“That son of a jackal!” Tohuzar yelled as he exited his trial. “That Moses is a dung eater!” he exclaimed to Datan and Aviram who were following closely on his heels.
“I can’t believe he ruled against me!” Tohuzar’s young, handsome face turned red. He strode on long, lithe legs. Flowing, green robes sculpted his lanky frame, perfectly matching his radiant green eyes. Tanned biceps flexed with his every stride.
“I know,” Datan commiserated. “The law should have clearly been in your favor, but Moses has always had something against you.”
“Yes,” Tohuzar agreed. “He has always hated me. He came and promised to help us and save us from Pharoah. But all he did was usurp my role, destroy Egypt and now he enforces his own tyranny here in this lifeless desert.”
A crowd had gathered around the animated Tohuzar and the brothers Datan and Aviram.
“Is this justice?” Tohuzar asked the crowd. “I was your prince before this son of Amram showed up from out of nowhere. I was the perfect intermediary between you and Pharaoh. Being the son of an Egyptian and an Israelite gave me the ear of Pharaoh and allowed me to honorably represent the Israelites. But your new leader would deny me both honor and my birthright. If my mother is from the tribe of Dan, should I not camp with my own tribe?”
There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd.
Keeping eye contact with the crowd, Tohuzar nodded and continued. “By God’s own law, I am a full Israelite, yet Moses would have me remain outside God’s camp with other converts, and those with no tribe. Is this right? Tell me, is this how God’s law is enacted?”
“No!” Datan yelled. “Moses has a vendetta! He is banishing anyone who is a threat to him. He is using his power to make sure no one can rise against him. We can’t let this crime go unpunished.”
The murmur of the crowd grew louder.
“Silence!” a powerful voice bellowed. An old but burly redhead stepped forward from the crowd. It was Nachshon, prince of the Tribe of Judah.
“How dare you speak against Moses?!” Nachshon pointed at Tohuzar and Datan. “Did you not hear him during the trial? The law of inheritance is determined by the father.” Tohuzar, your father was Egyptian and as such you have no place in the tribe of Dan, despite your mother’s lineage.”
“That is clearly unfair,” Tohuzar responded.
“Unfair? How can you blame Moses? Moses is merely our conduit to God. You would call the laws of God unfair?”
“Yes, I would. But I see now that my anger is misplaced. You are right. Moses is just the messenger boy. It is God; God has stretched out his hand against me. He hates me. He hates that I am of mixed blood. Despite my service to the Israelites, he is banishing me from the camp.”
“God does not hate you or your lineage,” Nachshon said. “But he does loathe disloyalty and falseness. Retract your angry words and accept His judgment.”
“Never! My mixed parentage is a curse I can never escape. In my role as intermediary I was used by all and trusted by none. Though I have thrown in my lot with you, I have never been accepted. God has forsaken me and I shall forsake Him. I shall curse Him as no one has cursed Him yet.”
“No,” Nachshon’s eyes widened. “Don’t do such a thing. You do not realize what damage you could cause. Do not curse God, for the repercussions shall be devastating.”
“You cannot stop me, Prince Nachshon,” Tohuzar spat to the ground. “I do not care any longer for Moses or his God. If I shall be forced outside the camp of the tribes, I shall leave altogether and I shall leave in a way no one will ever forget. I shall curse the Ineffable Name of God Himself.”
“You shall be killed for such an act. Desist Tohuzar. Repent while there is time.”
“It is too late.”
Tohuzar closed his eyes and stretched out his arms heavenward.
Nachshon, Datan, Aviram and the entire crowd stood frozen to their places in a circle around Tohuzar. Only a flock of grey pigeons continued to chirp and flutter in the bright warm sky. Tohuzar chanted:
“By all that is good and bad in this world. By all the living and the dead. By all that is above and below. By all the past and the future. By all that is holy and profane. I curse thee God, Creator of the Universe, who did release the Children of Israel from the bondage of Egypt. I curse thee. I curse the world that you have made. I curse the children that you call your own. I curse everything that your hand has touched. I curse you, now and forever more. Curse thee. Curse thee. Curse thee!”
The silence of the desert expanded outward from Tohuzar. The flock of pigeons disappeared. The sun darkened. Air turned cold. The wind wailed in agony. Nachshon fell on his knees, tears streaming down his eyes. He grabbed the collar of his garment and ripped it until his chest was revealed. Others in the crowd ripped their garments as well. Datan and Aviram stared at Tohuzar, their mouths wide open.
Tohuzar stood in the center of the ring, unmoving. His arms hung loosely from his side. His shoulders hunched over. His face seemed to have aged by several decades. His eyes were vacant. There was no more light in his eyes. The green irises of his eyes had turned black, and they reflected no light. Tohuzar breathed. But it was the reflexive inhalation of a body with no soul. Datan approached Tohuzar. As soon as Datan’s hand touched Tohuzar’s arm, Tohuzar crumpled to the ground, barely breathing; a grim smile frozen on his face.
The flock of gray pigeons circled the air above a wooden structure on the outskirts of the Israelite camp. The tribes of Israel assembled in front of the structure. Moses stood on top of the structure, while Nachshon and Tohuzar were on the ground below.
Tohuzar’s hands were tied behind his back. He wore nothing but a simple loincloth. His body was shriveled and wrinkled. Nachshon held onto Tohuzar’s arms. A wooden platform had been built outside the Camp of Israel especially for Tohuzar. The platform was equal to the height of two grown men, if one would stand on the shoulders of another. Nachshon escorted Tohuzar up the steps of the platform. The majority of the Children of Israel had come out to see the execution. Tohuzar took slow, steady steps. He moved as one walking in his sleep. He was hunched over and moved like the old man he now appeared to be. He stared at nothingness.
