Bewilderments: Reflections on the Book of Numbers

Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. Schocken, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4304-8
Also known as Bamidbar, which is Hebrew for in the wilderness (hence the title Bewilderments), the Bible’s book of Numbers may seem an assortment of stories and legal texts. Zornberg (The Murmuring Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious), however, argues that it coheres as the story of a tragedy. Poised to enter the promised land at the beginning of the book, the Israelites suddenly lose that right, and the generation that left Egypt is be doomed to end their lives wandering in the desert. On another level, though, that wilderness can be seen as the place of Israel’s spiritual odyssey, where its people gain their voice and learn to trust God. Zornberg’s grasp of the rabbinic interpretations of the text (as well as Jewish philosophy generally) is masterful, and the meat of her work—which is at times dense and more for savoring than breezing through—is in relating these interpretations to the spiritual and psychological questions, or bewilderments, evoked by the book of Numbers. Agent: Sharon Friedman, Sharon Friedman Literary Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/08/2014
Release date: 02/24/2015
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