Chapter Nine involves one of the four hundred questions that Doeg and Achitophel asked concerning "the Tower Floating in the Air". The sources for this extraordinary image, "the Tower Floating in the Air", are in the Talmud and the Zohar. In Talmud, Chagiga 15b the number of questions asked by Doeg and Achitophel is "three hundred". In Talmud Sanhedrin 106a two numbers, three hundred and four hundred are both recorded. In the Zohar (II:102a) the number of questions is "four hundred", and that is the number that the Arizal favors.

The following is the text of the Talmud, Chagiga:

Samuel found Rabbi Yehuda leaning against a doorpost and weeping. He said to him, "Keen scholar, why are you crying?"

He replied, "Is it a small matter what is written concerning the Rabbis? …Where is he who counted? Where is he who weighed? Where is he that counted the towers? (Isaiah 33:18)

"Where is he who counted" refers to scholars who counted all the letters in the Torah. "Where is he who weighed" refers to those who weighed the laws of the Torah to determine which are heavy and which are light. "Where is he that counted the towers" alludes to those that taught three hundred laws concerning a Tower Floating in the Air.

Erudition to Obscure and Confound

The Laws of Spiritual Purity and Defilement are the most difficult, obscure and esoteric in all Jewish Law. One of the main sections of this category of Law is taught in Mishna Ohalot, and it is one of the most difficult and one of the most obscure. Indeed, in these days, centuries after the destruction of the Temple, nearly all of these laws are no longer practiced, and the scholars who are proficient in them are few.

Mishnah Ohalot, Chapter Four, teaches about "a tower standing in the air". It refers to a tower (a small portable closet resting on thin legs) standing outside, under the roof of the sky, as opposed to a tower located within another building. Nevertheless, according to Rashi (Chagiga15b), the leading commentator of the Talmud and Bible, and based upon his supreme authority, the "tower standing in the air" is none other than our "Tower Floating in the Air".

[Rashi does provide another alternative interpretation, but it is hardly less esoteric than the one that will be discussed here. According to the alternative interpretation "the tower floating in the air" refers to the top of the Hebrew letter lamed which protrudes like a tower above all the other letters.] Doeg and Achitophel …desired…to disclose esoteric secrets for selfish and impure reasons...

When does its contents remain undefiled in opposition to the environment surrounding it? If it contains something defiled, under what circumstances does it defile the surrounding environment? These are some of the questions concerning this section of Mishna Ohalot.

In brief, "those that taught three hundred laws concerning a Tower Floating in the Air" refers to those that were proficient in a very difficult section of Jewish Law. It is a section that was also obscure and esoteric, even in the days of the Talmud, even in the days of King David. These scholars were few and great, and Rabbi Yehuda was crying over their disappearance.

Rabbi Ami said, "Three hundred questions were asked by Doeg and Achitophel concerning a Tower Floating in the Air."

In Talmud Sanhedrin this teaching is also stated in the name of Rabbi Ami, but the number of questions recorded there is "four hundred". These questions were asked by Doeg and Achitophel who have in common, in addition to their keen intellects, implacable enmity to King David, the prototype of Mashiach. They were not motivated by the pursuit of truth. Rather, they desired to confound and obscure, to disclose esoteric secrets for selfish and impure reasons, and especially to use their erudition as a weapon against David, the Messiah King. Asking these four hundred questions on the three hundred laws concerning a Tower Floating in the Air, they are, so to speak, the devil quoting Scriptures. This view is supported by the text in Talmud Sanhedrin:

Rabbi Ami said, "Four hundred questions were asked by Doeg and Achitophel concerning a Tower Floating in the Air, and none of them were answered."

Rabba said, "Is it such a great thing to ask questions! In the years of Rabbi Yuda they only studied the Laws of Damages."

Rashi explains there (in Tractate Sanhedrin) that "G‑d wants [the service] of the heart," and not impure erudition. Rabba's statement is intended to disparage the greatness of men like Doeg and Achitophel who use their sharp minds in such a negative way - to ask four hundred confounding questions. In contrast, in the generation of Rabbi Yuda the esoteric Laws of Spiritual Defilement were not even studied, but only the straightforward, practical Laws of Damages.

Spiritual Defilement Entering the Line of King David?

Furthermore, in the Mishna Ohalot that begins with "the tower that is standing in the air", the main theme is the rule that spiritual defilement "goes out, but it doesn't go in". Thus, if there is something defiled inside the tower, then it's influence will go out, under certain circumstances, to defile objects in the environment around the tower. However, if the impurity is outside, it will not enter into the tower to defile objects that are within it. Doeg and Achitophel wanted to prove otherwise; and in the same way to claim that something entered into the gilgul of King David or his antecedents that made him ineligible for kingship.

