Devarim 28:28:

‘Hashem will strike you with madness, blindness and dismay.’ (NJPS rendering)

What is meant by madness here? Is it recommended that one rely on the modern discipline of psychiatry and its classification of ‘mental illnesses’ in order to know what this madness that the Torah refers to is?

Many thanks.

2 Answers 2

  1. The Ibn Ezra groups all three as afflictions of the heart.

  1. The Netziv in his Ha'amek Davar writes:

בשגעון. קלקול הדעת שלא תתבונן להיות נשמר מאוה״ע

Madness - The ruining of the mind such that it does not understand how to be safe/protected from the nations of the world.

  1. The Ba'al HaTurim notes that it means not just madness in the literal sense but rather that one's every habit and way of acting will be afflicted with a sense of madness.

  1. The Ralbag Biur HaMilos defines it as:

שגעון. הוא חלי יחסר בו דעת האדם

Madness - He will lack the human mind

It is also worth noting other instances when this word שגעון is used. In Melachim II 9:20 the verse writes:

וַיַּגֵּ֤ד הַצֹּפֶה֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר בָּ֥א עַד־אֲלֵיהֶ֖ם וְלֹֽא־שָׁ֑ב וְהַמִּנְהָ֗ג כְּמִנְהַג֙ יֵה֣וּא בֶן־נִמְשִׁ֔י כִּ֥י בְשִׁגָּע֖וֹן יִנְהָֽג׃

And the lookout reported, “The messenger has reached them, but has not turned back. And it looks like the driving of Jehu son of Nimshi, who drives wildly.” (Sefaria translation)

The Metzudas Dovid there explains that this 'wild' handling of the horse was:

מבלי סדר וישוב הדעת

Without any order or sanity

So it would seem similarly, in this context there is a lack of stability or composure, the inability to maintain a sense of mental equanimity.

Likewise, another equine example is brought in Zecharia 12:4:

בַּיּ֨וֹם הַה֜וּא נְאֻם־יְהוָ֗ה אַכֶּ֤ה כָל־סוּס֙ בַּתִּמָּה֔וֹן וְרֹכְב֖וֹ בַּשִּׁגָּע֑וֹן וְעַל־בֵּ֤ית יְהוּדָה֙ אֶפְקַ֣ח אֶת־עֵינַ֔י וְכֹל֙ ס֣וּס הָֽעַמִּ֔ים אַכֶּ֖ה בַּֽעִוָּרֽוֹן׃

In that day—declares the LORD—I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness. But I will watch over the House of Judah while I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. (Sefaria translation)

The Malbim there writes:

שכמו שהמשוגע יעשה דברים ע"י כח הדמיון בלי עצת השכל, כן תהיה אסיפתם בלא שכל ולבלי תכלית מסודר

That just as the madman will do things through the power of the imagination without the counsel of the mind, so too, their meeting will be without reason and without an orderly purpose...

So once again, it points to a state of complete disarray with no sort of mental orderliness or control.


The only real "definition" I could find (and my understanding of it) is that the term refers to a lacking of mental faculties, when someone is missing the (self)awareness that makes someone human.

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