Is U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres a Talmudic scholar or a Bob Dylan fan? Or both?
Close students of Dylan and the Talmud immediately recognized Guterres’s assessment that “a wind of madness is sweeping the globe” as an allusion to one or both of these original sources.
In Tractate Sotah 3a of the Talmud, Reysh Lakish is quoted as having said, Eyn adam over aveyre ela im keyn nikhnas bo ruach shtus [emphasis mine]. This translates approximately to: “No one commits a sin unless the wind of madness enters into him.”
In his remarks on Tuesday, the Secretary-General’s equivalent of a U.S. State of the Union address, Guterres inveighed against military instability, economic dislocation and manmade climate crisis, blaming it all on the Talmudic “wind of madness.” How else could rational world leaders be so irrational?
There is another way to translate “ruach shtus,” and that is “the wind of idiocy.” In other words, you’d have to be stupid to foment wars, build great wealth at the expense of the 99 percent, and to take measures that will increase rather than decrease global warning.
This is the version that Bob Dylan – no stranger to the Talmud – chose to use as the key phrase of one of his all-time greatest songs: “Idiot Wind.” For Dylan, the “ruach shtus” is the breath of idiocy, or wind of idiocy. He uses both constructions in the song, which was originally contained on his landmark album, “Blood on the Tracks:” “Idiot wind,” he sneers in the song — which can easily be read as Dylan’s own 1975 state of the union address — “it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”
The use of the term by Dylan and Guterres implies an equation between idiocy or madness and sin, that the acts of stupidity recounted in the former’s song and the latter’s address can only be explained as the wages of sin.
In Dylan’s case, his use of the central image of wind also echoed that earlier anthem that addressed sin and idiocy of a sort – the kind that was “blowin’ in the wind.”
Today, there’s idiocy, madness, and plenty of hot air “blowing like a circle around my skull, from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol,” as Dylan put it.
Seth Rogovoy is a contributing editor at the Forward and the author of “Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet” (Scribner, 2009).