Thursday, September 08, 2005

Maimonides' grandson

It says in Yoma 71b, regarding Hillel: He saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it: "For drowning others you were drowned; and in the end they that drowned you will be drowned."

That's a famous obscure Gemara.

One commentator said on it the following:
Hillel, may he rest in peace, saw Pharaoh's skull floating on the water. It was Pharaoh who used to take one hundred and fifty young children of Israel very morning, and another hundred and fifty every evening and cast them into the sea. That is why the Lord slew him and drowned him. And the ancients tell us that the Hillel referred to in the Mishna is really Moses our master, may he rest in peace....And he said to the skull, "Because you slew human beings and threw them into the water, the Lord has slain you and cast you into the water"....The is the hidden [mystical] meaning of this statement.
What's really interesting is that the above commentator was R. David Ha-Nagid, a grandson of the Rambam. (Midrash David of R. David Ha-Nagid, trans B.Z. Krynfiss (Jerusalem, 5704), p. 34)

Far be it for me to judge whether the Rambam would have liked this peshat, but suffice it to say that it is of the sort that is entirely different from the rationalist approach of the Rambam, that's for sure.

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