Daylight Robbery

Daylight Robbery

One of the aims of the early biblical commentators was to explain how the biblical text was relevant in their own times. This was particularly important when it came the legal passages of the Torah. The law represented the framework within which one should live; if the law as stated in the biblical text made little sense, or was confusing, then the commentators needed to clarify it. Even if at times the clarification involved ideas not implied in the plain meaning of the text.

Continue reading
In Praise of Suffering?

In Praise of Suffering?

Lacunae in the biblical text give the Midrash the opportunity to insert its own ideas. Frequently these insertions, instead of trying to clarify the biblical text, reflect matters of concern in their own time. The Mechilta, the earliest commentary on Exodus, attaches an idea to the phrase “you shall not do with me” which is far removed from the plain meaning of the text.

Continue reading
Suffering for Love

Suffering for Love

As far as the ancient rabbis were concerned the crossing of the Red Sea was an even greater event than the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus had removed the Israelites from Pharaoh’s grasp, but as long as they were still on Egyptian territory, they could still be captured and brought back. It wasn’t till they crossed the sea, a barrier that proved impenetrable to the Egyptian army, that the Israelites could be truly certain that they were safe.

Continue reading
Liberation of the Mind

Liberation of the Mind

The great moment of national liberation, the event upon which the whole of Israelite history depends is the Exodus from Egypt. Yet preparations for this nation-changing event are introduced in the Torah by the seemingly inconsequential announcement to Moses that “this month will be to you the first of the months.”

Continue reading
The Fourth Plague

The Fourth Plague

According to medieval Jewish bible commentators, the fourth plague suffered by the Egyptians was an invasion of destructive herds of wild animals. Yet Christian, and indeed many modern Jewish translations , believe the plague was an inundation of flies. The disagreement between the two opinions of the plague’s nature is highlighted in the Midrash.

Continue reading
Twelve Tribes One Blessing

Twelve Tribes One Blessing

The rabbis who compiled the ancient Midrash must have struggled with Jacob’s blessing to his sons. The problem is that, although Jacob had twelve sons, we know nothing at all about half of them, apart from their names. How does one interpret a blessing made to someone of whom we know nothing?

Continue reading
Judah and Joseph as Superheroes

Judah and Joseph as Superheroes

One of the most vivid illustrations of rabbinic imagination occurs in the scene Judah when pleads with the viceroy of Egypt for Benjamin’s freedom. But the Midrash is not satisfied with merely interpreting Judah’s entreaties as threats. In a spectacularly futuristic passage they turn Judah and Joseph into super-heroes, more reminiscent of twentieth century Marvel comics than second century rabbinic literature.

Continue reading
© 2020 Harry Freedman Books