Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Seven Rules of Hillel - An Introduction

Rabbis Hillel and Shammai were leading figures in Judaism during the days of Yeshua’s youth.   Many of Y'shua’s teachings aligned largely with the School of Hillel rather than that of the School of Shamai.  For example, Y'shua’s famous “golden rule”: Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

This reads very closely with Hillel’s famous statement: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor that is the whole Torah … (Shabbat 31a)

Upon Hillel’s death, the mantle of the School of Hillel was passed to his son Simeon.  Upon Simeon’s death the mantle of the school of Hillel passed to Gamliel. This Gamliel is noted for speaking up in defense of the early Nazarenes (Acts 5:34-39) and he was also the teacher of Sha'ul/Paul (Acts 22:3).

Therefore, Paul would in all likelihood have been very conversant with the rules as he would have received his instruction and training in the School of Hillel from Hillel's own grandson Gamliel. 

1. Kal v'chomer (light and heavy)

Kal v'chomer is the first of the seven rules for understanding the scriptures.  The kal v'chomer rule is used to make an argument from lesser weight based on one of greater weight.  It may be expressed as:

If X is true of Y then how much more X must be true of Z (Where Z is of greater weight than Y)

A kal v'chomer argument is often signaled by the phrase "how much more..."  The Sages recognized two forms of kal v'chomer:

(1) kal v'chomer meforash - In this form the kal v'chomer argument appears explicitly.

(2) kal v'chomer satum - In which the kal v'chomer argument is only implied.

We find several examples of kal v'chomer in the Tanakh.  For example:

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XCII:7 AND WHEN THEY WERE GONE OUT OF THE CITY... IS NOT THIS IT IN WHICH MY LORD DRINKETH... AND HE OVERTOOK THEM... AND THEY SAID UNTO HIM:... BEHOLD, THE MONEY, etc. (XLIV, 4-8). R. Ishmael taught: This is one of the ten a fortiori arguments recorded in the Torah. 


(ii) Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; surely all the more, how then shall Pharaoh hear me (Ex. VI, 12). 

(iii) Behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the L-rd; does it not follow then, and how much more after my death (Deut. XXXI, 27). 

(iv) And the L-rd said unto Moses: If her father had but spit in her face; surely it would stand to reason, should she not hide in shame seven days Num. XII, 14). 

(v) If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, is it not logical to say, then how canst thou contend with horses (Jer. XII, 5). 

(vi) Behold, we are afraid here in Judah; surely it stands to reason, how much more then if we go to Keilah (I Sam. XXIII, 3). 

(vii) And if in a land of peace where thou art secure [thou art overcome], is it not logical to ask, how wilt thou do in the thickets of the Jordan? Jer. loc. cit.). 

(viii) Behold, the righteous shall be requited in the earth; does it not follow, how much more the wicked and the sinner (Prov. XI, 31). 

(ix) And the king said unto Esther the queen: The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the castle; it stands to reason, what then have they done in the rest of the king's provinces (Est. IX, 12). 

(x) Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work; surely it is logical to argue, how much less, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is singed, etc. (Ezek. XV, 5).)

There are several examples of kal v'chomer in the Greek Writings as well. Y'shua often uses this form of argument.  For example:

If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the Law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? (John 7:23)

What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep?  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. (Mt. 12:11-12)

Other examples of Y'shua's usage of kal v'chomer are:

Matthew 10:25; Luke 11:13; 12:24, 28; John 7:23; 15:18-20 

Paul also uses kal v'chomer:

Romans 5:8-9, 10, 15, 17; 11:12, 24; I Corinthians 9:11-12; 12:22; II Corinthians 3:7-9, 11; Philippians 1:16; 2:12; Hebrews 2:2-3; 9:13-14; 10:28-29; 12:9, 25.

2. G'zerah Shavah (Equivalence of expressions)

Argument from analogy.  Biblical passages containing synonyms or homonyms are subject, however much they differ in other respects, to identical definitions and applications.  If a similar word or expression occurs in two places in scripture, the rulings of each place may be applied to the other.

In strictly limited cases, the Sinaitic tradition teaches that the two independent laws or cases are meant to shed light upon one another. The indication that the two laws are complementary can be seen in two ways: (a) The same or similar words appear in both cases, e.g. the word in its proper time, is understood to indicate that the daily offering must be brought even on Shabbat. Similarly, the same word in the context of the Pesach offering should be interpreted to mean that it is offered even if its appointed day, too, falls on Shabbat.   

When two different topics are placed next to one another (this is also called comparison), e.g. many laws regarding the technical process of divorce and betrothal are derived from one another because Scripture mentions divorce and betrothal in the same phrase by saying, she shall depart [through divorce] and become betrothed to another man. This juxtaposition implies that the two changes of marital status are accomplished through similar legal processes. 

The phrase ‘Hebrew slave” is ambiguous, for it may mean a heathen slave owned by a Hebrew, or else, a slave who is a Hebrew. That the latter is the correct meaning is proved by a reference to the phrase “your Hebrew brother”, where the same law is mentioned (… If your Hebrew brother is sold to you …). 

3. Binyan ab mikathub echad (Building of the father from one text)

One explicit passage serves as a foundation or starting point so as to constitute a rule (father) for all similar passages or cases.

The Torah teaches that work in preparation of food is permitted on Pesach. We extend this ruling to apply to other holidays as well.

Hebrews 9:11-22 applies "blood" from Exodus 24:8 = Hebrews 9:20 to Jeremiah 31:31-34

4. Binyab ab mishene kethubim (Building of the father from two or more texts) 

Two texts or provisions in a text serve as a foundation for a general conclusion. Where one verse may not be sufficient to apply its rule elsewhere, a combination of two verses might be. For example: The Torah holds the owner of an ox liable for the damages caused by the ox. This ruling applies even if the damages it inflicts occurred somewhere other than where the owner originally placed the ox.

Similarly, one is liable for the damages caused by a pit he dug, or by an inanimate obstacle he placed in a public domain. From the combination of these two laws we derive a third law that if a person places an obstacle in the public domain and it caused damage somewhere other than where it was originally placed, the person who originally put it down is liable. See Bava Kamma 6a.

From Devarim 24:6 (“No one shall take a handmill or an upper millstone in pledge, for he would be taking a life in pledge”) the Rabbis concluded: “Everything which is used for preparing food is forbidden to be taken in pledge.”

From Shemot 21:26-27 (“If a man strikes the eye of his slave … and destroys it, he must let him go free in compensation for his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave … he must let him go free…”) the Hakhamim concluded that when any part of the slave’s body is mutilated by the master, the slave shall go free.

