I have to admit, I’m not an expert on curses – ours, theirs, anyone’s. Yes, I”m only human and sometimes words slip here and there, but for the most part, I try to avoid such words and make sure that my children do as well. We were all sitting at lunch one time, guests over on a nice peaceful Shabbat, when the bird – Choco, said something and a bunch of people, including Elie and Shmulik, started to laugh.
I had no idea what the bird said – upon clarification, it was “Na’al Abu” – or something like that. It’s an Arab curse that translates to – “your father is a shoe” (or something like that).
You can’t tell a culture by one curse word and it’s wrong to draw conclusions. And yet…
And yet, this morning as I was driving Aliza to my parents house for a short vacation with her grandparents, she started asking questions about the grandparents she never knew. She carries my mother-in-law’s name – both of my parents-in-law passed away several years before Aliza was born.
I don’t do this often enough and it is important for her to feel a connection and so I began telling her stories about the amazing grandparents she never knew. There are so many stories…and never enough. She was amazed to hear about how her grandparents returned after the war, as young adults still in their late teens or barely out of them, to find that they were alone. Their parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts had been murdered by the Nazis. Only one uncle – by marriage, remained.
Brothers and sisters lost – generations were gone. And I told her how Israel had hunted down some of the Nazis. I spoke of Adolf Eichmann. Of Israel’s finding him, kidnapping him, and bringing him to Israel for trial. Of how he was an ordinary man who, in extraordinary times, chose evil instead of good and did it with efficiency and callous maliciousness. No, I didn’t use those words but simple ones that an 11-year-old can understand.
I spoke of the justice that was served and the punishment he was given and how recently, Germany let John Demjanyuk walk. As I often do when speaking of such evil, I used the Hebrew curse, “Yamach shemo” – May his name be erased.
“Are we allowed to say that?” Aliza asked me.
And I explained that for special cases, yes, it was right, it was just. You don’t say that because someone cuts you off on the road or takes 12 things into the express line in the supermarket, but yes, there are names that should be erased from history – Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, Arafat, Hitler, Amalek…the names go on and on.
I can’t stand Obama – but I would not say “yamach shemo” for what he has done or who he is.
But more, I thought about the nature of curses in general. There are curses in English in place of well, bathroom stuff and bedroom stuff…but what an amazing curse we Jews have – may his name be erased. Of all the curses that could be said about Hitler, for example – there is no finer or more appropriate one than ours. What Hitler did, he did out of ego, out of hatred. What better punishment, what greater justice could there be, than erasing his name (and no, this doesn’t mean denying the Holocaust) – it means making him lower than the lowest.
I think you can tell a lot about a people based on their curses…at least this one people, this one curse.