Found an awesome Rashi while reading I Kings 6:8:
“פֶּתַח הַצֵּלָע הַתִּיכֹנָה אֶל-כֶּתֶף הַבַּיִת הַיְמָנִית; וּבְלוּלִּים יַעֲלוּ עַל-הַתִּיכֹנָה, וּמִן-הַתִּיכֹנָה אֶל-הַשְּׁלִשִׁים”
Never mind the English translation right now, ‘cuz I’m working from the Hebrew. The context is the construction of Solomon’s Temple, and the text is describing the different parts of the structure.
As I read, I’m confused by the word “belulim.” The word ‘balul’ in Hebrew (or the root B-L-L in general) usually means “mixed up.” The abbreviated root, B-L, means the same, and the Torah states clearly that this is the root of the name of the city ‘Babel’ (or more properly ‘Bavel’ in Hebrew), the place where languages were confounded (mixed up). It is also certainly the root of the English word “ball,” and likely “bowl” as well. So what does it mean here in this verse? Rashi weighs in:
He first cites Targum that translates the word as “mesivatha” in Aramaic, from the S-B root which means to go around. (Famously, this is the root of the modern Hebrew word “sevivon,” a spinning top, known popularly in Yiddish as a “dreidel.”)
Rashi then relates this to an Old French word that I don’t recognize, spelled in Hebrew letters וויין. This might roughly be the equivalent of the Latin spelling “wein,” but I’m not sure what it amounts to in Old French. We will soon see that this word is related to the English word “wind” (verb), as in “turn” or “twist.”
Then Rashi goes on to German, where Rashi offers two terms: what appears to be phonetically pronounced as “vindel shtein,” and something that phonetically amounts to “shvindel shtig.” Rashi describes this as a sort of winding stone structure, a pillar of stone, as it were, with steps ascending around it, so that one ascends by walking around the central pillar.
Well, after some google searching with alternate spellings, I came up with a few things.
“Wendelstein” means “winding stone,” and is the name of a place in Bavaria, Germany. It is also the name of a mountain there (for which the place is named, presumably).
Germane (no pun intended) to our context, however, is that a “wendel-stein” was a structure in old German castles, which is exactly what Rashi describes. Some were winding ramps used to carry heavy things up. It can also refer to a winding staircase, also known in German as a “wendeltreppe.”
I haven’t figured out what a “shvindel shtig” is, but “schwindel” in modern German means “dizziness” (according to Google translate) and “schtig” translates as “addiction.” Perhaps the connotation is a structure that turns continually, such as the winding ramp or stairs described above.
Oh, and now the English translation of the verse according to JPS:
“The door for the lowest row of chambers was in the right side of the house and they went up by winding stairs into the middle row, and out of the middle into the third.”
I know, you’re thinking, “You could have just looked at the translation tobegin with!” But that’s not how I study. I read the original Hebrew and try to figure out what it means, using commentaries where appropriate. This is how scholarship is born. I find it amazing that my conclusion aligned with the translation (which I only checked at the end).
So can anyone else help me with the Old French term or the “schwindel schtig” thing?
UPDATE: Aha! Just figured out (via some more google searching for different variations) that “steig” in old German essential means “a steep track” (http://dictionary.reverso.net/german-english/Steig). So “schwindel steig” means a winding ramp — perfect!
Interestingly, even in modern Yiddish vernacular, particularly in “Yeshivish” slang, to “shteig,” is used to refer to one’s spiritual ascent, that is, when someone learns Torah with vigor, or increases their level of observance, this is called “shteigen”! I should have known!
Still need help with the French, though.
UPDATE: With the help of some awesome friends (shout-out to Ari Khan of West Hempstead, NY), we’ve solved the French weird mystery! The word that appears to say “vine” is apparently exactly that! It seems that the winding, twisting path of the vine caused that word to become the word for the staircase with the same shape. Hooray hooray hooray for words!