Since the Torah specifies that one may not marry even his maternal half sister, this general principle, dictates that the prohibition against marrying ones father’s sister applies equally to his father’s maternal half sister. The same rule applies when two different verses shed light on one another: Similar situations may be derived from the combination of the two verses.

In Heb. 1:5-14 Paul cites:

Psalm 2:7 = Hebrews 1:5

II Samuel 7:14 = Hebrews 1:5

Deuteronomy 32:43/Psalm 97:7/(Nehemiah 9:6) = Hebrews 1:6

Psalm 104:4 = Hebrews 1:7

Psalm 45:6-7 = Hebrews 1:8-9

Psalm 102:25-27 = Hebrews 1:10-12

Psalm 110:1 = Hebrews 1:13

in order too build a rule that the Messiah is of a higher order than angels.

5. Kelal uferat (the general and the particular)

Gen. 1:27 > Gen. 2:7, 21

A general statement is first made and is followed by a single remark which particularizes the general principle.

In Vayikra (Leviticus) (Leviticus) 18:6 the law reads: “None of you shall marry anyone related to him”. This generalization is followed by a specification of forbidden marriages. Hence, this prohibition applies only to those expressly mentioned.

The Torah writes, If a person shall offer a sacrifice to HaShem of an animal, etc. The generalization of an animal would seem to include any and all animals. However, Scripture follows that phrase with, from cattle or sheep, thereby specifying that only cattle and sheep are fit to be brought as offerings. 

6. Kayotze bo mimekom akhar (analogy made from another passage)

Two passages may seem to conflict until a third resolves the conflict. When two Biblical passages contradict each other the contradiction in question must be solved by reference to a third passage.

The Torah writes In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth (see Rashi for the explanation of this verse). This verse implies that the heavens were created before the earth. But later it writes on the day that G-d made earth and heavens, which implies that the earth was created first. However, a third verse resolves the apparent contradiction by stating (HaShem says:) Also my Hand founded the earth while my right hand formed the heavens, indicating that the heavens and earth were created simultaneously.

In Shemot 13:6 we read: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread”, and in Devarim 16:8 we are told: “Six days you shall eat unleavened bread”. The contradiction between these two passages is explained by a reference to a third passage where the use of the new produce is forbidden until the second day of Passover. Hence, the passage in Shemot 13:6 must refer to unleavened bread prepared of the produce of a previous year.

Rashi’s Commentary for: Bamidbar (Numbers) 7:89 When Moses would enter [When there are] two contradictory verses, the third one comes and reconciles them. 

One verse says, “the Lord spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting”, and that implies outside the curtain, whereas another verse says, “and speak to you from above the ark cover” [which is beyond the curtain]. This [verse] comes and reconciles them: Moses came into the Tent of Meeting, and there he would hear the voice [of God] coming from [between the cherubim,] above the ark cover.

Paul shows that the following Tanakh passages seem to conflict:

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17 = Habakkuk. 2:4)


There is none righteous, no, not one... (Romans 3:10 = Psalm 14:1-3 = Psalm 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20


[G-d] will render to each one according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6 = Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12)


Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man whom the L-rd shall not impute sin. (Romans 4:7-8 = Psalm 32:1-2)

Paul resolves the apparent conflict by citing Genesis15:6 (in Rom. 4:3, 22):

Abraham believed G-d, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

Thus Paul resolves the apparent conflict by showing that under certain circumstances, belief/faith/trust (same word in Hebrew) can act as a substitute for righteousness/being just (same word in Hebrew).

7. Davar hilmad me'anino (Explanation obtained from context)

Deduction from the context. 

The Torah included You shall not steal as one of the ten commandments. It is not clear, however, whether this verse is a prohibition against stealing property or against stealing a human being, i.e. kidnapping. The Sages derived from the context that it is a prohibition against kidnapping, which is a capital offense, since the preceding, and following, injunctions, You shall not murder and you shall not commit adultery are capital offenses.

The Torah first writes no person shall have relations with any relative. This verse implies that it is forbidden to marry any relative, regardless of how distant. The Torah then proceeds to list which relatives are forbidden in marriage, indicating that one may marry any relatives that are not included in that list, namely, the more distant relatives.

The noun tinshemeth occurs in Vayikra (Leviticus) 11:18 among the unclean birds, and again (verse 30) among the reptiles. Hence, it becomes certain that tinshemeth is the name of a certain bird as well as of a certain reptile.

In Devarim 19:6, with regard to the cities of refuge where the manslayer is to flee, we read: “So that the avenger of blood may not pursue the manslayer … and slay him, and he is not deserving of death”. That the last clause refers to the slayer, and not to the blood avenger, is made clear by the subsequent clause: “inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.”

"I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession", refers only to a house built with stones, timber, and mortar, since these materials are mentioned later in verse 45.

This is only a very basic introduction to the Seven Rules of Hillel, but hopefully it will prove useful in presenting to the reader yet another facet of Rabbinic hermeneutics. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Peeling the Onion (continued)

Revisiting the Midrash on Ruth

One of the greatest challenges to understanding a midrashic approach to a text is understanding the logic that underlies the connections between the text and interpretations which appear subjective and even fantastical.  Let's revisit the midrash from the Ruth Rabbah in a previous post.

The verse under consideration:

"And at mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come here and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.' So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her parched grain; and she ate until she was satisfied and had some left over"  (Ruth 2:14).

B. R. Yochanan interpreted the phrase "come here" in six ways:

C. "The first speaks of David.

D. "'Come here:' means, to the throne: 'That you have brought me here' (II Samuel 7:18).

E. "' . . . and eat some bread:' the bread of the throne.

F. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this speaks of his sufferings: 'O L-rd do not rebuke me in Your anger' (Psalm 6:2)

G. "' So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time."

H. [Resuming from G:] "'and he passed to her parched grain: 'he was restored to the throne: 'Now I know that the L-rd saves His anointed' (Psalm 20:7).

I. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.

This line of interpretation is repeated and applied to King Solomon, King Hezekiah, King Manassah, culminating in the King of Kings, King Messiah.  It would appear that tremendous liberties are being taken with the text and that the plain meaning of the text is being compromised.

First and foremost, all the words recorded in Ruth are Divinely inspired and are no less revelatory of G-d's truth than the rest of Scriptures.  There is much to be gleaned from Scriptures that seem to be nothing more than narrative or historical accounts.  The Bible is not merely a historical record or genre of literature, it is literally G-d's word written down by men who were animated and inspired by His Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh).

