Monday, July 23, 2007

The Beauty of Midrash

I recently decided that I wanted to take an opportunity to learn a bit more about Judaism, a religion that sadly I don't know nearly enough about. Other than a comparative religion section of my world history class in high school, and lectures during my life on the Judaic roots of Christianity, I have an extremely limited understanding of the "inner workings" of Judaism. As such, I've started stockpiling some well-written introductory books on the Jewish faith and am in the early stages of reading through them.

One of the aspects of Judaism which I have already developed a strong love of is that of Midrash, which started early on as the name for collection of ancient Jewish stories and legends and now represents the method by which stories from the Torah are studied in order to get at their deeper meaning. The rabbis who through the centuries have added their own studies and interpretations to the Midrash often wrote in beautiful, almost lyrical style, and the few stories that I've read are absolutely wonderful.

A magnificent example of one of these Midrash interpretations is used in a book that I'm currently exploring (and which A checked out of the library for me), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism, written by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. It concerns a conversation between Maimonides and one other person, an atheist, about the creation of the world. As told by Rabbi Blech:

"Maimonides tried to convince an atheist that there had to be a God who created the world. When hours of debate proved unsuccessful, the nonbeliever excused himself for a few moments to 'take care of some personal business. When he returned, Maimonides took out a parchment on which was written a beautiful poem with perfect rhyme and meter, expressing brilliant ideas. 'What a strange thing happened while you were out of the room!' Maimonides said to his guest. 'The ink happened to spill over on my desk and, as it blotted, it created these words by accident.' The man laughed and asked Maimonides why he wanted him to believe such a foolish impossibility.

"'Why do you reject what I'm telling you?' Maimonides asked. 'Because,' the man answered, 'these words so carefully thought out with such great sense and meaning, obviously had to be composed by someone with great intelligence. They didn't appear here by accident. Somebody had to do it.'

"'Let your own ears here what your mouth has said,' Maimonides answered. 'If you can't believe that a simple poem could have come into being by a quirk of fate, how much more so the entire universe, whose wisdom encompasses so much more than these few words and whose profundity surpasses all human understanding.'"

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!


Dan said...

I'm really glad to see you're exploring this. The Midrash is full of perspective that Christians, frankly, don't get. I fell in love with Midrash in a course on Women in the Hebrew Bible. Check out the book, Biblical Women in the Midrash, by Naomi Mara Hyman.

rdl said...