Jewish Thought

Bil’am cursing



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 roots. 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. So how should one define each of the terms used within the verses/context I gave?


To the Questioner,

Please see the explanation of the Malbim z"l to verse Numbers 22:6 where he explains the different meanings behind the different words:

1) ארה is similar to ארור, and refers to the actual affect of the curse upon the one being cursed;

2) קבה is from the root נקב, and is used to indicate a type of curse which is stated in public and with details; 

3) קלל is used to refer to the actual pronunciation of the curse and the embarrassment associated with it.

Based on this explanation, it should become clear in each verse as to why the specific reference to curse was used in that verse. 

With Blessing,
Rav Nachum

Ask the Rabbi