Studying Holiness in Talmud Nida – Avshalom


Maharal’s Commentary on Aggadot of T. Nida


Nida 24b. It was taught: Abba Saul stated, I was once a grave-digger39 and on one occasion there was

opened a cave under me and I stood in the eye-ball of a corpse up to my nose. When I returned I was

told that it was the eye of Absalom. And should you suggest that Abba Saul was a dwarf [it may be

mentioned that] Abba Saul was the tallest man in his generation, and R. Tarfon reached to his

shoulder and that R. Tarfon was the tallest man in his generation and R. Meir reached to his

shoulder. R. Meir was the tallest man in his generation and Rabbi reached to his shoulder. Rabbi was

the tallest man in his generation and R. Hiyya reached to his shoulder, and R. Hiyya was the tallest

in his generation and Rab reached to his shoulder. Rab was the tallest man in his generation and Rab

Judah reached to his shoulder, and Rab Judah was the tallest man in his generation and his waiter

Adda reached to his shoulder

Pushtabna1 of Pumbeditha reached to2 half the height of the waiter Adda, while everybody else

reached only to the loins of Pushtabna of Pumbeditha”..

Maharal explains that this story is teach us the power of the evil eye, for simply put it seems very difficult to understand why a son, Avshalom, would want the death of his cause, his father. But the Maharal explains that this story shows that the source of Avshalom’s desire was in the secret of the eye. For in the power of the eye is to turn all to nothingness, for without vision, everything is perceived as dark nothingness. The concept of nothingness is deeper than real matter, for before real matter was created there was nothingness. Thus nothingness is the father and cause (so to speak, for really God is the real cause using nothingness as a cause to create) preceding matter. Thus, one who is connected to spiritual nothingness can see himself as the cause of others even his own (physical) cause, his father, (for the physical is a lower realm than the spiritual). This, the Maharal adds, is evident in Avshalom’s name, for Av means father, for with his evil eye he connected to the fatherly causal state of the world of darkness, and shalom represents the reality of the world, for shalom is a concept of wholeness and completion (shelemut) of matter, and without it there would be no world reality, so Avshalom means the father  and nothingness before reality. Thus, Avshalom was able to desire the nothingness of his father because he was connected (by his name and his evil eye) to the aspect of nothingness.

So Abba Shaul illustrates that this aspect of nothingness was so great that it was capable of swallowing him till his nostrils, because one cannot swallow more (perhaps what Maharal means by this is that beyond nostrils one cannot breathe and would die thus nullifying him in the nothingness of Avshalom, and would cease to be a separate entity to be considered swallowed). Then the Maharal explains that there are ten levels of people mentioned here, one level below the other, to express the utter level of nothingness in the evil eye of Avshalom that supercedes the aspect of ten which includes all spiritual aspects of the world (see ten sefirot). Each level comes at the shoulders of the higher level to show that the main level greatness apparent in the head was beyond the lower level (the levels from top bottom are generally levels of Master and disciple from tannaic till amoraic). Maharal points out that the ten levels are exact, for the last two, who are not  themselves sages, are different than the eight mentioned before them, who are all sages. He also points out that the ninth level is one who gathers the sages (it seems very clear that Maharal is hinting to yesod which gathers all the previous aspects) and the tenth aspect is a ruler (this is a clear allusion to malchut). Also the ruler does not reach the shoulders as those before him, but only the loins – (a clear allusion to the connection between yesod and malchut).

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