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The different words used to describe Bil’am cursing Israel


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tammuz 5, 5778
Within the story of Balak and Bil’am I noticed a shift in words for curse and cursing. In Numbers 22:6 Balak asks Bil’am to curse him the Israelites ארה-לי ;of which the root seems to be ארר. Numbers 22:11 shows Bil’am saying he was asked to curse them for him: קבה-לי; which seems to come from a root קבב. Looking at Numbers 23:7 Balak uses the words ארה-לי again. While Bil’am let him know: מה אקב לא קבה אל; from the roots נקב and קבב. These kind of strongs are also used in Numbers 23:13, 25, 27, 24:9-10. Looking at Deuteronomy 23:4-5 Moshe first uses the word לקללך, and then הקללה, from קלל and קללה. And this is also found in Joshua 24:9. To me it’s obvious that nouns and verbs are used so that explains similar looking strongs. But what I would like to know is why in certain verses ארר is used, while in another נקב/קבב, and in another קלל/קללה, while all refer to Bil’am cursing or use a curse.
The Malbim is always the commentator to deal with the differences between apparent synonyms. He explains that AR”R stresses the outcome of the curse, and that’s why God’s curse is always called with this root, for it always is successful. On the other hand, regarding man cursing God or judges (also called Elohim), chalila, it’s called KL”L for it doesn’t work. Accordingly “mekalelcha a’or” (Breishit 12, 3), means those that erroneously think they can curse Israel, God will really curse them. On the other hand, the root KBH comes from the word nakva=to specify (see Breishit 30 28, “specify your salary”) the curse and the accursed.
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