Surplus Man: Yitro and the Big Download

Fruits of the Man/Mountain_________________________________________________________Wikimedia Commons

So just in time for the big download, the 411 from above, who ya gonna call? Yitro, the Midianite priest! Say what? Well it helps that he’s your father-in-law, but that brings up the whole marrying out thing. Say what?! And it’s not just to be polite. Nope, along comes Yitro just in time to help his son-in-law Moshe manage things before it all gets out of hand. Yitro, Surplus Man, Mister More, derived from the Hebrew ‘yoter’ meaning ‘more’. He’s all you can stand, Surplus Man, toting along his li’l grandsons, ‘Stranger There’ and ‘God is My Help’, AKA Gershom and Eliezer. What’s this all about? Let me put it this way. Without the bureaucracy instituted by Yitro–the judges over 1000’s, 100’s and 10’s–the voltage that dropped outta the sky with The Ten Utterances would have burnt out all the circuits in the tribal habitat and then have dissipated useless into ground. In a word, no capacitance. By interposing layers of interpretation between the original 411 and the Israelites on the ground, the charge is stored and distributed. A monster capacitor for the cosmic download. Gimme Mo’. But oddly enough it takes the interposition of a foreign idea, something wholly other, the bureaucracy of the Midianite priest. Capacitance, after all, is a labyrinth of conductance and resistance intercalated just so. A Midianite idea wrapped around a molten Israelite core? That’s what I’m talking about. Presto change-o, along comes the download and we can handle it, more or less.

That’s where the grandkids come in. Right. Stay with me. Stranger There is a way of telling us that it is precisely strangeness that must be brought to bear in the divine information processing system. It’s a kind of insulation against too much charge all at once. The reason the Israelites ended up saying thanks but no thanks, why don’t you go on up there, Moses, on your ownsome and tell us about it when you come back down. Too much voltage drives a man insane, according to Reb Jerry Lee. Gotta embed those 613 fast-transmitting diodes in a long narrative, way too much to read all in one go. And then run the whole shebang through the Midianite’s jurisprudence capacitor. Coil in a little bit of that non-conducting stuff, the foreign stuff, and you’ve got yourself some capacitance. But there’s a catch–how can so much depend upon the kindness of strangers? Or at least a particular stranger. Stranger There is reminding us that we are all strangers, or at least have been, and probably will be again. On the other hand, God is My Help reminds us that it’s all part of the plan, it’s all one. There is only one ultimate source for help, even if it comes by way of a stranger. 

Of course all this strangeness is mere outward appearance, The Holy One Blessed Be He in drag. It’s the same with the developing embryo, as one surface of the little developing bugger arcs around or folds in and bumps up against another surface, their mutual differences induce the next stage of differentiation in both tissues. One end literally does not know what the other end is doing. Magical, marvelous, since underneath it all is the exact same genetic material in the nucleus of every cell. We must be strange to ourselves in order to undergo efflorescence. Be the flower. Then you have the Israelites, strangers in so many lands for so many generations. Everywhere we go we bring learning and industry, sometimes indigenous to our culture and sometimes a little something we picked up along the way. Catalysts in the intermingling of strangeness and familiarity, the secret sauce of worldwide cultural development. Fractal strangeness. Capacitance. Now the Israelites also bump into the Midianites one more important time, at the far distant end of the wilderness trek, right before entry into the Promised Land. 

The Midianites are bookends to the wilderness saga, with Yitro showing up at Sinai and the Midianite/Moabite women seducing the Israelite men into idol worship just before we get the brass ring. It’s about boundaries, where you end and we begin, the flip side of all the intermingling. Another neurodevelopmental parallel–when the nervous system is busy evolving into different functional territories, the boundaries are created by apoptosis, programmed cell death. The opposing functionalities yell at each other across the boundaries and ID each other as foreign. The interlopers kindly agree to off themselves, thereby leading to more precise borders between functionally distinct territories. Twenty four thousand Shimonites died in a plague at the site of the intermingling[sic] with the Midianite/Moabite women. The Israelite functionality AKA nation is about to be established, and it won’t do to have any stray islands of Midianite functionality mixed in. Except of course in the synaptic connections laid down by old Pere Yitro. The whole mixed-up jumbled-up world depends on the appearance of the stranger at just the opportune moment and no other. Except sometimes we have seen the stranger and he is us. Very confusing, the whole drag routine. In the end, as always, it’s on us to conclude with the Aleinu, the prayer at the end of the morning service literally meaning “It’s on us.” The primary paragraph ends with the assertion that “in the heavens above and upon the earth below there is no other.” No other. And with that, we’re ready to get drunk enough at Purim so we can’t tell the villain Haman from the hero Mordechai. But that’s another story. Or is it?

About the Author
Michael Diamond is a writer based in the Washington, DC area. He practices psychiatry there and is a doctor of medical qigong. He has published verse, fiction and translation in Andrei Codrescu’s journal, The Exquisite Corpse; in the journal Shirim courtesy of Dryad Press; in the online journal for Akashic Press; in New Mexico Review and in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, an artist and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts, their dog, two cats, a cockatiel named Peaches and a tank of hyperactive fish. He has had a strong interest in Torah since first exposed to traditional stories as a child. Over the course of his life he has run the gamut of spiritual exploration of many world traditions of meditation and mythology. For the last several decades he has landed squarely in the traditional Jewish world. His writing is informed by all of this experience, by his curiosity about today's world and by his desire to mine the Jewish experience for its hidden and revealed wisdom. Torah Obscura, a glimpse of an otherwise invisible world afforded by a small aperture for light. All materials herein copyright © 2018 Michael S. Diamond. All rights reserved.
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