Ego & Viciousness

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

We recently read the following verse in the Torah portion:

Do not curse the deaf, and do not place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God, I am God (Lev. 19:14)

As Exodus 22:27 states, “You shalt not curse among thy people,” Rashi says cursing the deaf is already included and should be unnecessary here. Thus, “Do not curse the deaf” must teach something new. Rashi explains “This excludes the dead.” Cursing the “deaf” applies only to the living; cursing the dead is not prohibited.

We must now understand the nature of this prohibition: What propels one to curse the living and not the dead? It must be due to the curser’s intent to afflict the one cursed; affliction can only be felt by the living. Cursing can achieve real harm, as others can thereby hear that ridicule and mistreat the one cursed, as they believe the curser accurately assesses whom he curses. And even one who curses privately or one-on-one, does so as he imagines he has righted some wrong; he feels his speech has altered reality, harming the cursed one. This is a powerful fantasy that lies behind much Lashon Hara as King David states (below). In contrast, cursing man after he dies offers the curser no satisfaction, for he can not harm the dead. Therefore there is no prohibition to curse the dead. 

The urge to attack another need not be justified in reality. The victim may have done little or nothing to warrant attack. Aggressiveness can be justified under the guise of religion like the Crusades, jealousy, other emotions, or for truly no cause other than one is human and possesses viciousness (Tal. Archin 15b). The fact that others do not attack the victim indicates the flaw lies in the aggressor. Certainly if others subsequently defend the victim, the attacker must reconsider his aggression: “How can he deserve my aggression if others defend him?”

Moses was silent when Miriam spoke ill of him; the perfected person is unaffected by his detractors. His value system is not social; he is concerned with God alone, and God also protects him. But the curser is socially-motivated; he has an ego flaw as he cannot tolerate whom he curses. He is intolerant of his victim’s obliviousness: “But when Haman saw Mordechai in the palace gate, and Mordechai did not rise or even stir on his account, Haman was filled with rage at him” (Esther 5:9). The curser has concluded that his victim must be harmed, and that he must be the one to harm him. He seeks absolute power over the other. He can’t risk attacking him bodily or materially, lest he suffer by the courts. But as he is emotionally compelled to denigrate him, he curses him instead of resolving his dispute through Torah’s prescription of dialogue (Ibid. 19:17). In his impetuous need to inflict immediate and absolute harm, he operates in a purely egotistical framework, harnessing venomous speech where he craves ego gratification through absolute control and harshness, “By our tongues we shall prevail” (Psalms 2:5). King David says about such sinners, “May God cut off all flattering lips” (Ibid 12:4). King David ridicules the curser, for ego-driven speech is his weapon; his intent is dominating others. He does not seek dialogue or resolution, but rather, character assassination. 

Torah preempts such viciousness by prohibiting man from resorting to such egotistical aggression through cursing others. And if one defames another publicly, he tragically forfeits his Olam Haba, afterlife[1], as King Solomon said, “A single sin destroys much goodness” (Koheles 9:18). Thus, one should examine himself daily and repent. Unless one is a rasha—a wicked person—public humiliation is absolutely forbidden in all circumstances, even when under duress and even to shield Torah[2]: “Far better that a man should let himself be cast into a fiery furnace and let him not publicly put his fellow to shame” (Sotah 10b). One’s first recourse must be dialogue with whom he deems guilty. 

But our verse continues: “And do not place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God, I am God.” God now joins in a single verse another expression of ego and aggression. Man is vicious to others psychologically, by cursing whom he hates to satisfy his ego through destroying him. But man also seeks wealth. In his insatiable desire for money, and with egotistical disdain of innocent victims, man will misguide others with destructive advice that he alone knows to be harmful to others and beneficial to himself.  Rashi comments:

[Evil] men will advise others to sell their field and buy a donkey, [secretly] endeavoring to circumvent the seller and take the field. Because in this case it is not given to human beings to know whether the intention of this man (the offender) was for the advantage or the disadvantage of the person whom he advised, and he thus might be able to evade the responsibility by saying, “I meant it for the best,” Torah therefore states with reference to him, “But thou shall be afraid of thy God” Who is cognizant of your secret thoughts. Similarly in all actions where it is given only to the heart of him who does it to know the motive that prompts him and where other people have no insight into it, Torah states, “But be afraid of thy God!” (Sifra, Kedoshim, Section 2 14; Bava Metzia 58b).

Do not curse the deaf. And do not place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God, I am God (Lev. 19:14)

With this verse, God teaches us 2 ways we attack others through complete and unrestrained domination: 1) we seek psychological gratification by unilateral vilification, and 2) we express greed by misleading others to our own financial gain and to their loss. In both cases, the sinner disregards others and considerations that thwart his vicious goals, as he has concluded absolute justification in his aggression due to his egotistical nature. 

[1] Tosfos B. Metzia 58b, Maimonides Hil. Dayos 7:3

[2] Rabbi Israel Chait