Principles of Torah Study

For the past couple of days, I’ve been adding and organizing a group of links to the blog, which appear below the search box in the sixth section down the right hand column of the page.  Currently, the links fall into two categories:

  1. Selected blogs from other rabbis who I think have interesting things to say; and
  2. Selected website that offer weekly divre Torah on the Parasha or Haftarah.

Right now, the links only feature material from the Conservative movement, but I expect to add material from other perspectives as well.  My only rule is that I have to find the D’var Torah or commentary interesting, intellectually challenging and honest, and spiritually meaningful.

I tend not to give credence to Torah commentaries that don’t distinguish between p’shat (literal, contextual, historical meaning) and d’rash (metaphorical, allegorical, or other attributed meaning).  I like midrash (an alternative form of the word d’rash), but in my Torah study I think it’s important to remember that the words of Torah had an original meaning that might be quite different from the accumulated layers of interpreted meaning.  It’s also important to realize that every commentary has an agenda.  I always ask myself, when reading an interpretation, ‘what’s motivating the commentator to read the story in this way?’

I believe that the Torah contains eternal truth, but I do not believe that every interpretation, even or especially those of the classical mefarshim (commentators) such as Rashi, Ramban, or Ibn Ezra, is equally true or equally valid.  Their commentaries are often influenced by historical circumstances and may include assumptions that we no longer accept today.

I also do not believe that every commentary, even those authored by the classical mefarshim, needs to agree with every other commentary.  There is no such thing as “The” Midrash.  There are midrashim, and the corpus of midrash is not internally consistent.  Different historical strands and styles of commentary, such as Talmudic sources, mystical interpretations, and hasidic commentaries, do not necessary agree with each other.  Attempting to harmonize them is more often than not a waste of time and a misreading of the Tradition.

Bottom line — my purpose in engaging in Torah study is to better understand myself and the world in which I live; to develop a better relationship with my family, my community, and the broader world in which I live; to seek understanding of why I was created and what my role in the world ought to be; and to make my every decision and action bring the Divine spark within me closer to its source, the Blessed Holy One.

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