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Biblical exegesis, or the interpretation (Drash) of the Torah, was part of the rabbinic tradition since the earliest literary period. What makes certain interpretations valid and others not? Why is interpretation needed altogether?

Lesson 4. Meta-Phor: Exploring Midrash

Lesson 4. Meta-Phor: Exploring Midrash

Scroll Down - Part 4

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Michael Chighel Jerusalem July 29, 2016

Although there is more than one way to translate the word "aggadah," the English translation "legend" is not an insufferable one. A rejection of this translation on the grounds that many aggadot are didactic (mussar) fails to grasp the subtle but significant difference between the terms "aggada" and "midrash." Not some, but every single midrash, without exception, is didactic (mussar); every midrash teaches something. The midrashim are specific aggadot that were carefully selected by the Sages, selected specifically for their didactic character, from a great body of ancient Aggada that includes "just legends," just ancient Jewish lore of dubious instructive value.

Re Moses's height, and why we should not take this midrash literally, it's worth taking at look at the analyses of Rabbi Saadya Gaon, Maimonides and Rabbi Yedayah Bedersi as expertly laid out in the following article, together with the articles in the same series: Midrash and Reality Reply

Michael Chighel Jerusalem July 29, 2016

According to a "pearl in the mouth" of the Baal Shem Tov, nothing in this blessed universe of ours escapes the guidance of divine providence. And so, in a sense, there are indeed many, many levels of divine inspiration across the gamut. A toddler enjoying a chocolate ice-cream cone on the sidewalk maneuvers his tongue, albeit unconsciously, with divine inspiration. At the same time, in another very significant sense, there is a crisp line of delineation between divine inspiration in the full sense of the word "prophecy" and all the lesser forms stretching from the rabbinic composition of midrashim down to the licking of ice-cream cones on sunny days. This significant line of delineation was established by the Men of the Great Assembly. (Their unique authority to draw this sharp line was itself based on the fact that they composed a liminal judiciary that included some the last prophets sitting among the first sages lacking prophetic gifts.) Reply

Sholom Klein NY July 28, 2016

Dear Dr Michael Kigel, your episodes are phenomenal on every level, both the production as well as your breathtaking delivery.
One word with regards to your back and forth with regards to the Midrash being Divinely-inspired. I think 2 important factors need to be taken into account. 1. There are many, many levels of prophecy starting from the greatest prophet-Moshe, all the way down to the lowest level of Divine-inspiration-example where one doesn't realize consciously that they are being a vehicle for Divine inspiration at that given time. 2. Torah is called-Gd's wisdom i.e the essential Divine inspiration, since Midrash is part of the Torah, is most certainly is Divinely inspired. For both of the aforementioned reasons taking into account the caliber of those Rabbis of the Midrash as well as the fact that the Midrash is one of the key books of the Oral Torah, it undoubtedly Divine inspiration, regardless of whether the Rabbis teaching it were aware of that fact or not. Reply

Akiva Israel July 21, 2016

As usual, this is excellent! Just two points in which I humbly disagree on. 1) According to mach'shava master Rav Moshe Shapiro, Aggada does NOT mean legend- this is a modern Hebrew misnomer (one out of many). Proof is in the fact that Aggada contains many words of mussar that are not stories. Aggada means the body that is ME'AGED- i.e. connects the logical part of Torah with our hearts & emotions. 2) From the Talmud (Shabbat) it sounds very much like Moshe (and other Levies!) WERE physically that tall. The fact that it is not hinted to in the text means almost nothing, as we know how written Torah works, right? And no comparison to Goliath, as there his height was the main part of the story. As opposed to completely fantastic Aggada (such as Raba bar bar Chana) this is not so unreal- people's heights etc. change with history. Very respectfully, Akiva Reply

James Pierce Colorado Springs July 11, 2016

This is wonderful, for a year and a half now, I have been drawn to learn as much as possible about Torah, and the Tanakh, etc, you summarize, inform, make the complex comprehensible, and order the information so clearly, and also entertain, thank you so much for this. Reply

inge reisinger zwickau July 5, 2016

good morning, yes today i succeded in watching the 4th lesson and as you said the unsaid lessons go deeper so deep that the new can be seen are you a doctor in medicine? if so than i have a lot of new
knowledge for you especially in the field of psychiatrie

and thank you again for these wonderful lessons Reply

Michael Chighel Jerusalem June 29, 2016

Dear George,

Thank you for your fine comment. Although it was a bit cryptic, I did manage to read between the lines ....

When I have counted "1," there is an infinity that I have not yet counted. But what if I say "10"? There is still an infinity of uncounted numbers. But in this "10," there is implied: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

There is more than one way "not to say something," in short. There is simply "not saying" because one does not have more to say, or one wants to keep something hidden, or one cannot say, etc.. But there are also many ways of "not saying" by way of strong implication. This is how a good joke works, for example. The Unsaid is precisely what makes it funny. It's also how a good teacher teaches: by giving room to the students to arrive at the Unsaid by themselves. As in irony, or any good joke, the power of the Unsaid Lesson thus sinks in much more deeply.

