Friday, July 20, 2018

Random Musing Before Shabbat–D’varim 5778—Torah of Confusion Revisited

I discovered nine years ago, in reviewing this 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:

וְגַ֤ם יַד־יְהוָֹה֙ הָ֣יְתָה בָּ֔ם לְהֻמָּ֖ם מִקֶּ֣רֶב הַֽמַּֽחֲנֶ֑ה עַ֖ד תֻּמָּֽם

"Indeed the hand of the L"rd struck them, to root them out from the camp to the last man." (D’varim 2:15 - JPS)

The word root of the bolded word 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 when threshing.) The second meaning, and the more likely one in this context, is "to confuse, to discomfit, to vex.” I think
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 bit 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." But enough foolish digression.)

Perhaps their confoundment or confusion was on deciding whether to continue following along with the Israelites, and following G"d. Perhaps that is what they were "finished" with.  They "gave up" on being a MOT, and went their own way. Who can blame them?

To put it simply, they had had enough. Now, winnowing out the entire generations that had been born in Egyptian activity surely involved a lot of different tactics – natural death, accidental death, death by Deity (or action thereof.) However simple attrition might account for a significant number as well.

Moshe is, I think, providing some “spin” here, giving G”d some cover. It’s possible that not every single person who had come out of Egypt has been weeded out. Some may have managed to stick it out. So here, it speaks particularly of Anshei-HaMilchama – warriors. (If we go back to Numbers 14:21ff and parse carefully, we can see the G”d who creates loopholes like “never again-by flood'” in action yet again. It never says that everyone from the generation that had come out of Egypt would not get into the promised land. It hedges, saying that those whom G”d has found trying, or those who have spurned G”d will never get to see the promised land. This is consistent as the threat is repeated. Each time, there is a caveat. Every time is says “all” it adds something like “who have disobeyed Me” or some other condition. Of all of those who came out of Egypt, were all of them guilty of disobeying, spurning or otherwise invoking G”d’s wrath? Hundreds of thousands of Israelites, hundreds of thousands of opinions, right?

Nine years ago, I linked my thoughts to an old hit from 1970, penned by Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, and sung by the Temptations – Ball of Confusion. How much more apropos is this song nine years on from the original version of this musing, in our own truly confusing times? Considering how what’s happening these days represents a rolling back of many positive societal achievements in the last 4 decades, I’m surprised things are remaining as non-violent as they are. I know that I find myself increasingly pushed to more proactive responses to what’s happening here in the U.S. In a discussion I had online with someone the other day I was reminded that the violent anti-war protests actually helped Nixon get elected. There is some truth to that. Violent protest may not be the answer, but strong protest certainly is warranted. Like the righteous man in the story Elie Wiesel often told who at first railed against the people because he thought he could change them, and now still rails against them so he won't be changed by them, I too, must continue to speak and act out, lest I become “one of them.”

Nine years ago I wrote:

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.

Now re-reading this earlier musing and the words of 2:15 has strengthened my resolve. I will not be one of the ones driven from the camp by confusion. We must remember what it was like in our own country’s past as much as we must remember what it was like as slaves in Egypt. A Pharaoh has arisen in this land who would bring us back to the days of slavery. Even if I don’t get into that promised land, I will remain with my people – I will not be weeded out, driven out, confused out, ignored out. I will at least get a chance to go to the mountain top to see the promised land that those who come after me will inherit. Come be stubborn with me and maybe we will outlast the confusion. 

People movin' out
People movin' in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run, but you sho' 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 talkin'
'Bout love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems,
Nobody is interested in learnin'
But the teacher

Segregation, determination, demonstration,
Integration, aggravation,
Humiliation, obligation to our nation
Ball of Confusion
That's what the world is today, hey-hey

The sale of pills are at an all time high
Young folks walkin' around with
Their heads in the sky
Cities aflame in the summer time
And, the beat goes on

Air pollution, revolution, gun control,
Sound of soul
Shootin' rockets to the moon
Kids growin' up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will
Solve everything
And the band played on

So round 'n' round 'n' round we go
Where the world's headed, sayin' nobody knows

Great googa-mooga can't you hear me talkin' to you?
It's just a Ball of Confusion
Oh yea, that's what the world is today, hey-hey

Fear in the air, tension everywhere
Unemployment rising fast,
The Beatles' new record's a gas
And the only safe place to live is
On an Indian reservation
And the band played on

Eve of destruction, tax deduction
City inspectors, bill collectors
Mod clothes in demand,
Population out of hand
Suicide, too many bills, hippies movin'
To the hills
People all over the world, are shoutin'
End the war
And the band played on.

Great googa-mooga can't you hear me talkin' to you?
It's just a Ball of Confusion
Oh yea, that's what the world is today, hey-hey
Lemme hear ya, lemme hear ya, lemme hear ya say
Ball Of Confusion - that's what the world is today, hey-hey

                             ©1970 Jobete Music Company, Inc.

[Side note: Norm Whitfield also wrote the Edwin Starr hit "War" which I have also quoted in my musings before.]

So, did you follow any of that, or are you as l'hummam as I am?

Shabbat Shalom,


©2018 (portions ©2009) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

D'varim 5775 - Kumu V'Ivru (Revised 5760)
D'varim/Hazon 5774 - Refractory Recalcitrant Recidivists (Redux 5766)
D'varim 5773 - The Pea in Og's Bed
D'varim 5772 - Revised 5762 - L'chu v'niva'ch'chah and the Twelve Steps
D'varim 5769-Torah of Confusion
D'varim-Shabbat Hazon 5771/5766  - Refractory Recalcitrant Recidivists
D'varim 5764--Eleven Days
D'varim 5763--Remembering to Forget or Forgetting to Remember?
D'varim 5762-L'chu v'niva'ch'chah and the Twelve Steps
D'varim 5759-Owning Up
D'varim 5760-1-Kumu v'Ivru

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