/מורשת
25/11/2003 ל` חשון, תשס``ד
Edom and the Modern Metropolis - by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg


In Yaacov's vision of a ladder, angels go up and down. According to Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman, these are the guardian angels of the other nations [Vayikra Rabba 29:2]. Yaacov sees the angels of Babylon, Persia, and Greece climbing up and down, just as their governments rose and fell. When he saw the angel of Edom, which symbolizes Rome, rise, "Yaacov became afraid. He said: Can it be that this one will never fall? And the Almighty replied, 'Do not be afraid, my servant Yaacov' [Yirmiyahu 30:10]. Even if he rises so high that he sits with me, I will cast him down from there." The mighty Roman eagle was calm and confident: "Who will bring me down to the earth?" [Ovadia 1:3]. But Rabbi Shmuel replied with the continuation of the prophesy, "Even if you rise as high as the eagle and if you put your nest among the stars, I will bring you down from there" [1:4]. Rome, the symbol of stability and security, was transformed into a symbol of remarkable collapse and an "incredible" destruction.

Rome is the symbol of a modern metropolis, so sure of its strength. This is the subject of the third legend of Rabba Bar Bar Channa, which describes what he saw on the walls of the city of Mechoza, in Babylon. "I myself saw Hormiz, son of Lilit, running on the top of wall of Mechoza. A rider was chasing him from below but he could not catch him. Once, two mules tied together ran on two bridges over the Rugnag River, and Hormiz jumped from one to the other, back and forth. He held two glasses of wine in his hands, and he poured wine from one hand to the other and back, but not even one drop was spilled. And this was a day when the skies opened up and the waters welled up from the depths! The story reached the house of the king, and Hormiz was killed." [Bava Batra 73a].

Hormiz is a prominent demon, he is the son of Lilit. The question of the existence of demons is beyond the scope of this article. Rather, we will try to understand the story as it was told, with the aid of comments by Rabbi A.Y. Kook. He points out that the city of Mechoza was not chosen at random. This was a city of rich and honorable men, people who were "involved with their merchandise" [Gittin 6a, and see Rashi]. The sages were not happy with the inhabitants of Mechoza. Rava called the best of the people of Mechoza "sons of Gehenom" [Rosh Hashana 17a].

For me, Mechoza represents the modern metropolis. What guides its way? There is no doubt of the answer: the desire for wealth and property. The demon Hormiz entices the people of Mechoza to seek wealth for its own sake, to amass such great fortunes that they have no meaning for the people, who can never spend such huge sums. The guiding principle of Hormiz is economics, and he describes financial negotiations as an exciting circus that comes to town even on a day of storms and crisis, a day when "the skies opened up and the waters welled up from the depths." The demon jumps between the two mules on the distant bridges, while pouring wine from one to the other. I can well imagine that even if the two bridges had been further apart, the effect of globalization would have contributed to the success of the demon. The wine was transferred, but look at the amazing event: "Not even one drop was spilled." In fact, the drops of wine should have spilled, since they represent charity, acts of social aid that were erased by the actions of the demon. However, the paradoxical and clever demon sometimes does spill some wine! During the economic crisis of 1929, when the world economy collapsed, our demon would even spill coffee into the sea, in order to make sure that the price would stay stable.

And now we can begin to understand the beginning of Rabba's story. When Hormiz ran on the wall, a fast rider chased him at the bottom of the wall but he could not catch him. The walls represent security, and the rider represents the guards of the city - the forces of law and justice, and the police. The police horseman cannot catch the demon. Crime takes control of society, which puts its trust in the wall but does not understand that the demon is dancing on top of it. The power of the metropolis is an example of "the support provided by a splintered rod" [Yeshayahu 36:6]. The rod may appear whole from the outside but it is really rotten inside. Yeshayahu uses the rod as a parable of the status of weak people who are ultimately the reason for the collapse of society from within. The prophet predicts that an ideal king will appear, "My slave, whom I will support, my chosen one, whom I desire... He will not break the splintered rod" [42:1,3]. As Rashi notes, "He will not steal from the paupers and he will not harm the poor and the weak." The slave of G-d will eventually prevail over the demon, but for the time being the demon dances in the streets. There are people dying from starvation and a lack of work, newly poor people are collecting charity in the markets, the sick and the old sleep outside. Children will grow up in streets full of crime, neighborhoods will be surrounded by fences and guards. However, the guards will not be able to reach the demon, even if they do not succumb to corruption.

It is usually assumed that the demons live in the ruins, but Hormiz lives in the city itself. If we were able to truly open our eyes, we would see that the city is devastated and splintered from within. The demonic authorities killed Hormiz because he dared to hint at their antics in the big city, in the new city of Rome/Edom. Only if we understand this will we be saved.