As G-d's Word, it is eternal and contains truths and lessons that transcend time.  As G-d's Word, Divine revelation, it is given by inspiration of G-d, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of G-d may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (cf. II Timothy 3:16).  And so nothing is taken for granted when digging deeper to discover the next layer of meaning that may be revealed in the text.

So, even a simple conversation between Ruth and Boaz, or between Sarah and Abraham will be packed with layers of meaning, layers of meaning which are profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness that we may be thoroughly equipped for every good mitzvah.

If we were to sum up the message of the entire Bible it would be simply this: All of the Bible is a revelation of how G-d has taken care of the problem man introduced into His world i.e. sin and death.  The Bible progressively reveals the work of the Messiah from his first mention in Genesis to the last Amen in Revelation.  The story of the Bible is simply the story of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of man back to Himself.

And so what the Sages are doing when they consider the verse from Ruth 2:14 above, is that they understand the verse from within a paradigm.  Ruth and Boaz are certainly real people who lived at a particular time in history, they are flesh and blood and just as human as we are.  But the key events of their lives have been recorded in G-d's Word, and so the snapshots of their lives recorded in the text are going to be packed with meaning for us.

Boaz is the kinsmen redeemer,  Ruth is a Moabitess, an outsider who was excluded from the assembly of Israel according to the Torah, and she was encouraged by Naomi at one point to return to her people and to her gods.   The rabbis are also working from the understanding that from this remarkable union, the Davidic monarchy is going to be established, not to mention the line of the Messiah.  Ruth is the great-grandmother of David.

The verse which records Boaz's statement to Ruth is now going to be examined within the larger and more encompassing framework of this redemptive and prophetic paradigm which is formed by the union of Ruth and Boaz.  The phrases 'Come here,', 'eat some bread,' 'dip your morsel in vinegar,' 'beside the reapers,' 'parched grain,' 'ate and was satisfied,' etc., have other layers of meaning which will all be considered in light of this paradigm.  In other words, the union of Boaz and Ruth, in fact the entire chains of events recorded in the book of Ruth can be read symbolically, or midrashically.  

A midrashic approach also recognizes patterns in Scripture.  In this midrash, the rabbis recognize four kings who will eventually descend from the union of Ruth and Boaz, four kings who have a number of things in common, things which can be thematically linked to the original verse under discussion.  This pattern of the four kings also builds towards and culminates in the King for Whom we are all waiting with great anticipation, the King Who will not judge by the sight of His eyes or the hearing of the ear, but in righteousness, the King of Kings, King Messiah, Whose reign will last forever and ever.

King Messiah's reign is also marked by the same elements of the previous kings mentioned and of course King Messiah is in the line of Boaz and Ruth.  Also, King Messiah, like Boaz, is a kinsmen Redeemer bar none Who even made salvation and redemption available to those who were outside the House of Israel and excluded from His promises.

Another facet of midrash is to think of it as writing with Scripture. The power of the rabbinic exegetes was in their ability to see the whole of Scripture contained in each one of its parts. They put the whole together systematically.  Then they came to the parts and placed them into the context of that systematic reading of Scripture.  Individual verses of Scripture then serve as proof-texts for conclusions reached in the reconstruction of the Scripture's own internal patterns.

We observe a similar process at work with the example of Galatians which we introduced on the previous post.

A Difficult Midrash: Galatians 4

Paul begins with a question to those who seek to be justified before G-d through works of the Law:

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? (Galatians 4:21)

He then goes on to tell us what the law says about two sons of Abraham: Isaac and Ishmael.  The Torah has recorded the circumstances of each of their births and how they came about.  Paul identifies another layer of meaning in those circumstances as well as in the subsequent events surrounding their birth and lives, not to mention in the lives and relationships of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar.  

Paul asserts in verse 22 that Hagar was a slave woman (bond woman) and that Sarah was a free woman.  Straightforward enough.  The text also tells us that one son was born of Hagar (the bond woman) and the other son, Isaac, was born of Sarah (the free woman). Again, straightforward enough.  And then things begin to ramp up a bit.  Paul states the following premise:

But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the free woman through promise, which things are symbolic.  (Galatians 4:23-24)

Weren't they both born according to the flesh?  They were both born of women and experience the physical process of birth?  Is this not being born according to the flesh?   Yes and no.  What's the larger context?   What's the paradigm?  G-d has been clear, the birth of Isaac which is connected with the promise G-d made to Abraham is going to come through Sarah.  G-d's promise was made to Abraham and Sarah, not to Abraham and Hagar. The birth would be nothing short of miraculous and clearly G-d's doing as both their physical bodies were as good as dead.  They were both well past the age of being able to bring children into the world, which is precisely the point G-d is trying to make.  

The promise is not thwarted and Sarah does give birth to a son just as G-d said she would, a direct result of His promise.  Prior to this however, Abraham and Sarah decide to take matters into their own hands and Abraham takes the bond woman, the slave woman, and she becomes pregnant with Ishmael, with whom there is no mention of a promise by G-d. The implication is that Hagar is not past child-bearing age and through Abraham's efforts, according to the flesh, a son of the slave-woman is brought into the world.

What does Paul say about all of this?  He says these things are symbolic.  In other words, these things recorded in the law can be read and applied midrashically, that is, layers of meaning can be extracted that are applicable to a present situation with which he is addressing.  How is Hagar connected to Sinai?

Paul continues to build his midrash:

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar -- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children -- but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. 

(Galatians 4:24-26)

Apparently, there is even a geographical connection between Hagar and Sinai and Paul probably had a number of Scriptures in mind as he formulated his next point.  After all, Hagar came from Egypt (a place that is clearly connected with slavery and bondage for the Jewish people), the other side of Sinai.  When Sarah mistreated her, she fled to Shur, just north of Sinai (Genesis 16:7) and later, following the permanent expulsion, she took Ishmael to the wilderness of Paran—next to Sinai (Genesis 21:21).

Like Moses at Sinai, Hagar saw G-d (Genesis 16:13).  This is a due reminder that Paul's point is not simple denigration of either Hagar or Torah; rather, he is making a point about the prophetic significance of the Abrahamic promises, Isaac, and the Messiah, over against Ishmael and Hagar.

What about the basic manner in which Paul connects to Ishmael and Isaac here?  Although there is no record in Genesis that Ishmael was treated as a slave in Abraham's household, yet there are two important points of contact with Paul's argument: (a) Ishmael was a child of a slave; and (b) Ishmael, while blessed in many respects, did not inherit the things which G-d promised Abraham.