It was far from outlandish to suppose that there really was something seriously wrong in the line of King David. Come and see who his antecedents were. From the side of his ancestress, Ruth the Moabite woman, there was the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters (which is just about the lowest of the low) as well as the law that prohibits Moabites from converting into the congregation of Israel. His father's line was also full of problems. First there was Er and Onan, Judah and Tamar. Afterwards came the story of Elimelech and Naomi, their two sons Machlon and Chilyon, and the strange "levirate" marriage (yibum) of Boaz and Ruth. These difficulties, by the way, are some of the subject matter dealt with by the Sabba in Zohar, Mishpatim, which is the section that will be briefly introduced in this introduction.

Moreover, mystery and doubt surrounded the birth of David. His father, Jesse, had separated from his wife after the birth of their seventh son. How did she come to be pregnant once again, and according to her, impregnated by her husband who didn't remember a thing? Finally, the incident of David with Bat Sheva belongs in this category as well (see 7:10) since it also served as a prominent argument for those who wanted to derail the Davidic dynasty.

In addition, there is another interpretation of "the Tower Floating in the Air" that it refers to the erected, male sexual organ. In this case the questions of Doeg and Achitophel refer to the complicated and questionable sexual history of the Davidic line as outlined here. The purpose of their questions, accordingly, is the same as what has been explained. According to Doeg and Achitophel something entered into the gilgul of King David or his antecedents that made him ineligible for kingship.

Who Were Doeg and Achitophel?

Doeg, in addition to being the head of the Sanhedrin (the ancient court and legislature of Israel) also commanded the special police of King Saul. In that capacity he pursued David relentlessly, and of all the advisers of King Saul he was the most insistent that David had to be eliminated. The authority of the court to annul vows…floats in the air…

When David appeared out of obscurity to kill Goliath, King Saul began to inquire after his identity and the lineage of his family. Doeg answered, "Before you inquire about the lineage of his family, inquire whether they are even allowed to be members of the congregation?" Since one of the matriarchs of the family is Ruth the Moabite woman, according to Doeg (the Edomite), her ancestors are not even allowed to be part of the Jewish people. In this way he wanted to banish David from any position of leadership despite the fact that permission for a Moabite woman (as opposed to a man) to enter the congregation had already been decided by several courts before his time.

Achitophel was the wisest of all counselors in the generation of King David. Had Absalom, King David' son, followed the advice of Achitophel when he rebelled against his father, then David's cause would have been lost and the King would have been killed. Indeed, it may be that the entire rebellion was the design of Achitophel, and Absalom was just a helpless dupe against a force like that.

Many divisions of soldiers fighting for Absalom did not threaten David as much as Achitophel joining the ranks of the rebellion. For this reason David prayed special prayers, and he sent special, secret agents to infiltrate the ranks of Absalom's counselors for the specific purpose of frustrating the advice of Achitophel.

It is not insignificant that King David is the prototype of Mashiach, and these two, Doeg and Achitophel, with their great minds and keen perceptions, were the most implacable and most dangerous of his enemies. Typical of secret agents working behind the lines, with these questions they wanted to confound and confuse, hoping in that way to cast doubts upon the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty. Furthermore, they wanted to uncover a secret weakness in the root of King David's soul, a defilement or impurity in his gilgul, or in the gilgulim of his antecedents. In this way they hoped to gain the power to stop the Redemption.

Floating in the Air With Nothing to Rest Upon

There is another possible interpretation to the four hundred questions of Doeg and Achitophel on the Tower Floating in the Air. Mishna Nedarim 10a makes the following statement: "(The annulment of) Vows are floating in the air and they do not have anything to anchor upon…." In other words, the body of law concerning the authority of the court to annul vows does not have any scriptural source to rest upon, and it is not anchored in any scriptural source although it has become established law. It floats in the air. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, answered all…of the 400 questions…

The decision to allow a Moabite woman to convert and enter the congregation may be comparable. The scriptural source for this ruling is questionable. It was established on the authority of the Oral Torah. The courts of Boaz and Samuel the Prophet ruled accordingly, and it was finally established once again by the Sanhedrin in the time of King David. Doeg and Achitophel asked four hundred questions in the attempt to nullify this ruling. Although their logic was impeccable and could not be disproved until the time of Solomon, King David's son, the courts consistently ruled against them because there was a tradition that took precedence over their logic. That, too, is a Tower Floating in the Air.

