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Midrash Aggada ("telling") is all the midrashim ("im" plural) that are not of legal, or statutory nature. The traditional Midrash is a type of Jewish interpretive literature (exegetical) based upon the Hebrew Bible (Tenakh) emanating from the period of the development of the Mishnah (the first part of the Talmud) roughly about the first two centuries A.D. and continuing on for centuries. Midrash come from the word Darash - "to study", or "to search out" and is one of the four methods used in exegesis of the Bible. These four (whose first letters spell out the word PaRDeS {Paradise}) are:

  1. Peshat = the meaning simply on the surface of the text
  2. Remez = the hint or clue to the deeper meaning than the surface
  3. Derash = a more searching of the all facets relevant to the text and involving stories, customs, sayings, even analysis of the Hebrew letters, and relating to all facets of life
  4. Sod = the secret and hidden, sometimes esoteric meaning of the text.

Characteristic of Midrashic literature

Though finally redacted in the 6th century, and containing material from earlier centuries, including the first two centuries rabbinic understanding of the Scriptural problems or questions remaining unanswered, the Midrash "fills in" what hs been left unsaid in the Scriptures. It does this supplying conversations or even thoughts that were occurring at the times of a biblical event in order to enhance the understanding of the biblical event itself.

A good example is the treatment of Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac (Aqeda) found in the Midrash called "The Great(er) Genesis" (Midrash Rabba). The Bible says nothing about what was going on in Isaac's head The Midrash supplies by posing an argument between Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael: "I am more beloved than thou, because I was circumcised at the age of thirteen." Isaac: "I am more beloved than thou because I was circumcised at eight days." Ishmael: "I am more beloved because I could have protested, yet I did not." Isaac: "O that God would appear to me and bid me cut off one of my limbs! Then I would not refuse." God then speaks, "Even if I bid thee sacrifice thyself, thou wilt not refuse." Here, then, is another feature of the midrash, God speaks and becomes a partner in the conversation. (The direct speaking of God appears in the early Aramaic Christian literature and in the New Testament. See Aramaic Church). Here we see the thoughts of Isaac that also prepare us for his part in the Aqeda.

Another version of the Midrash on this same biblical portion carries on the conversation between Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael: "I am more beloved than thou since I was circumcised at the age of thirteen, but thou wast circumcised as a baby and couldst not refuse." Isaac: "All that thou didst lend to the Holy One, blessed be He, was three drops of blood, But lo, I am, now thirty seven years old*, yet if God desired of me that I be slaughtered, I would not refuse!" Said the Holy One, blessed be He, " This is the moment!"

But what about Abraham's thoughts? Did he come to faith and obedience easily or was there also an inner struggle about which the Bible is silent? After all Abraham had three days for reflection! God said "TAKE, I PRAY THEE, THY SON.", and the reader knows already for what purpose. Abraham: "Which son?". Here the midrash separates the words of the Biblical words to interject Abrahams thoughts - and his hopes that it would not be Isaac that God would demand. God: "THINE ONLY SON" Abraham: "But each is the only son of his mother!" God:"WHOM THOU LOVEST" Abraham: "Is there a limit to the affections?!" God: "EVEN ISAAC"

  • Sarah was 90 years old at Isaac's birth. and 127 years at her death, which, according to the Rabbis, was caused by shock when she was wrongly informed that Isaac had been sacrificed. \

The Midrash sees Abraham being further tempted. Samael (a wicked angel) comes to Abraham. Samael: "What means this, old man, Thou goest to slay a son granted to thee at the age of 100?" Abraham: "Even this I do." Samael "And if He sets thee an even greater test, canst thou stand it?" Abraham: "Even more than this one." Samael: "Tomorrow, He will say to thee, 'Thou art a murderer, and art guilty!'"

And the Midrash sees father and son somehow both participating in the sacrifice to be, even by implication and hint. The Bible - Isaac: "BEHOLD, THE FIRE AND THE WOOD, BUT WHERE IS THE LAMB OF SACRIFICE?" (the Hebrew word for "lamb is 'seh') Abraham: "GOD WILL SEE TO THE LAMB OF SACRIFICE, MY SON." (here be it noted that the Greek word for "you" is "se"(accusative case) sounding exactly like the Hebrew word for "lamb"). So the Midrash adds in the mind of Abraham "And if God will not provide a lamb (Hebrew - seh) for the sacrifice, then it is you(Greek - se), Thou are that sacrifice, my son!"

The unity of father and son in the sacrifice is shown by Midrashic statement on the biblical verse, "And so they went both of them together (Yachdav)" - One to slaughter and one to be slaughtered'.

Christians can see Christ in the Aqeda

Christians often see Christ proliptically portrayed in the Binding of Isaac. This comes about both because of the parallels in the story of Abraham's sacrifice-to-be with the actual giving by the heavenly Father of His Son, Jesus as a sacrifice, and by the knowledge of what the sacrifices for sin meant in the Hebrew Bible. But Christ is also portrayed when one peers at the Akeda through the eyes of the Midrash. The message of the New Testament and of Paul's teaching of the sacrifice of Christ was first of all nothing alien to comprehensibility to the Jewish mindset and expectation.