Abraham's "seed," and therefore the connected promise, would not be placed in Ishmael but in Isaac (Genesis 21:12).  Isaac was the seed through whom the covenant with Abraham would be established (Genesis 17:18–21) and thus becomes a sort of second point between Abraham (discussed in Galatians 3:6–9) and the ultimate Seed, the Messiah, for whom the promise was given (Galatians 3:16). Given this Abraham-Isaac-Messiah connection, the contrast to Ishmael, both as the son of a slave, and as the son who does not inherit, is fairly straightforward for Paul's midrash.

The context is the most important clue to Paul’s line of thinking. He has been telling the Galatians that to rely on the Law for justification is foolish. If the righteous live by faith, those that rely on the law are under condemnation, because man cannot be justified by the law.  The Law was never intended to justify anyone before G-d.  What Paul is primarily addressing is the misuse of the Law, and he relies on the authority of the Law itself to do so. The irony is that some in Galatia were trying to use the Law for something the Law itself said it could not be used for i.e. justifying and declaring a man righteous before G-d!  

Recap and Summary

As taught in parashat Vayera, Abraham had two sons: Ishmael, the son of the slave Hagar, and Isaac, the son of Sarah.  Ishmael's conception was "natural," i.e., was "of the flesh" and the result of human intervention and calculation; Isaac's conception, on the other hand, was supernatural and the result of G-d's miraculous intervention and design. The Apostle Paul interprets these historical events in midrashic (i.e. allegorical) terms.

The two mothers "represent" two distinct covenants: Hagar (who, according to Jewish tradition and midrash was the daughter of Pharaoh) represents the covenant made at Sinai that results in "children born of slavery," whereas Sarah represents the covenant made earlier, a covenant that is rooted in and established on a Divine promise that results in freeborn children (Galatians 4:24­-27).

Mount Sinai is in the barren wilderness ­­ the starting point of a nation that was once enslaved in Egypt; but Mount Zion/Jerusalem (representing the fulfilled promise) is in the "land flowing with milk and honey" ­­ the ending point of a nation that is divinely elected. Mount Sinai is ultimately barren, but Mount Zion is "the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 50:2) who bears innumerable children (Isaiah. 54:1).

In chapter four of Galatians, Paul, having been thoroughly trained in the best rabbinic methods of Bible interpretation of his day, builds a midrash.  A midrash is the Jewish way of saying that an allegorical, sermonic, or homiletic interpretation of the Scripture is about to take place.  This midrash is in Galatians 4:21–31.  It is difficult to understand, as all midrashim (plural of midrash) are.  Its difficulty has discouraged and confounded many a Bible interpreter.

Sha’ul uses this midrash to illustrate the point he made in chapter three with his comparison of the two important covenants, the Abrahamic and Mosaic (not the old and the so-called new).  Just as Abraham was putting Hagar before Sarah in order to fulfill G-d’s promises of descendants by means of his own efforts i.e. works, so there are those presently in Paul's day who are attempting a works justification by putting Sinai (covenant of obedience) before Abraham (covenant of  promise).

G-d called Abraham to a life of faith. G-d promised Abraham that He would give him children in his old age. G-d intended for the children would come through Sarah. Time went by and no children came.  Apparently, Abraham thought he would attempt to secure God’s promises by his own efforts instead of relying on G-d to perform it. Thus, he had a child through Hagar. Although this was perfectly in keeping with the established customs of his day, it was not perfectly in keeping with trusting G-d. Abraham should have trusted G-d and waited for Sarah to have a child.  Ishmael, therefore, was a child of works, a result of Abraham's efforts, but Isaac was the child of faith, a result of G-d's promise.

Paul is now midrashically applying the text of the Torah to his present situation of the Galatians and arguing that anyone who tries to secure G-d’s gracious promises of salvation and justification by obeying the Torah (going to Sinai) is not unlike Abraham trying to secure G-d’s gracious promises through his own efforts with Hagar. In the Galatian congregation, they were simply putting “Sinai” before “Abraham,” when they should have been putting “Abraham” before “Sinai.”  

This does not nullify Torah observance, but rather puts faith and obedience back into their proper perspective. Obedience must follow faith, obedience is an outflow of faith, otherwise it is not in response to faith. Obedience, that is, following “the rules” for their own sake, does not provide justification before G-d. This is to be compared to Hagar and her son in Paul’s midrash. Only by faith in G-d is justification before G-d achieved, not through our own performance of the mitzvot; then and only then, does obedience to the Torah of G-d have full meaning. This is to be compared to Sarah and her son in Paul’s midrash.

It should also be obvious that the contrast is between the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants and does not allow for a replacement of one over the other, a point Paul had articulated earlier in the epistle:

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by G-d, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but G-d has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.

(Galatians 3:17-18)

One More Note

It should be remembered that Paul's idea that Hagar and Sarah represent "mothers of two different peoples" can be (and has been) easily misunderstood (2 Peter 3:15­-16). Historically, many traditional Christian commentators have used the allegory as a means of rejecting and diminishing the importance of the Torah.  It is clear, however, that Paul had the highest regard for the revelation at Sinai and positively upheld the law (Galatians 5:14,22; Romans 3:31, 7:12, etc.).

Any attempt at "justification" based on personal merit or by din of our own efforts, is simply a step away from that which comes freely to those who trust in the divine promise of eternal inheritance. In other words, the doctrine of "justification by grace through faith" is a fundamentally Jewish concept, amply illustrated and taught in the Torah as Paul goes to great lengths to demonstrate in this epistle and others. 

Salvation is "from the Jews" (John 4:22), and G-d has promised that there would always be a remnant of His people who would believe (Isaiah. 1:9, 10:21, Jer. 23:3, 31:7, Joel 2:32, Romans 9:27, 11:5, etc.).  In the end, "all Israel shall be saved" and all of the divine promises given to the Jewish people through the prophets will be realized.

An honest reading of the Book of Galatians shows that Paul was not simply rejecting legalism, but any form of work­-based salvation.  Israel should have known this, since the Torah (and prophets) prophesied that a new era of "circumcised hearts" would come. Therefore Paul puts forward the idea that salvation by the grace of G-d is in perfect harmony with the teaching of Torah.

My intention is not to connect all of the dots, but to provide enough direction to begin recognizing this method of exegesis when it is encountered and hopefully provide a better understanding of some of the 'logic' which drives the method.  Rather than attempting to employ the method, I encourage the reader to first learn to recognize, familiarize himself with, and better understand the method.  You will soon be discovering and appreciating layers of meaning you never knew were there.

(To be continued . . . .)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Peeling the Onion

Concerning the previous post, Res Ipsa asks:

Please show me how/why the interpretation you used is the proper one and how or why I should have picked up on that and not the one I put forward.

Let's take a few steps back, and introduce a couple of examples from the writings of Paul which may aid us in grasping and better understanding the method of midrash

Galatians 4:21-31  

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.  His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.  

