י״ב במרחשון ה׳תשע״ז (November 13, 2016)

Bava Metzia 48a-b: Cursing One Who Reneges

After being it is customary to say a me she-berakh, blessing the person who just read. Do we ever offer curses to someone who behaves inappropriately?

As we have learned, transfer of money cannot effect a kinyan – an act that symbolizes ownership. Nevertheless, the Mishna (44a) teaches that a person should not back out of an agreement that was made where money changed hands, and if he does so, the person will receive a me she-para. A me she-para is, essentially, the opposite of a me she-berakh. Rather than saying “He who blessed our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, should bless this individual” – a common theme in synagogues, in this case the court says “He who exacted payment from the generation of the flood and from the generation of the dispersion (see Bereishit 11:1-9) will exact payment from someone who does not keep his word.”

Our Gemara brings a disagreement between Abaye and Rava about how to understand this ruling. Should the me she-para be shared for informational purposes, to warn the individual that his actions may be acceptable according to the letter of the law, but not according to its spirit, as Abaye suggests, or should it be stated as a curse, as Rava suggests. Based on the passage in 22:27, Abaye believes that it is forbidden for the courts – or for anyone else – to curse someone. Rava argues that the pasuk limits the prohibition against cursing someone to a person who is be-amkha – someone who is among the people, i.e. someone who behaves appropriately, and not someone who reneges on his agreements.

The Meiri points out that at first glance, the statement of me she-para does not appear to be a curse in God’s name, and only a significant curse like that is biblically forbidden. Nevertheless, since the statement clearly is a reference to God’s role in punishment, we view it as a curse in His name, which – according to Abaye – would be forbidden.

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