1. "AND HE TOOK IN HIS HAND THE FIRE AND THE KNIFE (Ma'akelet - the word for knife is derived from the root Alef, Kaf, Lamed, which means "eating"). The Midrash continues : The rabbis said, "All eating ('akilot') which Israel enjoy in this world, they enjoy only in the merit of that knife". Here, the New Testament teaching that the benefits imputed or given to many, who otherwise would not receive it not meriting it, is given them by a meritorious act outside of themselves and of another somehow related (eating/knife) to them.

2.Rabbi Isaac said: "When Abraham wished to sacrifice his son Isaac, he (Isaac) said to him, 'Father, I am a young man and am afraid that my body may tremble through fear of the knife and I will grieve thee, whereby the slaughter may be rendered unfit, and this will not count as a real sacrifice; Therefore, bind me very firmly'. Forthwith, "HE BOUND ISAAC" Here the willingness of Jesus to sacrifice Himself is portrayed by Isaac's own willingness, and the Midrash clearly understands that the slaying of the son as a sacrifice is for an indispensable, beneficial purpose. "No man takes My life from Me. but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment I have received from My Father."

3. "LAY NOT THY HAND UPON THE LAD" (The Scripture has suddenly switched from "knife" to "hand") the Midrash- Where was the knife? Tears had fallen from the angels upon it and dissolved it. "Then I will strangle him", said he (Abraham) to Him. "LAY NOT THY HAND UPON THE LAD", was the reply. "Let us bring forth a drop of blood from him", Abraham pleaded. "NEITHER DO THOU ANYTHING TO HIM." Here, it is precisely the contrast of the unwillingness of the heavenly Father, despite the willingness of the earthly father, to sacrifice Isaac, with the willingness of the Heavenly Father to offer His own Son Jesus, that causes us to wonder and look forward to some resolution both in literature and in life. "He was pleased to bruise Him".

4. And here the solution is offered - in the biblical passage before us, in the eyes of the midrash, and looking forward to completion in Christ - to the eyes of the Christian. "AND ABRAHAM WENT AND TOOK THE RAM, AND OFFERED HIM UP FOR A BURNT-OFFERING IN THE STEAD OF HIS SON," The Midrash: He (Abraham) prayed to Him, "Sovereign of the Universe! Look upon the blood of this ram as though it were the blood of my son Isaac". When a man declares: This animal be instead of this one, in exchange for that, or a substitute for this, it is a valid exchange - so the Midrash. * "Think not that I have come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many" ..."...the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God."

  • The formula above of the Midrash finds expression in the ceremony of Redemption of the First Born son, based on Exodus 13:13 and Numbers 18:16. The father gives a symbolic payment of "5 shekels" to a Cohen, the descendant of Levi so that his first born son not die and says "This instead of that, this in exchange for that, this is given up in behalf of that."

5. "AND ABRAHAM LIFTED UP HIS EYES, AND LOOKED, AND BEHOLD BEHIND (AHAR) HIM A RAM. In this biblical passage, the Midrash saw the both meanings in the word "AHAR". It means "behind" and it means "after". The Midrash continues, ..."AFTER all that happened, Israel still fell into the clutches of sin and [in consequence] became the victims of persecution; yet they will ultimately be redeemed by the ram's horn, as it says, 'AND THE LORD GOD WILL BLOW THE HORN...'Zech. 9:14" "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the Horn of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first" 1 Thess. 4:16

The Principal Midrashic Literature

Mekhilta. The Mekhilta functions as a commentary on the book of Exodus. There are two versions of this midrash collection. One is Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael, the other is Mekhilta de Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. .

Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael This is a halakhic (legal) commentary on Exodus, concentrating on the legal sections, from Exodus 12 to 35. It derives halakha from Biblical verses. Mekhilta de Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai. .

Sifra on Leviticus. The Sifra work follows the tradition of Rabbi Akiva with additions from the School of Rabbi Ishmael.

Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy, going back mainly to the schools of the same two Rabbis. This work is mainly a halakhic midrash, yet includes a long haggadic piece in sections 78-106..

Sifre Zutta (The small Sifre). This work is a halakhic commentary on the book of Numbers.

MIDRASH RABBA. Several midrashim on books of the Bible. Theses were written by different authors, in different locales, in different eras. The ones on Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are made up of homilies on the Scripture sections, while the others are mainly exegesis.

Genesis Rabbah. This text dates from the sixth century. A midrash on Genesis, it offers explanations of words and sentences and aggadic interpretations and expositions, many often loosely tied to the text. Its redactor (editor) drew upon earlier rabbinic sources, including the Mishnah, Tosefta, the halakhic midrashim the Targums.

Shemot Rabba (Exodus Rabbah) - eleventh and twelfth century

Vayyiqra Rabba (Leviticus Rabbah) - middle seventh Century

Bamidbar Rabba (Numbers Rabbah) - twelfth century

Devarim Rabba (Deuteronomy) Rabbah - tenth century

Shir Hashirim Rabba (Song of Songs Rabbah) - before the middle of ninth century

Ruth Rabba, (same date as above)

Eicha Rabba (Lamentations Rabbah) - seventh century

See also