Class 1 (October 29, 2017)

Introduction to the world of Midrash and a study of the opening Midrash to Lech-Lecha  Source Sheet


Recording of first class:


Quick summary and additional note:

We saw the Midrash which addresses how it came about that Hashem spoke to Avraham.

Approach 1 Through philosophical investigation regarding the order and beauty of the world, Avraham comprehended the existence of God as the creator and ruler of the world, which resulted in God revealing himself to Avraham and everything that followed. The message being – man can, and should, use his intelect to reflect on nature and through philosophical investigation know God. (Classic representative – Rambam)

Approach 2 Avraham reached the extent of human investigation which still falls short of “discovering” and knowing God. It is exactly then, when it is clear that man cannot himself bridge the gap between finite and infinite that Hashem reveals himself to Avraham. The message being that God is beyond man’s ability to understand him and his existence and only God himself can bridge that gap. Our relationship with him is not man-made, it is God-made. In which case, it isn’t necessarily about being worthy. It is about God’s free action of choosing us. (Classic representative – The Kuzari)

Approach 3 – not discussed during the class due to time constraints as well as the controversial nature of this approach. The Mei Hashiloach, a Chassidic master from the (somewhat subversive) Kotzk school writes as follows:

And it is about this that it says in the Midrash “who is the owner/master of the city; the owner/master of the city peaked upon him”. And it would seem that it should have said ‘he peaked TO him’ and not ‘upon him’. But when Avraham, our father, saw the dealings of the generation of the Palagah (tower of Babel), that is what is referred to as “he saw a city that was lit”, because it was a wonder to him and he was unsettled in his soul regarding who created this. ‘The master of the city peaked upon him’, meaning, that Hashem said to him, ‘you see yourself that to the rest of the world this is not difficult and none of them pays attention to say ‘who did this’ and only in your eyes is it a wonder. And from the wonderment of your heart you can discover that certainly there is a creator who bears all the worlds and fills all the worlds and he awakened your heart and spirit’, and that is the language of ‘upon him’, meaning on his questioning, that that itself was enough of an answer for him.

It is well worth to re-read the above paragraph several times. I cannot overstate how revolutionary, even post-modern, this interpretation is; that Hashem is revealed, first and foremost, through and within man’s own soul (and the questioning and uncertain one, at that) and not only – if at all – through physical occurrences. This is both extremely rational as well as frightening compared to the traditional approach.

As always, the different interpretations to the text, reflect and establish different approaches to fundamentals of Jewish thought. These 3 different approaches translate into 3 different ways of looking at the core relationship between man and Hashem and between the Jewish People and Hashem. They establish very different understandings of what prophecy and revelation are. I think there is truth and value to all 3 approaches as they build within us – as individuals and as a nation – different important emphases.