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.  

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."  

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.  At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.  But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."  Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Paul is expositing on a text(s) from the Torah to prove that no one will be justified before G-d and considered righteous by Torah observance.  Let's consider the texts to which he is referring.  Paul says that it is written that Abraham had two sons.  Written where?

So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

(Genesis 16:15-16)

Now the L-RD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the L-RD did for Sarah what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time G-d had promised him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.

(Genesis 21:1-3)

Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the L-RD.

(Isaiah 54:1) 

But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." 

(Genesis 21:9-10)

The first part of Paul's argument in verses 21-22 and the Genesis passages upon which his statements are based are relatively straightforward.  But what are we to make of the rest of the passage (verses 23-31) and the passages he cites as proof texts, especially Genesis 21:1-3 which is an exchange or conversation that takes place between Abraham and Sarah?  (In the previous post, we examined the Sages' understanding of a conversation that took place between Ruth and Boaz).

How is Paul justified in taking the words of Sarah from a conversation recorded in the Torah (the first five books of Moses) and using those words to support his thesis here in Galatians 4?  Wasn't Sarah just vehemently reacting to the mocking of Isaac?  Furthermore, how can Paul take the mocking of Isaac by Ishmael and apply it to the persecution he and others were presently enduring (i.e.  . . . even so it is now)?  

How can he assert that Isaac and Ishmael are representative of two covenants: one from Mount Sinai, which is Hagar, corresponding to present-day Jerusalem, when nothing in the text explicitly indicates that this is so?  And what are we to make of the Isaiah passage cited as support for the premise that the Jerusalem above is free and the mother of us all?  Curious.

Hint: midrash.

We will continue unpacking this "Pauline drash" in subsequent posts in hopes of further elucidating and helping us to better understand this challenging method of exegesis, G-d willing.  

(To be continued . . .)

Monday, November 16, 2015

How Sweet are Your Words

What is Midrash?

The root of the word midrash is darash, which is used in the passage where Rivka (Rebecca) goes "to seek the counsel of" (liderosh) the L-rd concerning her difficult pregnancy.  In a similar vein and spirit, the midrash represents an effort to seek out the truth in Scripture.  More generally, midrash encapsulates the interpretation, amplification, and exegesis of a holy and Divinely revealed text: the written Torah.  However, the word midrash has several layers of meaning:

(1)  the process, that is, a particular way of reading and interpreting a verse of the Hebrew Scriptures (the process is and may be recognized in the Greek Writings as well).

(2)  the result of that process, therefore, a given verse and its interpretation, is also called a midrash.

(3)  the collection of the results of such a process or a compilation of such interpretations concerning a particular book of the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e. Genesis Rabbah, a compilation of Midrashic exegesis on the book of Genesis etc.)

How Does Judaism Read Scripture?

First and foremost, it is critical to understand that the Torah is G-d's Word, G-d's instruction which yields not one-time history, but eternal truths.  And so, for the Sages and Rabbis, the Torah speaks in the present, and not merely the past tense.  This understanding is proclaimed every time the Torah scrolls are displayed and the community proclaims: "This is the Torah that Moses set before the children of Israel at the command of G-d."  In other words, the Torah is not merely the story of what happened only once.  It is the expression, embodiment and presentation of eternal truth.

The Rabbinic midrash reads the Bible by transforming the genres of Scripture into patterns that apply to the contemporary world as much as to times past.  In other words, the past is present, and the present is part of the past with past, present and future forming a single plane, as it were.  Perhaps one of the best ways to convey this idea is through a relatively simple illustrative example.  Let's consider a conversation between Boaz and Ruth that is recorded in the Scriptures and expounded upon in a Rabbinic midrash:

[The passage I selected is abbreviated to highlight the critical components which will serve the purposes of our illustration.  For the Sages, Boaz's invitation seems uncharacteristically verbose, especially in light of the fact that he was speaking to a strange woman.  Furthermore, it seems rather ungenerous of Boaz to offer Ruth only a meager morsel of bread.  And it seems trivial to mention where Ruth sat (beside the harvesters) when she ate.  The Sages take nothing for granted in the text and every detail and nuance is considered.  The midrash therefore demonstrates and is careful to address and highlight the significance of all these points, clause by clause, showing how the conversation between Ruth and Boaz refers prophetically to future events.]

Ruth Rabbah 5:6


A. "And at mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come here and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.' So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her parched grain; and she ate until she was satisfied and had some left over":

B. R. Yochanan interpreted the phrase "come here" in six ways:

C. "The first speaks of David.

D. "'Come here:' means, to the throne: 'That you have brought me here' (II Samuel 7:18).

E. "' . . . and eat some bread:' the bread of the throne.

F. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this speaks of his sufferings: 'O L-rd do not rebuke me in Your anger' (Psalm 6:2)

G. "' So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time."

H. [Resuming from G:] "'and he passed to her parched grain: 'he was restored to the throne: 'Now I know that the L-rd saves His anointed' (Psalm 20:7).

I. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.


A. "The second interpretation refers to Solomon: 'Come here:' means, to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne: 'And Solomon's provision for one day was thirty measures of fine flour and three score measures of meal' (I Kings 5:2).

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this refers to the sullying of Solomon's deeds (that he did).

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time."

E. [reverting to D:] "'and he passed to her parched grain:' for he was restored to the throne.

F. "'and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the ages to come.


A. "The third interpretation speaks of Hezekiah: 'Come here:' means to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this refers to the sufferings (Isaiah 5:1): 'And Isaiah said, Let him take a cake of figs' (Isaiah 38:21).

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne was taken from him for a time: 'Thus says Hezekiah. This day is a day of trouble and rebuke' (Isaiah 37:3).

E. "' . . . and he passed to her parched grain:' for he was restored to the throne: 'So that he was exalted in the sight of all nations from then on' (II Chronicles 32:23).

F. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.


A. "The fourth interpretation refers to Manasseh: 'Come here' means, to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' for his dirty deeds were like vinegar, on account of his wicked actions.

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for his throne was taken from him for a time: 'And the L-rd spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they did not listen. So the L-rd brought them the captain of the host of the King of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks' (II Chronicles 33:10-11).

E. [Reverting to D:] "'and he passed to her parched grain:' for he was restored to the throne: 'And brought him back to Jerusalem to his kingdom' (II Chronicles 33:13).

F. "' . . . and she ate and was satisfied and left some over:' this indicates that he would eat in this world, in the days of the Messiah, and in the age to come.


