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In parshat Lech Lecha, (Bereishit 12:3) Hashem promises Avram that וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר, And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.

Why does the language of curse change from k-l-l to a-r-r? In other places such as Ber. 27:29, the same k-l-l word is used and in Bamidbar 24:9 the a-r-r root is repeated. Why mix them here?

While I have found one reference (on Shmot 22:27) which explains a difference between the two

Kalal is a curse that someone should lose his status, while arar is one that he should dry up and not have any blessing. Kalal is motivated by defiance, while arar is motivated by envy (Hirsch; Chothem Takhnith, p. 125). Some say that arar is a curse that one should be cast down (yarah) or shut out from divine light (or). (Yerioth Sh'lomo, Volume 1,3:13, p.88c).

This does not explain why one would change words in the middle. I checked many of the meforshim and they mostly discuss the order of curse/bless so I haven't seen anyone explain the mismatch of words.

  • I was gonna ask this. +1 – Y     e     z Oct 27 '14 at 18:24
  • See also Ex. 22:27 and R' Hirsch's commentary there. "אֱלֹהִים לֹא תְקַלֵּל וְנָשִׂיא בְעַמְּךָ לֹא תָאֹר" – Isaac Moses Oct 31 '14 at 16:34
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The Malbim to Shemos 22, brought here in Sefer HaKarmel, explains as follows:

ארר refers to the ramifications of the curse, that it causes a loss or detriment to the person or belongings of the accursed from the cursor. Therefore, curses from Hashem are always ארורים. On the other hand, קלל is just the expression of the curse. Therefore, says the Malbim, Hashem was telling Avraham "Even those who merely utter curses at you, with no real effect, I will retaliate with a curse with real ramifications."

  • I like this answer but why would it be limited to this case -- is the reassurance made elsewhere not as profound if the k-l-l simply gets k-l-l in return? – rosends Oct 27 '14 at 19:03
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כלי יקר explains: "קלל" means "disparage" or "curse" whereas "ארר" means "ostracize and curse". If a dishonorable person disparages an honorable person, mere disparagement would be insufficient retribution, as it wouldn't affect the perpetrator: he doesn't mind such disparagement. Rather, he'd need ארר as retribution.

  • So in Ber 27:29, when Yitzchak says to who he thinks is Eisav אֹרֲרֶיךָ אָרוּר is it an implicit proof that Yitzchak didn't think Eisav was really an "honorable person"? – rosends Oct 31 '14 at 10:44
  • @Danno כלי יקר explains that verse as about causing [emotional] pain. Go figure. – msh210 Oct 31 '14 at 16:10
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R' Samson Rapahel Hirsch, in his commentary on this verse, explains (as alluded to in the question) that "קלל" refers to "decreasing the material means of a person or thing" ("lightening" them, like in the root "קל"), while "ארר" refers to a deeper curse, "internally and intensively, to rob somebody of the abilities for their inner life." Other nations can't do the latter to us, but they can perpetrate the relatively superficial former on us - hurting us physically. Those that do so, God promises here, will get withered from the inside.

R' Hirsch doesn't make it clear, here, why God delivers this existential blow to nations that hurt the Jewish nation. (I'll do some more reading and see if he gives any clues here or elsewhere.)

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