The Al Chet confession on Yom Kippur ends with us asking God to forgive us for the sin of timhon levav, “confusion of heart”. Unfortunately we are left on our own when it comes to the meaning of the phrase.
Eventually we find that it comes straight out of this week’s Torah portion, much of which is a tochechah, a set of rebukes that carry a severe list of punishments.
One of the worst punishments comes in a sentence which reads, “God will afflict you with madness, blindness and timhon levav, confusion of heart” (Deut.28:28).
The translators are not all of one mind about the meaning of the phrase. The renderings include “astonishment of the heart”, “dismay”, and “confusion of the mind”.
Let’s see if the context helps us. We are talking about ways in which God can punish us. Ibn Ezra notes that all three punishments in the verse are mental – balev, which though it literally means “in the heart”, denotes “in the mind” in Biblical linguistics.
The verse mentions madness, a mental condition in which one’s thinking and decision-making are not reliable. It mentions blindness, which must be meant metaphorically, in the sense of not seeing, perceiving, or grasping a situation. Then it mentions timhon levav, which could indicate being uncertain, perplexed, pulled in many directions at once.