לא תאור את העם, ”do not curse the people.” G-d was well aware of the plague that would strike many Israelites who would worship Baal Peor, as a result of Bileam’s advice to seduce the Israelites by becoming sexually licentious. G-d did not want that plague to be attributed to Bileam’s curse.
ובכאן יש לשאול אם היה כח בדבר בלעם להזיק ולהועיל אם לא.
אם תאמר היה, היאך אפשר שיהיה כח בבשר ודם לשנות גזרת הבורא, ואם הבורא גזר על ישראל שנאמר כי ברוך הוא היאך יש כח בקללתו לשנות מה שגזר כבר,
ואם תאמר לא היה ממש בקללה א"כ למה מנעו הקב"ה ואמר לו לא תאור את העם, יקלל בלעם כל היום ובלבד שיברך הקב"ה, כענין שכתוב (תהלים קט) יקללו המה ואתה תברך.
והתשובה בזה כי בלעם לא היה כח בדברו כלל שתחול ברכתו או קללתו, וראיה שאין בקללה כח בדבורו מה שמצינו מבואר שאין בברכה כח בדבורו,
כי אילו היה כח בדבורו בענין הברכה כשהוברר לו הדבר שאין רצונו של הקב"ה לקלל את ישראל כמו שהיה בלק מצוה עליו למה לא ברך לבלק ועמו, והנה תשלם בזה כוונתו של בלק שלא ישלוט בו ישראל...
נמצאת למד שלא היה כח בדבורו לקללם זהו מצד דבורו, אבל מצד חכמתו שהיה יודע לכוין השעה שהקב"ה כועס בה היה בודאי כח בדבורו לקלל.
ומכל מקום עדיין הקושיא במקומה עומדת, כי מאחר שהקב"ה לא כעס באותן הימים נמצא שכל דבריו וחכמתו בטל וכשל כחו מצד דבורו וחכמתו, שהרי אין כח בקללתו אלא בשעת הכעס וכיון שאין שעת הכעס רפו ידי חכמתו, וא"כ למה לא הניחו לקלל ואמר לא תאור את העם.
התשובה בזה כי גלוי וידוע לפניו יתברך דבר המגפה העתיד להיות, וכדי שלא יאמרו בשביל קללתו של בלעם באה המגפה על כן מנעו מלקלל. אבל ודאי לא היה לבלעם שום כח מצד דבורו לא בברכה ולא בקללה רק מצד חכמתו בכוון השעה שהקב"ה כועס בה.
At this point we may well ask if Bilam possessed the power to either curse or bless at all. You might well ask how it is possible for a mere mortal to countermand decrees which issued from G’d? If G’d blessed a people, as we know from verse 12 כי ברוך הוא, what possible point was there in anyone attempting to turn such a blessing into a curse? If you were to answer that indeed, Bilam’s curse would have been totally ineffective, then why did God try to prevent Bileam from going and say to him: “do not curse the people!?” Let Bilam curse all day long, as long as God blessed the people, as it is written (Psalms 109,28): “let them curse, but You bless.”
The answer is that indeed Bilam possessed no power to bless or to curse. Proof that his curses were ineffective is that his blessing was also ineffective. If he himself had believed that his curses or his blessings were effective, seeing that he was prevented from cursing Israel, a nation which already enjoyed a blessing, why did he not simply bless Balak and his people, a people concerning which he had neither been forbidden to curse nor to bless? If Balak was so afraid of the Jewish people, why did Bileam not extend the protection of his prophetic blessing to Balak? ...
What we learn from the above is that Bilam’s power most certainly did not reside in his words. Rather through his wisdom, he was able to divine when God was angry and would make it appear as if he had originated those people’s good fortune of misfortune.
In any case, the question remains that seeing that God was not angry at the Jewish people, all of Bilam's words and wisdom would be useless and fail, for his curse was effective only when God was angry, and since God was not angry, his wisdom would have been useless.
So why would God not just let him curse; why did God say "do not curse the people."
The answer is that it was known to God that there would shortly occur a plague. God did not want anyone to assume that the reason for this plague was Bilam’s curse. This is why He warned Bileam not to curse However, Bilam certainly had not power to his word, neither his blessing or curse. His only power was that he was wise to know when God was angry.
