by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Kedoshim (5763)
This sedra, as Rashi points out (verse 19:2), contains some of the most basic teachings of Judaism. One is that one must not take advantage of someone who is in a weaker or one-down position from you. An example of that is given in the following verse.
“You shall not curse a deaf person and before a blind person you shall not place a stumbling block. You shall fear your G-d. I am Hashem.”
You shall not curse a deaf person: RASHI: I only know [this prohibition] regarding a deaf person, from where do I know [the prohibition] includes everyone. (i.e it is forbidden to curse anyone).Another verse says (Exodus 22:27) ‘[A prince] among your people you shall not curse.’ (the term ‘among your people’ includes the prohibition against cursing anyone). If so, then why must the Torah specify a deaf person? [The reason is that ] Just as a deaf a person is alive so too anyone who is alive, this excludes the prohibition of cursing a dead person, who is not alive
WHAT IS RASHI SAYING?
Rashi employs the Talmudic drash which derives from this verse the halacha that the prohibition of cursing a person is applicable only when the person who is cursed is living. This means that while cursing a person who is dead is certainly not good behavior, it is not prohibited in this verse. The drash explains why a deaf person is singled out in this verse, if cursing anyone is forbidden. The reason that the Torah mentions a deaf person explicitly is to use it as a representative of a category – the category of living people. Just as a deaf person is alive and it is forbidden to curse him, so too any person who is alive it is forbidden to curse. But it is not forbidden to curse a person who is not alive, who is dead.
UNDERSTANDING THE DRASH
The drash emphasizes the point that the deaf person is alive, but isn’t that strange ? Most people we are prohibited from harming are alive! Why single out the deaf person ?
An Answer: The defining characteristic of a deaf person is that he is deaf. If one where to ask: What do you know about Yaakov? The first answer someone would give is that he is deaf (if in fact he were deaf). But if Yaakov were also dead, then the first answer would be “He is dead.” That is more defining than the fact that he was deaf when he was alive.
A DEEPER QUESTION
But why do I need to be told this? Isn’t it obvious that cursing a deaf person is basically a crime if the person is alive and could suffer from being cursed, even if he, himself, cannot hear the curse ?
The answer is that there is a case where cursing a dead person is a crime. One may not curse one’s parents even if they are dead. So I might have thought that since it is prohibited to curse parents even if they are not alive, so too it would be prohibited to curse anyone even after they died. But the Torah differentiates between the two cases, one is forbidden (parents) and on is not forbidden (any other person).
Can you think why?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: I would say that cursing anyone is forbidden because you do him harm. Therefore, only when the object of your curse can suffer harm, are you forbidden to curse him. That would be only while he is alive. But the reason for not cursing parents is not the harm that could come to them; rather the reason is that one must not be ungrateful to one’s parents who gave him life. That reason exists even after one’s parents have died. He must still be respectful of them and grateful to them for the life they have given him. It is for this reason that one must never curse one’s parents, alive or dead. But this is not the rationale for not cursing another person. The rational exists only when the other person is alive.
Email: Rabbibonchek@netzero.net “What’s Bothering Rashi?” is a product of the non-profit “Institute for the Study of Rashi and the Early Torah Commentaries.”
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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