But perhaps I've already said too much .... Reply

ג׳ורג ווייטהמאייר קליפורניה June 28, 2016

L'drash,...
"Enquiring minds want to know."
...a part of my mind wants to quantify the 'answers' to some questions with other famous examples of creative writing. In college, some 'answers' would receive a "C" grade,... A passing grade? Yes, but keep your day job.
On the other hand, if the L-RD gives the answer, it is an "A+" with a gold star! ...but, what about all the stuff He DIDN'T talk about? Did the Almighty forget something? N-O-T !
Listen to Adonenu! What He says is greater than our enquiries about what He DIDN'T say.
So He didn't say it, must not be all that important... Reply

Hannoch Afful Ghana June 27, 2016

Dear Dr.
I am glad you have taken us through what the Midrash is all about. the PRDS of understaning the Torah. My concern is how to get access to the Midrash and own a copy. Does the Zohar also provide these four elements to understanding the Torah?
Thank you for your great teachings, its educative and entertaining. Please keep it up Reply

Anonymous South Carolina June 26, 2016

Someone commented on the closeness of the camera. I have no technical studio experience but it seems to my untrained mind that the production of this video class is perfection. I feel like he is speaking to me, a one-on-one transference of knowledge and wisdom. Reply

Michael Chighel Jerusalem June 26, 2016

Dear Terry,

Your question runs deep, and I can't say I have anything like an authoritative answer to it.

The Sages who composed the various midrashim, or who recast old folktales (aggadot) to serve the "didactic" purposes of midrash (exegesis), operated without the ruach hakodesh ("holy spirit"). After all, prophecy had ended. Only the prophets had enjoyed such divine inspiration.

On the other hand, the mind of Sage cannot be reduced to its mastery of logical forms of thought. No more than the inner workings of any Master--a master sculptor, a Karate master, etc.--be reduced to sound logic and erudition.

So while it's safe to say that the Sages relied on thoughtful insight rather than on divine revelation to formulate the midrashim, I am very wary not to conclude too hastily what actually constituted the sagacity of a midrashic Sage.

Thank you for your smart question! Reply

Terry AZ June 25, 2016

Dr. Chighel,

Thanks again.

Is the unstated assumption here that the drash presented in Midrash (either aggadic or halakhic) themselves are/were revealed to the sages (or whomever) by the Spirit of the Lord? Or are the Midrash also the result of voting, consensus, or something else? Reply

Michael Chighel Jerusalem June 25, 2016

Chabad.org has an excellent series of essays on this question by Rabbis Tzvi Freeman and Yehuda Shurpin, beginning with, "My Kid Thinks Moses Was Ten Feet Tall!"

I myself relied on these essays and on discussions with Tzvi in developing this lesson. Reply

Anonymous Toronto ON June 24, 2016

Thank you so much for your classes can you please enlighten me with a source for some midrashim not being literal it's been bothering me for a while.
Thank you so much Reply

Anonymous June 24, 2016

Excellent lesson! Thanks for posting these amazing videos :) Reply

James R. Russell Cambridge, MA June 23, 2016

It gets better every time. I've been a university professor for 36 years in two Ivy League universities; but here I re-experience the joy of being a kid in Talmud Torah again. Absolutely ingenious, fun, brilliant, and full of spiritual depth and Ahavat Yisrael. Thank you Rav Chighel and Chabad! Reply

Angela White Brisbane, Australia June 23, 2016

Thank you Dr Chighel, these lessons are one of the highlights of my life now! And today my 18 year old was in the room while I watched, and even though I wear headphones to listen, the visual aspect was enough to get her attention and now she wants to watch them all. Thank you. Reply

Lorraine Roses newton hlds June 23, 2016

As an educator who for many decades strove to entertain while teaching and conveying deeper meaning, you are a shining example. But on a personal level, as one who has come to Jewish learning late in life, your lessons are a balm to my spirit. I glean knowledge that I also condense and embroider as I tell these stories to my six grandsons.
I wish that this course--taught by you, Rabbi Michael--would be never-ending. Todah Raba. Reply

Anne-Marie Dheere Cyprus June 23, 2016

This is what is so amazing with the Oral and Written Torah. Nothing should be taken literarily. The more one needs and wants to learn the more deeply he/she will get involved into finding a multitude of answers to a sentence or a reading. It makes us want to explore like visiting an unknown land that no human feet have touched. Finding out the whys, the whats, the when, and the how come and why not. So much literature is involved that one wonders: where do I start and where will it lead me. This and for so many reasons Judaism is so fascinating and amazing that one never is satisfied with so little or much. The more I want, the more I need and the more I find, the more it gets me to unexplored dimensions of and getting me into spiritual heights. Reply

Anonymous Zefat, Israel June 23, 2016

Rabbi Chighel, thank you for taking the time to answer my question so thoroughly. Reply

Scroll Down is designed to initiate auditors into a first acquaintance with the Torah and with Jewish history and ideas. The video lessons are presented at an introductory level of Jewish Studies at college.
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