A. "The fifth interpretation refers to the Messiah: 'Come here:' means, to the throne.

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this is an allusion to the afflictions that the Messiah will undergo, as it is stated concerning the Messiah: 'He is pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon Him is for our benefit, and through His wounds we are healed' (Isaiah 53:5).

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne is destined to be taken from Him for a time: 'For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle and the city shall be taken' (Zechariah 14:2).

E. "' . . . and he passed to her parched grain:' for He will be restored to the throne: 'And He shall smite the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked' (Isaiah 11:4)."

F. "so the last Redeemer will be revealed to them and then hidden from them."

(The Midrash then digresses from the discussion of our verse to discuss certain aspects of the Messianic era, and picks up a short time later with the sixth interpretation, referring to Boaz).

Remember, the midrash transforms genres of Scripture into patterns that apply to the contemporary world as much as to times past, forming an enduring paradigm which contains important truths. From our example above, the paradigm is defined as follows:

The Messiah is enthroned, suffers, loses the throne, and is restored to the throne; this paradigm is formed by the following units we outlined above:

(1)  David's monarchy

(2)  Solomon's reign

(3)  Hezekiah's reign

(4)  Manasseh's reign

(5)  the Messiah's reign

All of these 'units' form a single pattern.  For the Sages, the transaction of Boaz and Ruth (the Scripture under discussion and being interpreted) contains the whole of Israel's future history of redemption through possession, loss, and restoration: the Messiah is likened to Israel in possessing, losing, and regaining the throne, as Israel lost but was restored to the land - and will be once more by the same Messiah.  All things transpire on a single plane of time.  Past, present, and future are not differentiated, which is why a single action may contain within itself an entire account of Israel's redemptive history under the aspect of eternity.

The foundations of the paradigm rest on the fact that David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Manasseh, and therefore also the Messiah, all descend from Ruth and Boaz's union, and all gained, lost, and regained the throne.  From within the framework of the paradigm, the event that is described here - "And at mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come here and eat some bread, and dip your morsel in the wine.'  So she sat beside the reapers , and he passed to her parched grain; and she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over" - forms not so much an event as a pattern, and the exegesis serves to demonstrate how the details of the pattern are fleshed out and realized in the successive Davidic monarchs, culminating in King Messiah.

The pattern transcends time.  What we have is a tableau, joining together persons who lived at widely separated moments, linking them all as presences in this simple exchange between Boaz and Ruth.  And so we see the presence of the past, for David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and so on, and also the pastness of the present in which David or Solomon - or the Messiah - lived or would live.

Of course, we may go even one step further, benefitting from even more light.  Those of us who identify and embrace Yeshua as the Messiah will recognize that He fits the fifth interpretation quite nicely and I would argue indisputably so:


A. "The fifth interpretation refers to the Messiah: 'Come here:' means, to the throne.

(Of course the Messiah reign as King some day, as numerous passages in the Tanakh indicate)

B. "' . . . and eat some bread:' this is the bread of the throne.

(Yeshua often spoke of Himself as the bread of life and the true manna Who came down from heaven.)

C. "' . . . and dip your morsel in vinegar:' this refers to the sufferings of the Messiah: 'But He was wounded because of our transgressions' (Isaiah 53:5).

(Of course, we are familiar with the sufferings He endured, in order to make propitiation for the sins of Israel and the world entire.)

D. "'So she sat beside the reapers:' for the throne is destined to be taken from Him for a time: 'For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle and the city shall be taken' (Zechariah 14:2).

(Many wanted to crown Yeshua King at a certain point during His ministry, and He entered
Jerusalem in the manner of a king, riding on a donkey to shouts of Hosanna; and "King of the Jews was written and posted over His head on the execution stake. But it was not yet time to restore the throne to Him.)

E. "' . . . and he passed to her parched grain:' for He will be restored to the throne: 'And He shall smite the land with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the
wicked' (Isaiah 11:4)."

(Upon His return, He will reign as King over all the earth when all the kingdoms of this world
become the kingdoms of the L-rd and His Messiah.)

F. "so the last Redeemer will be revealed to them and then hidden from them."
(This is exactly how it happened: the Messiah was revealed to Israel in the person and work of Yeshua the Messiah, and now for a time has been hidden from them. Yeshua declared and taught that this would be so, that He was going away for a time. Much like Joseph was not recognized by his brothers until he was revealed to them a second time, so to with the Messiah, when one day, Israel will look upon the one Whom they have pierced and mourn for Him as for an only Son.)

The approach illustrated above is, to put it mildly, challenging for the Greco-Western mind, which likes things systematic, compartmentalized, and tidyFor me, it's all about the Messiah and His work of redemption.  I believe that He is on every single page of the Scriptures without exception and that there are countless pictures of Him to be discovered everywhere.  We need only ask Him, as King David did, to open our eyes to perceive wonderful things in His Word.  

To be continued  . . .

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Garden of the Torah

Earlier this week, Res Ipsa (affectionately known in our house as "My Friend in Wyoming") requested an article on Jewish exegesis:

I'd like to make an article request. I would like to know how you personally incorporate PARDES into your study. Some hints on doing my own exegetical work in a more Hebrew manner would a plus if you are up for it.

Although the request was only for one article, it soon became apparent to me that it will take a series of articles to adequately convey an introduction to Jewish exegesis.  I begin with a general introduction to Pardes and in subsequent articles I intend to discuss Jewish exegesis generally, in hopes of providing hints and tools which will be help others do exegetical work in a 'more Hebrew manner.'

Below is a compilation and adaptation from various sources which I hope will serve to provide a jumping off point for a more detailed discussion of Jewish exegesis in subsequent articles.  


Pardes is rooted in a Jewish tradition that conveys the Sages' vision of paradise as spending eternity sitting near the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden learning Torah.  PARDES is an exegetical approach to understanding the Hebrew Scriptures in their proper context which employs four "levels" of interpretation:

Peshat = Literal or plain meaning; the contextual, philological level 

Remez = Allegorical meaning; cross-reference to other texts

Derash = Moral or homiletic meaning

Sod = Secret or mystical meaning

The initial letters of these four words form the acronym 'PaRDeS' which means 'garden' or 'walled garden' or 'Paradise'. 

P’shat, the Safe and Sure Road

P’shat literally means “to make a road.”  It is the simplest level of interpreting Scripture:  What it says is what it means.   P’shat is also the most important level of interpreting Scripture.  As its name suggests, it is like a road winding through the wilderness.  To the side of the road are the other levels of interpretation, there to be explored, and as long as we always keep the road in sight and return to it when we are done with our excursion, we’re safe.  

