The great prophets gave flesh to the bones of the Law. They showed us that, beyond simply doing what is right, we should aspire to greatness. They showed us how our daily interactions with elements of the world around us - whether human, animal or the very soil beneath our feet - must be infused with a thirst for justice and a love for all creation. But the principles and attitudes to which they hint - ever at risk of becoming lost beneath the sheer weight of their breadth and subtlety - are clarified and organized by the various collections of midrash.
While remaining passionately loyal to traditional Jewish thinking, these essays offer new thoughts about specific - and often well known - midrashic passages, along with more general guidance: what's a student to do when faced with a midrash whose simple reading is patently deceptive? What about one filled with unnecessary characters, complicating what by all rights should be straightforward? And what about theological contradictions? Since the authors of the midrash obviously knew better, these calculated "errors" are clearly designed to teach.
A Call to Action (Lech Lecha) (Available only in the print or Kindle editions)
If Abraham was really as eager to follow God's instructions as the Torah suggests, why does a midrash portray him as being unsure?
For Crying Out Loud (Chayai Sarah)
(Available only in the print or Kindle editions)
The well-known but little-understood midrash in which Satan's willful lie causes Sarah's death. Just what is Satan? An angel? Does he have free will? Can he oppose God's will?
Could (legitimate) political considerations sometimes lead Torah giants to color their published interpretations of aggadic passages in the Talmud?
The Hasty Nation (Shabbos 88a) (Available only in the print or Kindle editions)
Standing at Mt. Sinai and declaring "we will do" before "we will listen (learn)," the Jewish people demonstrated unexpected wisdom. But what made it so wise? And how does that lead us to reconsider the leaves of an apple tree?
An assessment of the subtle and - at a first glance - contradictory sources that make up Ramban's position
Watch a short video shiur on why Onkelos Ha'Ger enjoyed living in a God-centered society (from the Gemara Avodah Zarah 11a):
There are many useful resources available to help open up midrash. This page contains links to three separate versions of Rabbi S.R. Hirsch's essay on agados.
This book on the methodology of learning midrash provides a range of practical tools that can greatly enhance a student's relationship to midrash.