A Matter Of Interpretation – Parashat Va’etchanan


by Rabbi David Kasher, Kevah‘s Senior Rabbinic Educator

Midrash, the rabbinic method of interpreting the verses of the Torah, always begins with a problem in the text. Something about the way the verse is written is strange or confusing, has missing or extra words or letters, or is inconsistent with some other verse. Such verses, as the rabbis described them, are virtually calling out to us, “Darsheini – Interpret me!” Midrash, then, is first and foremost an exercise in problem-solving.

Sometimes, however, the midrashic solution itself becomes so well-known that we forget what the problem was to begin with. The classic example of this phenomenon comes from the most famous midrash of all, the legend of young Abraham smashing the idols in his father’s shop. This story has been so fully absorbed into Jewish collective consciousness that we rarely recall it as an attempt to grapple with a very specific textual difficulty: the abrupt beginning to Abraham’s story. Chapter Twelve of Genesis opens with the Lord suddenly calling out to Abraham (who was then called ‘Abram’), “Go forth!” But who is Abraham? Where does he come from? And why does he, of all people on earth, merit a special relationship with God? So the rabbis, building on a handful of clues in the text, construct the midrashic narrative of Abraham the teenage iconoclast. That midrash is so familiar, in fact, that many people assume it is in the text of the Torah itself. The solution has eclipsed the problem.

Another midrashic interpretation that has taken on a life of its own is the following piece from the Mechilta of Rabbi Ishmael:

Read the entire PashaNut at Kevah.org

Don’t miss an issue – subscribe to the weekly ParshaNut podcast or email. This commentary is featured weekly on Thursdays. Check out last week’s portion here or follow us on Facebook.

A Kevah Group is a community of friends who meet once or twice a month with a great educator for a customized Jewish learning experience in the comfort of their own home.

Visit kevah.org or email groups@kevah.org to learn how easy it is to start your own Kevah Group today.

Shabbat shalom from all of us at Kevah!

College Career Consulting

About Jamie Polliard

Check Also

“Shalom, Make Yourself at Home!”: New Jewish Museum to Open in New Orleans Fall 2020

Exhibits at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience will explore the many ways Jews in the American South influenced and were influenced by the distinct cultural heritage of their communities, covering 13 states and more than 300 years of history – including Colonial, Civil War, World War II and the Civil Rights Movement.

New Book by Rasof on Rasof

Henry Rasof is pleased to announce the publication of a collection of light verse and humor by his late father: "The Wit, Whimsy, Wisdom, and Wordplay of Bernard Rasof, PhD."