But when we forget the road, the plain meaning of Scripture, then we get into trouble.  Therefore, doctrine should never be made solely on a perceived midrash, remez, or sod, but always on the plain meaning of Scripture.  In other words, it is critical that the P'shat, the plain meaning of the text, is never compromised in our exegesis.  It forms the foundation of all of our exegesis and understanding. 

In other words, p'shat entails the understanding of the Scriptures in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the word’s being used, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context.  The p'shat is the cornerstone of Scriptural understanding.  If we compromise the p'shat, we will fail to accurately understand and no longer objectively derive any real meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but rather will find ourselves subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis).   The Sages are careful to emphasize that no passage ever loses its p'shat:
Rabbi Kahana objected to Mar son of Rabbi Huna: But this refers to the words of the Torah? A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning, he replied. (cf. Talmud Shabbat 63a)
Within the p'shat several types of language may be employed: figurative, symbolic, and allegorical. The following generic guidelines will help determine whether or not a passage is figurative and, if so, also figurative even in its p'shat:
  1. When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. Example: Isaiah 5:7 - For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
  2. When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative. Example: Zechariah 5:1-3 - Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying scroll.  And he said to me, What do you see? And I answered, I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.  And he said to me, This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth; for everyone who steals shall be cut off henceforth, according to it; and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth, according to it.
  3. When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. Example: Psalm 17:8 - Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings ...

Remez:  Following the Hints

The second level of Biblical interpretation is the remez, literally the “hint” of something deeper.  This “hint” can be something as simple as the name of a place, as subtle as a misspelled word, or as obvious as a prophecy that has as yet to be fulfilled.
One example of a remez is found in the account of Isaac’s “sacrifice” (i.e. the akeidah, the binding of Isaac) by his father Abraham.  The p’shat meaning is that G-d was testing Abraham’s faith.  However, there is also a hint of something else in the narrative:  “Abraham called the name of that place The L-rd Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the L-rd it will be provided” (cf. Genesis 22:14).

Both the prophetic name and the expectation in the time of Moses was that this prophetic name would come to pass in that same place.  And indeed, the L-rd did provide on that very same mountain a Son for a sacrifice in place of Isaac, and in place of all of us.  This “hint” of a prophetic name is our clue pointing beyond the simple test of Abraham’s faith to the Messiah.

Another example is when the Israelites in the wilderness complained against the L-rd and He punished them with venomous serpents.  When the people cried out to Moses, G-d instructed him to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, that all who might look on it should be healed (cf. Numbers 21).   

This oddity is our “hint” of something deeper going on, and this “hint” is explained by Yeshua Himself in John 3:14-15:  “"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

Just as the serpent represents sin, so the bronze serpent represents sin judged on a stake, just as the Messiah became sin for us (II Corinthians 5:21) and accepted our judgment on the execution stake, the tree, in our place.

There are remezim of the Messiah in the Tanakh.    A Christian equivalent of remez might be "types."  Some of these types are midrashim, only visible to us because we can look backwards through the lens of the Messiah's life; others are “hinted” at by oddities in the text itself, as with the two examples above.  Let's consider another remez expounded by Matthew:  

“[Yeshua] came and lived in a city called Nazareth. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene’” (cf. Matthew 2:23).
For centuries, Christian commentators have been confused by Matthew’s statement; where in prophecy was the Messiah ever called a Nazarene?  Many have taken this to refer to some sort of Nazrite vow (cf. Num. 6), but Scripture does not record the Messiah taking such a vow, let alone  explain how it would be related to the town of His birth.  The answer is found in the proper spelling of Nazareth:  Natzeret (נצרת), coming from the Hebrew word netzer (נצר), meaning branch, not nazir (נזיר), a nazarite.  Matthew seems to be reading a “hint” of a Messianic prophecy in the very name of Yeshua’s hometown:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch (נצר) from his roots will bear fruit.  (Isa. 11:1)
Note that no remez can ever override the p’shat of Scripture.  If we think we have found a hint of something deeper, but this deeper thing violates any plain meaning of any passage, then we have wandered off the road of p'shat

Midrash:  Digging Deeper

(Subsequent articles will treat this level in great detail.  This level is perhaps one of the most misunderstood by people who are unfamiliar with a Hebrew approach to exegesis.)

The word drash literally means to “dig” or “search,” while midrash means “teaching” or “learning.”  This digging deeper into the Scriptures can take several forms:

  1. A homiletical approach to Scripture, reading back into the text one’s own situation in order to apply them to that situation.  Stern writes, “The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which G-d can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.”  
  2. Creating a fuller story around the Biblical text to illustrate a Biblical truth.  For example, the rabbis developed stories about Abraham’s hospitality in general in expounding on his specific hospitality to the three visitors in Gen. 18. 
  3. A comparison between words in seemingly unrelated texts.  
For example, in I Corinthians 9:9 and I Timothy 5:18, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and applies it to himself in his ministry.  How does he do so?  In both cases, the issue is one of withholding needed support (food/supplies) from the one doing work.

R' Sha'ul (Paul), a disciple of Rabbi Gamliel, midrashically connects the concepts and builds a kal v’chomer (“light and heavy”) argument, what we would call an a fortiori (“from [even] greater strength”) argument:  If G-d commanded that not even oxen, which He cares relatively little about, could be withheld from support (food) when working, how much more should we give support to the men, whom G-d cares much about, carrying out the L-rd's work.

For another example, in Matthew 2:15, Matthew cites Hos. 11:1 as a Messianic prophecy predicting Yeshua’s return from Egypt.  The problem arises when we look at Hosea in its original context:

When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. The more they called them, The more they went from them; They kept sacrificing to the Baals And burning incense to idols.  Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; But they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love, And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws; And I bent down and fed them. They will not return to the land of Egypt; But Assyria--he will be their king Because they refused to return to Me. (vv. 1-5)
It is obvious that Hosea was referring not to an individual Messiah as G-d’s Son, but to the whole of Israel (cf. Exodus 4:22).  Indeed, we see that the passage is an accusatory one, convicting this “son” of turning to idolatry despite his Father’s love until He had no choice but to punish him.  How could this possibly apply to the Messiah, Who never rebelled against His Father and was without sin?

