, that is like any of the substitute holy names. This applies in every place and time, for both man and woman.
Here we have a law that is written about a specific case that the Sages have extended into the larger world. The Torah is specific that one should not curse someone who is deaf (nor put a stumbling block in front of a blind person). The Sages note that if one puts a stumbling block before the blind, the blind woman could still get hurt; but what hurt comes from cursing the deaf? The deaf man can’t hear the curse so what harm can it do?
The direct answer is that it causes embarrassment to those who are present and do hear the curse. It also shows the insensitivity and boorishness of the person who would pronounce such a curse. It is not a sign of wisdom or maturity to offer such a curse since the only purpose of this curse is to cause the deaf person to be humiliated no matter if he knows it or not.
The Rabbis then extend the prohibition to those who can hear. If it is a sin to curse a deaf man who cannot hear, how much more is it forbidden to curse a person who can hear, for not only is he still humiliated in front of others, but he also is hurt by the words that are hurled at him. By cursing another, one has violated a serious commandment that cuts to the very core of what it takes to be part of a community. The damage is terrible and thus this is not to be permitted.
Here we also see that one cannot even curse him/herself. In the heat of anger or frustration, we are not even allowed to call heavenly wrath upon ourselves. This is not just a form of self humiliation, but it can lead a person to give up on society and may even be akin to committing suicide. We may not believe that words can bring down death upon a person, but one who is so without hope that he or she wishes to be condemned in the worst way possible, will have no reason to want to repent, or rebuild his or her life. It is not a way we should even talk to ourselves.
Finally, we have to define what it means to curse. We are not talking about using swear words or hate speech. This law refers to calling down the “wrath of Heaven” by using the name of God to bring about hurt or disaster upon someone else. This means that the name of God must actually be used in order for the speech to be called a “curse”. One is liable for transgressing this law if he or she uses any common or customary name for God, not just one or two names, and even if an unconventional name is used, one that is a “nickname” of God or a commonly used word that stands for God.
To the Hafetz Hayim the law implies a prohibition between Jews, for the community he speaks of is the Jewish community. However, in the same way that the Sages extended the prohibition from a specific case to a general case, it should be considered forbidden to invoke a curse upon non-Jews as well.