Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Midrash and me

I have mixed feelings about midrash.

Many midrashim have become so interwoven with the original texts that some folks tend to forget that these interpretations are not actually part of the original texts.  When I first began reading the weekly Torah readings (Parshat HaShavuah or Parashat HaShavuah?) on a regular basis in my early twenties, I was so surprised to discover that the story of Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) smashing his father's idols was not actually in the Torah (Bible).  The problem, as I see it, is that so many of us are taught Torah and midrash with no distinction made between them.  For many years, I found it annoying that so many people couldn't tell the difference between the actual text and the midrashim and/or insisted that both were equal in validity and/or importance.

That said, over the years, I've come to appreciate the midrashim as works of creativity and imagination on the part of the rabbis and others who wrote and continue to write them.  In all seriousness, what else can you do when the text has more holes in it than Swiss cheese but you can't admit that because you believe that G!d wrote it?  Midrashim are a work-around--we can't change the texts, so midrash writers "correct" or "clarify" them indirectly.  Maybe I'm just suffering from a dearth of imagination--maybe the rabbis, too, had to "lay it between the lines."

And while we're on the subject of traditional tales, consider this American one--Does it matter whether or not George Washington actually chopped down that cherry tree?


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