Midrash Raba

(Vere, Stein Atle. ©2011. “Midrash Raba”. brakha.blogspot.com.)

During the Medieval Age, the five books of Midrash Raba record the Midrashim (interpretations) on the Tora.

The Tora is the ancient set of five books that begin the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). Midrash Raba is a set of one book for each.

The authorship of Midrash Raba is a cooperative effort. A number of Rabanim (Rabbis) from several generations write it. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The kind of Midrash in these books is specifically Agada (“Tale”). This seeks to explain in more detail the ongoing story of the Tora.

While exploring the nuances of the story, Agada often explicates the implications in the precise wording of the Tora. The “gesture” רמז of a wording is the clue that nudges the readers to extrapolate more information. The implications become more significant when the wordings of several passages across the Tora all point to the same information. These implications are the unsaid “secrets” סתרים and “mysteries” סודיות of the Tora.

The Tora is multivalent and infinite. When the Rabanim can understand the same wording in a number of different ways, all of the plausible interpretations can be simultaneously true. The wording is divinely precise, and God intends humans to understand the wording from an infinity of perspectives.

Sometimes, Midrash visualizes the spiritual forces at work, the intellectual and emotional concepts, in a seemingly dreamlike way. The investigations are open and holistic, even playful at times.

Caution is necessary when reading Agada as a “simple” פשט literal meaning.

Agada consults useful information from many sources, comprehensively, and communicates profound insights that are difficult to discover or engage by other methods.