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Are Midrashim True

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Rabbi Ari Shvat

Cheshvan 17, 5774
Question
Shalom Rabbi From what I understand, Torah = truth, Midrash = commentary/ allagory/ interpretation or something supporting commentary, Rashi and many other commentators use Midrash as their "proof", are there various levels of Midrash in terms of "truth"/correctness, midrash = story only if a parable (didactic story). All of the above is created to assist my removing the "garments" of the Torah to live God’s words. So is dvar Torah midrash? I might create midrash, correct? It may not be as good as Rashi or could it? The only absolute is the Torah’s words themselves! Please comment.
Answer
Shalom, The field of midrash is very complex and, as you correctly inferred, includes several different types. Interestingly, the Ramban sometimes disagrees strongly with the Ibn Ezra for veering in his commentary from the midrash of our sages, yet it’s not infrequent for the Ramban to do the same, differing with certain midrashim cited by Rashi! The answer to this apparent contradiction is that some, probably most, midrashim are not factual traditions but rather educational vehicles for teaching us philosophical or spiritual idea/s, or how to act properly, while others apparently do come to fill-in ancient traditions. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to tell whether a certain midrash is meant to be taken literally or not, but the following signs may help their identification. The first category (non-factual) may include midrashim where there are different contradicting opinions, or those many midrashim which “frame” our forefathers as doing sins they clearly didn’t do or exaggerating light offenses into serious ones, to serve as a “springboard” framework to educate others. Similarly, midrashim which seem esoteric would usually fall into this category. On the other hand, midrashim which don’t have an educational message, but are rather fact-filling traditions, like the names of Avraham’s or Shimshon’s respective mothers, may be meant factually. In short, all midrashim are true, yet not all are historically factual, and the best thing to do is to study them with a rabbi who is experienced in the field and constantly search for the deeper meaning. There are more than enough midrashim to keep you occupied for a lifetime and there’s no logic or need to invent new ones. On the other hand, one can surely develop his/her own divrei Torah, but would be wise to run it by several learned scholars before publicizing them, so as to prevent embarrassing mistakes. I expounded more on the topic of midrash, in my articles http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/tanach/maamarim/hazakaim-2.htm http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/vikuah/tokpam-2.htm With Love of Israel, Rav Ari Shvat
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