- General Questions
Dear Rabbi, could you please help me clarify the concepts of perush, midrash, drasha ,and pshat ? As far as I understood so far, I understood ’perush’ to be the result of the interpretation (of Torah ( /of the Tanach in general?)) My understanding of Midrash was that it is a collection of ’aggada’ on the Torah (Tanach?), however it is unclear what really happened, in other words, if a specific Midrash is a teaching that can provide some explanation, or if it is a factual account. Is the transmission of specific chukim, such as what a mezuza is, or that ’orla’ can mean, among other things, the foreskin, or also the understanding of ’ayin tachat ayin’ would also called midrash in some way? What is the meaning of ’drash’ or ’drasha’ ? Is it referring to interpretation of verses (of the Torah) ? (Is ’drasha’ similar to ’perush’?) If someone gives ’ a drashe’ ,is this referring to a short a Torah-lecture in general, with interpretation? (does it have to include ’drash’ or ’drasha’ in the technical sense of the word?) I had thought that ’pshat’ was referring to the simple meaning of a verse - which I understood as meaning "the sense that someone would make of a verse who is naive and who is not considering the context" (a scenario which does not seem to be entirely realistic because our understanding of the words is not independent of how they are used in the Torah). I recently heard that ’pshat’ is referring to the specific meaning of a verse, or in other words, the unique meaning of a verse. [I read in a book about comparative religion where they praised Rashi for the ’great discovery’ that verses would be understood in the ’simple sense of the words’. However, from my reading of Rashi’s commentary to the Torah (Artscroll), while it is true that he in some instances says that one can understand the verse in its simple meaning, overall he however almost never says anything about a simple meaning, and it is actually quite the opposite, that, from what I understood, almost all of what Rashi writes is not self-evident at all, and if Rashi thought that things were so simple, there would not be such an extensive commentary and perhapsthe entire commentary of Rashi would not have been necessary.] Can the entirety of the Oral Torah also be called Messora? And are the 13 principles of explanation which Rabbi Yishmael is referring to drash or perush? Thank you very much in advance. (I’m not so much confused about the claims on Rashi, but I’m confused about the use of the terms and their meanings)
I will try and answer your many questions briefly (as suitable to this framework): 1. The mesorah (literally: “passed down”) is a general term used for the Oral law, part of which was explicitly “passed down” (e.g. what is a mezuzah, etrog…), while other parts are deduced from the traditional rules of deduction which were explicitly passed down (e.g. the 13 principles of explanation). It also includes factual or historical oral traditions which were not written in the Torah, and the fact that the Torah enables the halachic authorities of every generation to add necessary decrees and prohibitions. 2. Pshat doesn’t mean simple, but is the basic, usually literal, explanation as understood from the context. Midrash are traditions written down by chazal (roughly 100-500 CE), and literally means to “learn out”. They are divided into the books of Midrash halacha (halachot deduced from the text and “in-between the lines”) and the books of Midrash aggada (stories with an educational message, sometimes non-literal textual interpretation, and sometimes factual or historical traditions). Perush is usually referring not to chazal but to the written commentaries of the rishonim (1000-1500 CE) and achronim (1500-today). Drasha is usually (!) used as referring to a current rabbi’s lecture (but could be used interchangeably with midrash, for they are from the same root). Today, these terms are not always used precisely and sometimes you need to tell from the context, which of the above is intended.