Monday, October 11, 2010

Rabbi Menachem Tziyuni's Hover-Tower

Summary: The best evidence of a position that the tower of Bavel itself flew. But the reference is to the sod of what seems to be a different, Israelite, tower, and since this is after all kabbalah, which could very well be allegorical, I am not entirely convinced that he understood the migdal Bavel as literally a flying ship.

Post: In previous posts, I translated and then discussed Rabbi Yonasan Eibeshitz's position, as well as Rashi's position. (Also, Rambam's iron airship.) The most promising for the thesis that the tower itself flew is a statement from Rabbi Menachem Tziyuni, a possible grand-student of the Ramban.

I'll present what he wrote, with a few inserted elaborations here and there. After he (or the gloss) cites Rabbi Yitzchak of Acco, his Rebbe, relating the height of the tower to the shiur komah, he writes the following (again citing?):

אבל במקומות אחרים הזכירו ז"ל על ראש בשמים
שהניחו ע״ז ונתנו חרב ביד וכו"• אמנם הוזכר
בעונשם שם של רחמים וירד ה׳ לראות את העיר
ואת המגדל • וכן הבה נרדה כי ענין הידר׳ הוא
להיות רחמים בדינו וגלל כן שלא הניחו דבר
מבריאת המנהיג נשארו בחיים עיר ומגדל סודם
ידוע בפסוק עיר קטנה ואנשים בה מעת והיא
עיר מערי המלוכ׳ והמגדל הוא הפורח באויר אשר
ראו בשמים אשר בפסוק השליך משמים ארץ תי׳ת
ישראל • ובנין נערים סתירה ובו בפעם הבדל
האל יתברך כל הלשונות למשפחותם בגויהם•

"But in other places he mentions, za"l, regarding {Bereishit 11}:

4. And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth."ד. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ:

that they placed an idol there, with a sword in its hand, etc. {as per the midrash}. However, it is mentioned regarding their sin the Divine Name of Mercy {YKVK rather than Elokim},

5. And the Lord descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built.ה. וַיֵּרֶד יְ־קוָ־ק לִרְאֹת אֶת הָעִיר וְאֶת הַמִּגְדָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם:

And so too

7. Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion."ז. הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ:

For the matter of "descending" is to be merciful in His judgment. And because of this, that He does not put aside any thing of the creation of the Director, they were left alive. City and tower, their sod is known in the verse {Kohelet 9:14} {though I'm going to add a bit of context}:

יג  גַּם-זֹה רָאִיתִי חָכְמָה, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; וּגְדוֹלָה הִיא, אֵלָי.13 This also have I seen as wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:
יד  עִיר קְטַנָּה, וַאֲנָשִׁים בָּהּ מְעָט; וּבָא-אֵלֶיהָ מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל, וְסָבַב אֹתָהּ, וּבָנָה עָלֶיהָ, מְצוֹדִים גְּדֹלִים.14 there was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it;
טו  וּמָצָא בָהּ, אִישׁ מִסְכֵּן חָכָם, וּמִלַּט-הוּא אֶת-הָעִיר, בְּחָכְמָתוֹ; וְאָדָם לֹא זָכַר, אֶת-הָאִישׁ הַמִּסְכֵּן הַהוּא.15 now there was found in it a man poor and wise, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
טז  וְאָמַרְתִּי אָנִי, טוֹבָה חָכְמָה מִגְּבוּרָה; וְחָכְמַת הַמִּסְכֵּן בְּזוּיָה, וּדְבָרָיו אֵינָם נִשְׁמָעִים.16 Then said I: 'Wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.'

[Josh: I don't know the sod, as I don't know enough kabbalah. But if we are looking for some explanation of the allegory that might accord, consider this Rashi on the pasuk:

The Midrash Aggadah, [however, explains the verses as follows]:
[14] [There was] a small city: This is the body.
with few people in it: These are the limbs of a person.
a great king: This is the evil inclination, which all his limbs feel.
[15] a poor man: This is the good inclination.

Though it might well be referring to something else entirely, given how it continues about it being one of the cities of the kingdom.

and the city is one of the cities of the Kingdom. And the tower is the one which flies in the air, which they saw in the Heavens, which is in the verse {Eicha 2:1}:

א  אֵיכָה יָעִיב בְּאַפּוֹ אֲדֹנָי, אֶת-בַּת-צִיּוֹן--הִשְׁלִיךְ מִשָּׁמַיִם אֶרֶץ, תִּפְאֶרֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְלֹא-זָכַר הֲדֹם-רַגְלָיו, בְּיוֹם אַפּוֹ.  {ס}1 How hath the Lord covered with a cloud the daughter of Zion in His anger! He hath cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and hath not remembered His footstool in the day of His anger. {S}

And the construction children is destruction. And in that time Hashem divided all the languages according to their families and nations."

This ends my rough translation. The tower which flies in the air is the Tiferes Yisrael in the pasuk. Would we really say that the Israelites took over the tower of Bavel and used it to their own ends, until Hashem brought it down in His anger? He says that the sod of the migdal was that. Can we really take something which is labeled sod, and is clearly intended kabbalistically, to be literal and historical. It strikes me that it likely is intended allegorically, to explain some spiritual aspect of the migdal Bavel, or else the spiritual, allegorical meaning of the narrative of the migdal Bavel itself.


Shmerl said...

You should read Rabbi Ytzchok de min Acco inside, to get a better understanding what Seyfer Tziyuni is talking about.

Shmerl said...

"Tiferes Yisroel" is just the reference to midas (sfiras) Tiferes.

Shmerl said...

BTW, your picture is very fitting - it depicts a "vimana", flying tower from Indian (Hindu) folklore. They have a whole bunch of legends about such towers.

joshwaxman said...



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