Matthew is building a midrash:  Israel is called G-d’s son, and so is the Messiah (2Sa. 7:14, Psa. 2:2ff).  Matthew, looking back at Yeshua’s early life, sees that Yeshua indeed also came out of Egypt, and therefore applies this passage to Him.  The unspoken implication is that where Israel went astray after coming out of Egypt, Yeshua walked perfectly in G-d’s ways.  A similar case could be made for Yeshua's 40 days in the wilderness which parallels Israel's 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Others may argue that Matthew is not making a drash, but a remez instead:

Thus the Son equals the son: the Messiah is equated with, is one with, the nation of Israel.  There is the deep truth Matthew is hinting at by calling Yeshua’s flight to Egypt a “fulfillment” of Hosea 11:1.
This fact, that the Messiah Yeshua stands for and is ultimately identified with his people Israel, is an extremely important corporate aspect of the Gospel generally neglected in the individualistically oriented Western world.  The individual who trusts Yeshua becomes united with him and is “immersed” into all that Yeshua is . . . in other words, . . .  [T]he Messiah personifies or is identified intimately with Israel . . .
It is because Messiah is one with Israel and vice-versa that non-Jews who trust in Him can be grafted into the olive tree of Israel (cf. Rom. 11:16ff).

There are three rules to keep in mind when utilizing the d'rash interpretation of a text:
  1. A drash understanding cannot be used to strip a passage of its p'shat meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict the p'shat meaning of any other scripture passage.  As the Talmud states, "No passage loses its p'shat."
  2. Let Scripture interpret Scripture. Look for the Scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory.
  3. The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.
Just as with the remez, no midrash may ever violate the least word of the plain text.  The purpose of midrash is to expound upon the text and to cross-reference various passages into a composite whole, not to create new doctrines that cannot be arrived at by the p’shat.

The Secret of Sod

What is the sod?  This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text.   Sod also may involve the mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like,implying that G-d invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters and spaces between the words.

The most obvious example of a sod in the Greek Writings (i.e. New Testament)  is the famous Number of the Beast.  An example most people are familiar with is Revelation 13:18, regarding the "beast" and the number "666."   As early as Irenaeus, it was understood that the name of the Antichrist, when rendered into Hebrew and/or Greek letters, would add up to the number of six hundred and sixty-six according to the numerology of those alphabets.  And while the text comes out and states this to be the number, many authors nevertheless regard this as a sod.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Heavy Laden

The 55th chapter of the Psalms was composed by David HaMelech as he was running away from his rebellious son Avshalom.  At that point, David was also notified that Achitofel, who had been David's closest friend and adviser, had betrayed David and joined with Avshalom in his rebellion (cf. II Shmuel 15).  Both Doeg and Achitofel earned the appellation of "men of bloodshed and deceit," about whom the verse says: They shall not live out half their days.

The Sages in the Gemara inform us that neither Doeg nor Achitofel lived to the age of 35 years, less than half the life span of an average person, which is seventy years (Sanhedrin 106b).  After being betrayed once again, David teaches us that when one is hounded, there is only one solution: prayer.

Cast upon Hashem your burden and He will sustain you (v. 23).  Though the basic meaning of this verse is that it refers to the burden of one's livelihood, it can also refer to all of life's troubles and burdens.  Regardless of how hopeless the situation may seem, when one throws his burden upon the shoulders of the Almighty, he can be assured that his prayers will be answered.  The overwhelming weight is lifted, as one is freed from worry and anxiety.

In verse 18, though David is clearly restless and greatly agitated, the very fact that King David could still muster the strength and proper mindset for prayer, despite the inner turmoil he was experiencing, was a clear sign to David that G-d had already heard his voice and supplication.  David recognizes and expresses that every peaceful, happy day that he ever experienced had also been a gift of G-d's omnipotence and goodness, since it was only He Who had always delivered him from impending peril.

It was Hashem Who raised David far beyond any such danger even in those days when the masses did not stand arrayed against him as they did presently.  Even in those better times, when he had hosts of supporters among his people, even the most intimate support of his closest friend, it was never to the masses and hosts of supporters, but to G-d alone that David owed his peace and happiness.

Occasionally we forget David's timely message of hope.  However, Hashem is certain to remind us, and sometimes the most unlikely of messengers are the ones who deliver the encouragement.  In this Psalm David teaches us when and how to ask for Hashem's help and support (v. 18): "Evening, morning, and noon, I supplicate and moan; and He has heard my voice." 

We constantly face challenges in our lives.  Some we feel equipped to handle; others seem ridiculously daunting and unfair.  In all instances, though, we are advised, "Throw it all onto Hashem's lap, pray and cry out to Him with heartfelt concentration."  He knows you can't do it on your own.  No one can.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under G-d's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  (cf. I Peter 5:6-7)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Modern Identity Crisis

One of the more interesting ways to gauge the impact of the distorted values and meanings that have emerged from within the context of our modern world, a world where these distorted values and meanings seem altogether normal, is the shift in which life is generally viewed at it's terminal point.

I recently stumbled across an excerpt of an analysis ("Changes in the Public Portrayal of Death" by Eric Nelson) of obituaries published in the Salem (Massachusetts) Evening News between 1786 and 1990 that highlights a number of the watermarks of modernity and its impact.  Three areas stand out and are worthy of note:

1.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most obituaries made some mention of the character of the deceased; by the end of the century that was rarely the case.  In 1786, 80 percent of obituaries made reference to character.  By 1810, this figure had fallen to 71 percent; by 1830, to 45 percent; by 1900, to 10 percent.  After that, no such references can be found.  By contrast, a person's occupation was seldom an important detail in the obituaries at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but by 1990 it had become the key means by which a person was identified.  In 1786, only 15 percent of the obituaries mentioned the person's occupation.  By 1900, this figure had grown to 70 percent.  It then declined for a time, but by 1990 it had rebounded and increased to 80 percent.

2.  At the beginning of the nineteenth century, obituaries were largely written in religious language, much of it specifically Christian.  In 1786, 79 percent of the obituaries used religious language in speaking of the person's death.  By 1810, only 70 percent did; by 1830 only 20 percent; and by 1900 such references had vanished completely. Interestingly, the frequency of the mention of pain and suffering in these obituaries declined in tandem with the loss of religious language.

3.  Obituaries published at the beginning of the nineteenth century typically made some reference to the individual's involvement in community life.  Between 1810 and 1830 the number of these references declined sharply, and by 1900 they had vanished completely.  In 1786, 65 percent of obituaries spoke of the connection the person had had with the community and often the person's contributions to the same.  By 1810, this figure had fallen to 57 percent; by 1830 to 11 percent; and by 1900, this form of measuring and identifying the deceased had fallen into disuse entirely.

This apparent substitution of function for character combined with the decline of a common religious worldview which has diminished our capacity to deal with pain and suffering, as well as the decreasing value on ties to the community is consistent both with the rise of anonymity in our large, complex, and specialized world and with a new sense that it is now inappropriate to define a person on the basis of character in a public context, a context which, sadly, no longer offers a consensus concerning what constitutes good character.