I always wondered about the following verse from our Torah portion tomorrow: Don’t curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind. The latter anyone can understand. Who does that?
The rabbis understand it figuratively: Don’t give a drink to someone who’s an alcholic or who you know can’t hold their liquor before driving. The commentators speak of people using their better knowledge of a product to make a bad trade with someone, to cheat them, as it were, because they know the real worth.
But why not curse the deaf? Let’s say he will not know and not be embarrassed and let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that it will not be heard by anyone, just the letting off of steam. Let’s even assume it has no actual influence on events -- some would say a curse has absolute value to hurt someone even if they don’t know it happened. But the rabbis generally assume only a righteous person’s curse is effective and what righteous person would curse a deaf person?
Here’s what I think the text has in mind:
1. By cursing a deaf person, we are devaluing a person made in the image of God in a chapter about being holy, the prescription being to be like God.
2. We are also, by extension, devaluing ourselves by behaving badly.
3. Literarily, I think the purpose of this is to provide a morality merism. A merism is a statement of extremes to imply the inclusion of everything in between. For instance, In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and Earth implies everything in between the heavens and the earth. So just as one should not do something that causes actual harm to a person by taking advantage of their ‘blindness’ and one should not perform a largely harmless act by cursing a person who will never hear it, we should also avoid EVERY subtle act of sabotage against our fellow human creatures in between. After all, just as a stumbling block can be metaphorical, so can the cursing of the deaf. The most obvious manifestation of this would be talking ill of someone behind their back.
So what do we do when we have to get someone’s bad behavior off our chest, to blow off steam as it were, if we are, in effect, cursing the deaf?
First of all, to the extent that we must say something to a confidant, we should consider reframing from ‘He or She is such a you-know-what’ to ‘It drives me batty when She or He does...’
The verse we all know from this chapter that some Christians think Jesus made up, Love your neighbor as yourself, seems to me in this regard as less of a command and more the result of a set of the highly sophisticated psychological regimen that precedes it. If you avoid taking vengeance, holding grudges; if you boldly but politely confront the person directly with whom you have a conflict and resolve your differences; it follows that you will most likely have done everything necessary to love your neighbor as yourself.
And you’ll find it totally unnecessary to curse the deaf.
After all, who does that?