Friday, July 24, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat - D'varim 5769 - Torah of Confusion

I discovered this week, in reviewing the parasha, a word that just stuck with me. In describing the  near ending of the 40 years of wandering, Moses makes reference to how G"d did indeed wean out all the people (save Joshua and Caleb) of their generation as foretold, so that none of them would enter the promised land. In 2:15, Moses says:
"Indeed the hand of the L"rd struck them, to root them out from the camp to the last man."
Once again, with all due respect to the venerable scholars of the JPS editing committee, I must quibble with their translation.
The Hebrew reads:

v'gam yad-Ad"nai hay'tah bam l'hummam mikerev hamakhaneh ad tummam.
וְגַ֤ם יַד־יְהוָֹה֙ הָ֣יְתָה בָּ֔ם לְהֻמָּ֖ם מִקֶּ֣רֶב הַֽמַּֽחֲנֶ֑ה עַ֖ד תֻּמָּֽם:

The word root in this sentence is Hey-Mem-Mem, appearing in the 5th word (l'hummam ) It has two basic meanings in Hebrew, none of which is "root out." The first meaning is to "move noisily" (as in a driving a wagon in threshing.) The second meaning, and the more likely one in this context, is "to confuse, to discomfit, to vex.
Everrett Fox comes closer in his translation
"Yes, the hand of YHWH was against them, to panic them from amid the camp until they had ended."

Other translations use the verb "confound" which, I think, comes closer to a reasonable understanding of what happened.
There's also a little wordplay with the final word of the pasuk, "tummam," which, although it sounds a lot like l'hummam, comes from a  completely different root, tet-mem-mem, which means "to be complete or finished."
I might, therefore, prefer a translation such as:
"So much so, that even the hand of G"d was upon them, to confuse them until they (were) finished."

If we wanted to parallel the word play, perhaps:
"So much so, that even the hand of G"d was upon them, to mortify them until they were mortified."

Or something like that.
Well, I don't know about you, but I find large parts of the Torah baffling and confounding.  Still, I can't imagine perishing as a result of my perplexity. I'm not a thinking machine like HAL 9000 (or other famous examples from science fiction) in which confusing or conflicting instructions (of which there are many in Torah) led to a breakdown. I can't imagine finding myself in such a state, though I do know it happens to people. There are those who get totally wrapped up in an enigma, to the point that they lose themselves in it, and wind up in some sort of fugue state.
So what is the confounding and baffling that resulted in the "finish" of all these wayward Israelites? Were they physically lost, or was it something more in a spiritual mode?
As Rudyard Kipling put it (not that I'm fond of quoting anti-Semites)
"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;..."

The point perhaps being made in 2:5 is that these bafflements were of a Divine nature, involving knowledge and situations not understandable by humans. I don't buy it, personally, but I can see where the Biblical schools of authorship and redaction found it a reasonable explanation.
Since I'm not prone to accept a "Divine confounding" scenario, perhaps an alternative I can accept is this: the verse doesn't say these people all died. It says they "finished" or "were completed." (Perhaps they became Xtians? I know some Xtian supercessionists are fond of calling Xtians "completed Jews.") Perhaps their confoundment or confusion was on whether to continue following with the Israelites, and following their G"d. Perhaps that is what with which they were "finished." They "gave up" on being an MOT, and went their own way. Who can blame them. Brings to mind an old hit from 1970, penned by Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, and sung by the Temptations:
People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you just can't hide
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I'll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on
Well, the only person talking about love and affection is the preacher
And it seems nobody's interested in learning but the teacher
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration
Aggravation, humiliation, devastation of our nation
Ball of confusion
Yeah, that's what the world is today
Hey, hey
Ball of confusion
Yeah, that's what the world is today
Hey, hey
The sale of pills are at an all time high
Who was walkin' down with there heads in the sky?
The cities aflame in the summer time!
go on and we go home
Economics, Reaganomics, Birth Control, The Status Quo
Shooting rockets to the moon, kids growing up too soon
Politicians say
And the band played on
So, round and around and around we go
Where the world's headed, nobody knows
Ball of confusion
That's what the world is today
Hey hey
Ball of confusion
That's what the world is today
Hey hey
Hey hey
Fear in the air, tension everywhere
Unemployment rising fast, the Beatles new record's a gas
And the band played on
Eve of destruction, tax deduction, city inspectors, bill collectors
Solid Gold in demand, population out of hand, suicide
Too many bills, hippies movin' to the hills
People all over the world are dying in the war
And the band played on
Ball of confusion
That's what the world is today, hey, hey
Ball of confusion
That's what the world is today, hey, hey
Ball of confusion
That's what the world is today, hey, hey
Ball of confusion
That's what the world is today
Hey Hey

[Side note: Norm Whitfield also wrote the Edwin Starr hit "War" which I have also quoted in my musings before.]
I don't plan on allowing myself to be confused to death, or, for that matter, confused to the point of giving up. Yes, much of Torah confounds and baffles me. I won't be driven to madness, I won't be driven away. I can find ways to accept the confusion. Maybe even write a song about it. OK, look for my hit "Torah of Confusion" on the Billboard charts someday.
So, did you follow any of that, or are you a l'hummam as I am?
Shabbat Shalom,
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

1 comment:

JZo said...

Pashut m'hammem! todah Adrian for sharing your insights. Confusion is indeed a part of life, and koheleth puts it into perspective, but perhaps those who have too great a portion could be consumed - confused to death - by it. Don't go there! with mild confusion, shabbat shalom! WZ