Nachshon walked Tohuzar to the edge of the platform and stood next to an awaiting Moses.
“Is there anyone here,” Moses inquired in a booming voice that carried across the Sinai desert, “who can find favor in Tohuzar son of Shlomit of the Tribe of Dan? He stands accused and sentenced of blasphemy; of cursing the Name of God.”
Silence prevailed over the hundreds of thousands of people watching. In the front of the assembly, Datan and Aviram looked on wide-eyed, but wordlessly.
“I ask again,” Moses bellowed. “Is there not a soul amongst us that will defend or excuse Tohuzar’s actions? Speak now, or we shall carry out his death sentence.” Moses looked at the front of the assembly, at those who witnessed and heard Tohuzar’s curse, who now stood with ripped garments. He looked at Datan and Aviram. The brothers took a step back and slowly moved behind others in the crowd.
“Tohuzar,” Moses addressed the bound convict.
Tohuzar awakened from his stupor, though his eyes were still dark and empty, looking at nothing.
“You have committed a most grievous sin,” Moses pointed at his own torn robe, ripped through to the chest. “Your curse was heard throughout the heavens and all the angelic realms. For a moment, you shattered the foundations of the universe. Your curse had the power to return us to chaos and nothingness.”
Tohuzar smiled weakly.
“Make your peace with God now. Perhaps your soul will be spared.”
Tohuzar focused his gaze on Moses. He cleared his throat, and with great effort, he spoke. The voice sounded as if it came from a grave.
“I would not take back my curse even if I could. My only regret is that it was not more powerful, that I could not hurt God’s world or His people more. If I had the strength, I would do it again.”
“You ripped the fabric of creation, and you dare to be proud of this? To take joy in this? Do you not see? You were only able to curse by destroying yourself. Look at you. You are barely alive. Barely a human being. It is only by God’s mercy that you are still here after cursing Him to His Face.”
“Then he should have let me die,” Tohuzar said. “I take great pleasure in knowing that I have damaged part of reality, that I have made the world a sadder and darker place. It is a fitting memorial for the injustice done to me.”
“We shall remember the act,” Moses said, “and it shall be a warning and a lesson to the Children of Israel. But know this, son of Shlomit. Your name shall be erased from the heavens and the earth and the memory of man. It shall be as if you never lived, though your act will reverberate through the ages.”
Tohuzar’s face turned pale and some light returned to his eyes.
“My name? You would erase my name? That is who I am. How can you do that?”
“You shall only be remembered as the son of Shlomit. Your identity has now forever been established as The Blasphemer. Your past, your good deeds and your noble status no longer exist. You have erased them. You have erased your name and your history. All that remains is that single act of anger, folly and recklessness. That will be the only remnant of your sad life.”
“I was great, you know. I was a leader of the Israelites before you showed up. You cannot take that away from me. You are giving me the strength and the anger to curse once again. Release my hands and you can be a personal witness this time.”
“Enough! In accordance with God’s decree and the findings of our court, you are now to be killed by stoning.” Moses turned back to the assembly. “So shall all who blaspheme the Name of God thus be killed, and may the evil be cleaned from amongst us.”
Moses nodded to Nachshon. Nachshon pushed the son of Shlomit off the edge of the high platform. He fell to the ground face first. His head made a cracking sound as his nose broke from the impact. Blood gushed from his mouth.
“I curse, curse, curse,” he groaned.
Moses nodded at the witnesses at the front of the assembly below. Two men picked up a boulder and carried it over to the son of Shlomit. They dropped the boulder on his chest. His chest collapsed, but his breath still came out with a raspy hiss. Then, about a dozen men, each holding a rock the size of a human head, approached the contorted and broken body.
They surrounded the son of Shlomit, got down on their knees and pummeled him with their stones.
The grey pigeons scattered frantically in random directions. Moses looked heavenward, extended his arms palm up and closed his eyes in prayer, while the last word of the son of Shlomit rose into the air: “cursed.”
* * * * * *
10 And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp. 11 And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him unto Moses. And his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. 12 And they put him in ward, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the Lord. 13 And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying: 14 ‘Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. 15 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying: Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. 16 And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as the home-born, when he blasphemeth the Name, shall be put to death.
There are two versions given as to what preceded the curse of the blasphemer:
- He was making fun of the Showbread, saying that God was eating stale bread. [It was switched once a week, but according to tradition stayed miraculously fresh until the Priests ate from it after the week of laying in the Tabernacle.] He was reprimanded for disrespect and that led to his cursing.
- As depicted in the story. He wanted to reside in the section of the Tribe of Dan, his mother’s tribe. Moses ruled against this request as tribal affiliation is determined from the father’s side. The blasphemer was unhappy with the ruling and cursed.
One of the first questions that people ask me about the stories is how I come up with the names, or what do they mean.
Here’s the formula: I try to find a word in Hebrew that is meaningful for the character I’m portraying. Then I try to find a syllable to add to it that will sound like names and the correct gender from that period. The combination should sound like something that could be Biblical.
The inspiration for the protagonist in this story comes from a scene from a fantasy series by David Eddings (The Belgariad – highly recommended). He explains that sorcerers can do anything they can imagine, except to will something “not” to “be”. By trying to negate something from existence, he is trying to negate the universe and the result is that the universe negates the sorcerer. In the scene by Eddings, the sorcerer becomes flummoxed, tries to “unwill” someone and the sorcerer himself ends up imploding and disappearing from reality altogether.
Hence “Tohu” (chaos, nothingness), as the functional word for the name. “Zar” (strange, stranger) had the double advantage of highlighting his foreign pedigree, as well as being a Hebrew ending for a male name (Elazar) and giving a sorcerous flavor to the name. Others are free to add additional meanings. (“Huzar” is also “warned”).