Monday, January 19, 2009

Back in the Saddle: Midrash!

I'm back to it. School starts tomorrow, and my first class is Wednesday morning. So, a pile of books at my side, I'm reading up on Talmud and Midrash and Hellenism and ... lots of relevant stuff. I've come across a few things and, being me, decided to share because I find them absolutely interesting. I hope you feel the same. Just as a note, midrash is sort of an explication on a verse or idea. If you think about it, gemara, the elaboration on the mishnah (Oral Torah) is a type of midrash, right? Right.

+ The moment we got to Israel last month on Birthright, exhausted from an 11-hour plane trip, we were bused to a nature preserve to plant trees. I'd forgotten the reason for doing this, the necessity for planting trees and the biblical explanation for why Israel is so big on the creation of forests and the growth of the tree population, until just now when I was reading in "Back to the Sources " a Midrashic explanation behind Leviticus 19:23, "...when you enter the land, you shall plant all manner of trees." Aha! There's the reason. The midrash, in turn, says that the reason for doing this first upon entering the land is to mimic or reenact G-d's work in the creation of the world. Brilliant! And here's my effort, I did as the Torah said (even if begrudgingly with exhaustion, bad hair, etc., heh).

Note the Barack'N in the Free World tee from!
+ The second thing in this specific chapter on midrash that struck me discusses the people turning to the rabbis after terrible destruction, seeking guidance, and out of this being born midrashic texts, including Lamentations Rabbah. The following is an example from that text, where the "rabbis use the common comparison of the Torah to a marriage contract (ketubah in Hebrew as a means of offering hope to a people in despair."
"This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope." -- Lam. 3.21
R. Abba b. Kahana said: This may be likened to a king who married a lady and wrote her a large ketubah: "so many state-apartments I am preparing for you, so many jewels I am preparing for you, and so much silver and gold I give you."
The king left her and went to a distant land for many years. Her neighbors used to vex her saying, "Your husband has deserted you. Come and be married to another man." She wept and signed, but whenever she went into her room and read her ketubah she would be consoled. After many years the king returned and said to her, "I am astonished that you waited for me all these years." She replied, "My lord king, if it had not been for the generous ketubah you wrote me then surely my neighbors would have won me over."
So the nations of the world taunt Israel and say, "Your God has no need of you; He has deserted you and removed His Presence from you. Come to us and we shall appoint commanders and leaders of every sort for you." Israel enters synagogues and houses of study and reads in the Torah, "I will look with favor upon you ... and I will not spurn you" (Lev. 26.9-11), and they are consoled.
In the future the Holy One blessed be He will say to Israel, "I am astonished that you waited for me all these years." And they will reply, "If it had not been for the Torah which you gave us ... the nations of the world would have led us astray." ... Therefore it is stated, "This do I recall and therefore I have hope." (Lam. 3.21)
Wow. Brilliant, no? And appropriate for the current state of things. If ever one wonders if we've been abandoned, we merely return to this -- and to the Torah/covenant -- and know that it isn't so!