The Sabba Enters the Place of 400 Questions

As mentioned previously, the number of difficulties and questions raised by Doeg and Achitophel, according to the Zohar, is not three but four hundred. The Holy Zohar also says that King David's son, King Solomon, the wisest of all men, answered all of them.

Furthermore, in the Zohar the Sabba of Mishpatim also asks and answers some of them, or at least one of them. In the middle of this section, it is stated explicitly that the Sabba has entered into the place of the 400 questions. Some of the text that records it will follow. (Indeed, it may be that the entire text of the Sabba in Zohar, Mishpatim, from its beginning, is really part of the four hundred questions. See "The Riddle of the Saba")

However, before we can translate and explain the explicit text we must first recall something that was learned previously. There is a phenomenon called "the spirit that is left within the woman" as a result of the first intimate relationship with her husband. This spirit remains within her at all times. However, what happens when her first husband dies, she remarries, and the spirit of her second husband enters within her? This is one of the four hundred questions.

Say your thing, Sabba. The Holy King is here…

Come and see. How high are the awesome and mighty [things] the Holy King does. Who can speak about them? His spirit is flopping around within her womb like a snake, and it quarrels with the other spirit of the second husband that has entered…

When the second husband comes and puts his spirit into this vessel, the first spirit quarrels with this spirit that has entered, and they cannot settle down together. For this reason the woman does not settle down properly with her second husband. The first spirit knocks around within her; she always remembers him, and cries and grieves for him because his spirit is flopping around within her womb like a snake, and it quarrels with the other spirit of the second husband that has entered.

If this spirit that has entered pushes out the first one, then the first one goes its way. Sometimes the first one pushes out the second, and quarrels with it until he takes it out from the world. And that is why we have learned that a man should not marry a woman who has had two husbands die on her because the Angel of Death is strong within her. People do not realize that it is this spirit [of the first husband] that has conquered the other spirit of the second [husband], and that is why nobody should get mixed up with her…

If the spirit of the first husband is strong enough to conquer and push out the second spirit, and consequently the second husband dies as well, then it is not advisable for any third man to marry her. It is likely that what has happened to the second husband will happen to the third as well. Therefore, tradition suggests that a man should not marry a woman who has had two husbands die on her (unless special banishing meditations are performed).

However, if the second spirit that has entered overpowers and conquers the first one, then the first spirit goes out from there and goes on its way. To where does it go, and what happens to it?

O' Sabba, Sabba [he says to himself] what have you done? You thought you would say a few words and get out of this, but now you have entered a place that no one else has entered since the day that Doeg and Achitophel made those difficulties. They asked four hundred questions concerning the Tower Floating in the Air, but no one could answer any of them until King Solomon came along and clarified each one of them exactly.

Sabba, Sabba, will you reveal this supernal secret that was hidden? What have you done?

"Sabba, Sabba, you should have watched yourself in the first place, but now, Sabba, is not the time to hide out. Get your courage back! Where does the spirit that leaves [her] go?"

He began to cry…

The spirit that goes out [from her] on its way wanders through the world, and it is not known. It goes to the grave of that man [the first husband from whence it came], and from there it wanders about the world. It appears to people in dreams who see in their dreams an image like that man…

Thus it wanders in the world and constantly visits that grave until the time when the [soul-]spirits visit the graves of bodies.

The second spirit, the soul-spirit, is a part of the soul of the person who has died, in this case the first husband. The time when the spirits of the soul visit the graves of the bodies is, for example, on the day of the yahrzeit, the yearly anniversary of the day when the person died. It is customary that descendants and students visit the graves of the departed on the yahrzeit day to pray there because it is a time when their prayers can receive assistance and power from the spirits of the departed ones. At such a propitious time the spirit that was left within the woman by the first husband and has gone out from her to wander in the world meets the spirit of the soul of the first husband from whence it has come.

This spirit joins with its main spirit, which clothes itself within it.

The wandering spirit joins the main spirit of the soul that has come down to the grave. The former, the wandering spirit, becomes an exterior addendum to the latter, until the soul-spirit returns to its place.

When it (the main spirit) goes into its place, it divests itself of it (the wandering spirit), but there is a place for it among the palaces of Paradise, or just outside of them, and there [the spirit] shelters - each one according to its ways.

When the spirits visit this world, when those that have died are needed among the living, then they ensconce within these spirits. There are times of trouble when the living need the assistance of the spirits of the deceased…

In other words, there are times of trouble when the living need the assistance of the spirits of the deceased. In such times, the spirits of the deceased are able to communicate with the world of the living through the interface of these minor spirits that have been sheltering "among the palaces of Paradise, or just outside of them".