To not curse an Israelite, whether a man or a woman: To not curse an Israelite, whether a man or a woman; and even though he does not hear the curse, as it is stated (Leviticus 19:14), "You shall not curse the deaf". And the language of Sifra, Kedoshim, Section 2:13 [is] "I only know about a deaf person, from where do I include every man? [Hence] we learn to say (Exodus 22:27), 'among your people, you shall not curse.' If so, why does it state, 'deaf?' Just like a deaf person is unique that he is alive - to exclude the dead that is not alive."
Even thought we do not have the power to know in which way a curse impacts upon the one cursed, and with what power within speech there is to bring [that impact] upon him, we know more generally that people are concerned about curses - whether Israel or other nations - and say that curses of people, and even curses of commoners, have an impact on the one cursed and attaches malediction and distress to him.
And since we know this thing from the mouth of the creatures, we will say that it is from the roots of the commandment that God prevented us from injuring others with our mouths, [just] like he prevented us from injuring them with action.
And similar to this did they, may their memory be blessed, say (Moed Katan 18a), "A covenant is made with the lips" - meaning to say that there is power in the words of a person's mouth.
And it is possible for us to stay - according to the paucity of our intelligence - that since the speaking soul in man is the elevated part, and as it is written (Genesis 2:7), "He blew into his nostrils the breath of life," and it is translated (by Onkelos) as "a speaking spirit"; He gave it great power to impact even on that which is external to it. And hence we have known and it is always seen that to the extent of the importance of a man's soul and its clinging to the elevated things - as [is the case with] the souls of the righteous and the pious - will their words be quick to impact upon all that they speak about. And this is something well-known and famous among those that know knowledge and understand science.
And it possible to say also that the matter is to stifle a quarrel between people and that there be peace between them; since the birds of the sky make the voice travel, and maybe the words of the one that cursed will come to the ears of the one that he cursed.
And Rambam, may his memory be blessed, said (Sefer HaMitzvot LaRambam, Mitzvot Lo Taase 317) as the reason of the commandment [that is is] in order that the soul of the one that curses not be moved to vengeance and that he not become used to anger. And he wrote at further length about this in his book. And it appears to me from his words that, in his opinion, he does not see any injury to the one cursed from the curse, but rather that the Torah is distancing the matter from the perspective of the one that curses - that he not accustom himself to vengeance and anger and to lowly traits. And we shall accept all the words of our rabbis, though our hearts hold more of what we have written.
רִבִּי חִיָּיא פָּתַח וְאָמַר קְרָא אֲבַתְרֵיהּ, (ויקרא י״ט:י״ד) לֹא תְּקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ וְלִפְנֵי עִוִּר וְגוֹ', הַאי קְרָא כְּמַשְׁמָעוֹ. אֲבָל פַּרְשְׁתָּא דָּא, כֹּלָּא אוֹלִיפְנָא מִינָּהּ מִלִּין אָחֳרָנִין, וְכֻלְּהוּ תַּלְיָין דָּא בְּדָא. תָּא חֲזֵי, מַאן דְּלָיִיט לְחַבְרֵיהּ, וְאִיהוּ קַמֵּיהּ, וְאַכְסִיף לֵיהּ, כְּאִלּוּ אוֹשִׁיד דָּמֵיהּ, וְהָא אוֹקִימְנָא. וְהַאי קְרָא, דְּלָאו חַבְרֵיהּ עִמֵּיהּ, וְהוּא לָיִיט לֵיהּ, הַהִיא מִלָּה סַלְּקָא.
R. Hiyya expounded the following verse: Do not curse a deaf person, or place a stumbling block before the blind. This verse should be interpreted according to its simple meaning. But this parsha teaches us other matters, and each is dependent on the other. Come and see: One who curses his fellow, and he is in his presence, he embarrasses him, it is as if he spilled his blood. And we have explained this. But this verse, when his fellow is not there, and he curses him, the same result occurs.
For every word that comes out of his mouth that has no voice, that voice goes upwards, and several destructive angels attach to that voice, until it goes and awakens the place of the great void, as we have explained, and they awaken on the human. Oy to the one who lets an evil word out of his mouth.