Sunday, June 13, 2010

What is Midrash, what is Holy imagination (the view from Oraita)?

Midrash -- from the Hebrew language root for seeking or demanding -- is sometimes described as a Jewish method of Bible interpretation. But this is much too narrow a view. Midrash is about imagination. In its classic form, it is the imaginings -- imaginings often in the form of story -- of our Sages about the things they found in their Holy scriptures. They added story onto story, in the process creating new meaning that made the biblical text their own, relevant to their lives and concerns.

We, too, as I have argued elsewhere, can make our own Midrash -- by composing our own new stories that we can layer along with the holy texts of our tradition. Some, however, would say that even my definition of Midrash is too narrow, and that Midrash need not even relate to the biblical text.

This week, I am at Oraita -- a gathering where rabbis and Jewish scholars come to learn together. This meeting is focusing on Midrash. Natan Margalit -- Oraita's director -- made his own effort today in opening the meeting to say what Midrash, or the conversation about it, is about: "Truth is a conversation of discipline and passion over time," he said, borrowing from Parker Palmer. He continued, "This conversation we share -- that's where truth is." He made reference to the metaphor of water, the idea that the Torah is like water and that our conversation about Torah is like drops of water: "Torah wears down that resistance to truth."

I'm looking forward to learning with the scholars who are here, including JTS' Burt Visotzky, who says he will be teaching four classic Midrashim that touch on a Jewish approach to a topic so important to the practice of pastoral care (to being a spiritual caregiver to people who are suffering) -- theodicy (why God would allow bad things to happen to good people, etc).

I hope to bring this learning back to my community -- and my chaplain students -- to enrich our learning together this summer.

It's exciting!

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