Accordingly, it would seem that there is a happy ending to this story; the spirit drawn from the first husband that was left within the woman, which was banished as a consequence of her second marriage and made to wander through the world, has become the interface enabling communication between the spirits of the souls with the world of the living. However, the Sabba rejects this contention.

Perhaps you will say that it has been an advantage to the spirit, and this woman has benefited everyone. It is not so! If she did not marry another one, and if the first spirit had not been pushed out from before the other, then it would have had a different advantage, and it would not have had to wander in the world as it did. And it was not necessary for the living of this world that it should wander as it did here and there.

Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yossi challenge the Sabba'sposition on this issue with the following question:

"If that is the case, then the second union of this woman was not a good thing, but you said that [the rule is that] one man is pushed out by another man."

The Sabba himself taught us a rule that applies to these matters: one spirit is pushed out by another. Therefore, it is quite natural that the first spirit should be pushed out from before the second. It is not a calamity, and it should not be looked at in a negative way. Now, one of them will ask him another, stronger and more compelling question:

"And I say, maybe the second husband that married this woman is really her soul-mate, and the first one was not her real soul-mate. The second belongs to her, and when the time came the first one was pushed out from before him."

"Therefore, Sabba, pushing out the first spirit was not only natural; it was also just!" The Sabba answers:

It is certainly that way! The first spirit that was in this woman is never pushed out unless the second is her soul-mate. And in all the cases where the second is pushed out from before the first ones, it is the first ones that are the soul-mates and not the others. That is why they cannot abide together, and the second spirit is pushed out from before the first one.

Consequently, it is said about someone who marries a widow that he doesn't know his soul [i.e. he doesn't know what he is doing] "Because the net is spread for no reason…" (Proverbs 1:17). He does not know if she is his soul mate or not.

The Sabba now introduces an entirely new possibility that coincides with his own preference in these matters:

One Husband, No More

There is a widow who does not remarry. Even if her soul-mate comes along, but she does not want to remarry, G‑d does not coerce her with force. He prepares another woman for the man, and He does not enter into harsh judgment with this one in this world, even if she never has any children, because a woman is not commanded "Be fruitful and multiply..." (Gen. 1:22), as is known.

Thus, even if her first husband who has died was not her soul mate, and the second, potential husband is her soul mate, the Sabba nevertheless prefers that the woman refrain from marrying.


There is one major instance where the Sabba will agree that a woman should remarry after the death of her first husband, and the Torah just about obligates it as well. It is the case of "yibum" (levirate marriage), where the first husband has died without leaving any progeny in the world. The brother of the deceased first husband (the woman's brother-in-law) is designated by the Torah to marry the widow. This act of yibum will liberate the spirit that was left within her by the first intimate relationship with her first husband and build living progeny in the name of the deceased.

Now, the foundations of the Davidic dynasty are the yibum of Tamar by Judah and the yibum of Ruth by Boaz. Both these relationships were questionable and susceptible to the challenges of Doeg and Achitophel. They are the Tower Floating in the Air.

Judah was not the brother-in-law of Tamar, but her father-in-law. Ruth was a Moabite woman, and her legitimate entry into the congregation was questionable, let alone that she should become the mother of the royal house. Furthermore, even if her marriage to Machlon, the son of Elimelech, was legitimate, Boaz was not his brother but his father's cousin. What kind of yibum is that?

The spirit that was left within the woman by her first husband may well have been flopping around within Tamar and Ruth, but did these unorthodox types of yibum free those spirits and build them up? Could these relationships build the foundations of the genealogy of the kings of Israel and Messiah? Around these issues Doeg and Achitophel ask four hundred confounding questions, such as what happens to the spirit of the first husband. These are the four hundred questions of Doeg and Achitofel on the Tower Floating in the Air.

The discussion of the points touched upon here goes on and on in the inimitable way of the Zohar and the Sabba. Obviously, the Sabba was quite reluctant to reveal these things. For us it is not so much of a problem since we do not understand too much of the Zohar anyway, but now the Holy Ari comes and tells us that he too will be revealing one of the four hundred questions!

Chapter Nine is one of the four hundred questions that Doeg and Achitophel asked concerning "the Tower Floating in the Air." Like the Sabba, the subject of Chapter Nine will be illicit sexual relationships (in particular, that of homosexuality), how they effect gilgulim, and how the sparks that fell into the kelipot because of the sin are ultimately redeemed.

[Commentary by Shabtai Teicher.]