This week’s parsha contains the famous division of the Israelites into two groups, one of which proclaims a list of curses, and the other a list of blessings. Like many such lists in the Torah, this one has been dissected by the classic biblical commentators, and I particularly liked what the Rashbam had to say about the list of curses. In his commentary to 27:15, he states:
And placed it in secret. All of the curses are [numbered] twelve, corresponding to the twelve tribes, and they are all transgressions that one usually does in secret as I will explain about each one, except for two that are usually done either publicly or in secret, and they are: worshiping idolatry and striking one’s fellow, and therefore [the text] explained them using the words “in secret.” Because, concerning transgressions that are done publicly, there is no need to curse [the transgressor], because the courts will punish them…Didn’t you notice that, among the list of curses, it is not written ‘cursed be he who sleeps with his fellow’s wife,’ because how is one to commit adultery without getting sneered at. One who treats his father with dishonor [27:16], in the household he grew up in, others are not to be found [and therefore this transgression is one that takes place privately]… (translation mine)
While the Rashbam is here commenting simply on why the words “in secret” appear to qualify the nature of the idolatry that is being cursed in the verse, he expands his answer to provide an overarching framework by which to know which transgressions ought to be cursed, and which do not need to be, because the public justice system will punish wrongdoers sufficiently.
If done in private
You must know you have done wrong
So we say: Be Cursed!