"The first night, when the 'Word of YHWH' was revealed to the world in order to create it, the world was desolate and void, and darkness spread over the face of the abyss and the 'Word of the Lord' was bright and illuminating and He called it the first night."
Targum Neofiti: On Genesis ch. 18
"And the Lord(1) said to Abraham_And the Lord said through his Memra_the Memra of the Lord may bring upon Abraham what he spoke with him_And the Lord(1) said_And the Lord said(2)."1
Footnotes: (1) Apparatus, Chapter 18 Nfmg: 'the Memra of the Lord.' (2) Nfmg 'the Memra of the Lord (said): If there be found.'
"And the Memra of the Lord was revealed to Abraham in the plain of the Vision."2
Examples of Rabbinic Interpretation: A few words on the nature of Rabbinic writings:
Max L. Margolis,
"The translation frequently assumed the character of free exposition with a view to inculcating the interpretation which the schools placed upon a law or custom and in general to bringing down the scriptural word to the comprehension of the common people. The prophetic lessons naturally lent themselves to amplification_This freedom had its dangers, especially at the time of the rise of the heresies out of which a new religion was born."3
"When Maimonides engaged in warfare upon the notion which ascribed bodily form to the Deity, he was able to point to the authority of the Targums, of Onkelos in particular. The scholars may full-well know that the prophets indulge in similes likening the Creator to the creature and that the scriptural modes of speech are merely accommodations to the human ear; not so the ordinary folk. For their sake the human traits attributed to the Deity are sedulously toned down.
Thus God does not smell the sweet savor of an offering, but accepts it with pleasure; on the Passover night He does not pass over the Israelites, but spares them; He does not go before the people, He leads it; instead of God hearing or seeing, it is said that it was heard or revealed before Him; the hand that covers Moses becomes the protecting Word, just as the wind which He blows is the Word which He speaks; the finger of God is reduced to a blow from before Him, God's feet are His glorious throne, and God's staff is the staff wherewith miracles are wrought.
Actions unbecoming God, as when He meets Moses to slay him (Exodus 4. 24), are ascribed to His angel. Just as God must not be humanized, divine appellations may not be used of human beings. Moses is to be Aaron's master, not a God. The sons of God who took the daughters of man for wives were not even angels, for angels do not go a-wooing, but sons of rulers. There cannot be any comparison between the Lord and the gods.
'Who is like unto Thee among the gods? who is like Thee, etc.' (Exodus 15. 11) is made to read: 'There is none beside Thee, for Thou art God, O Lord; there is none except Thyself.'"4
Burton Visotzky, Midrash on Proverbs,
"It is the mark of midrashic literature, however, to take liberalities with the biblical text - to pun on it, to twist its plain sense, and often to modify the meaning of a word by a change in its vowels, all for the sake of homily."5
The Library of Biblical Studies, Harry M. Orlinsky, ed.,
"The general underlying principle in the exegesis of T. [Targum] Jonathan consists in an attempt to render intelligible to the fullest possible degree that which is obscure."6
We present these quotes in order to show that in Rabbinic writings it is very common to find conclusions that appear to have nothing to do with context:
Martin Buber; Jewish philosopher who authored numerous works on Biblical interpretation, art, education, sociology and philosophy of religion,
"According to an ancient interpretation (Bereshit Rabba on Genesis 1:5 and 1:31), God created and rejected many worlds before creating ours. This was thought to be indicated in the verse, 'And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.'"7
William G. Braude, The Midrash on Psalms,
"Thou hast given him his heart's desire (Ps. 21:3) means that Thou, O Lord, in the presence of the king Messiah, didst declare Edom's guardian angel wrong_
For the leader. A Psalm of David. The king shall joy in Thy strength, O Lord (Ps. 21:1-2). These words are to be read in the light of what Scripture says elsewhere: In that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the peoples; unto him shall the nations seek (Isa. 11:10)-that is, seek the king Messiah, David' son, who will remain hidden until the time of redemption.(1)"8
Footnote: (1) The Messiah of the tribe of Joseph will fall in battle; than the Messiah son of David will be revealed, conquer his adversaries, and receive the tributes of the nations. See JE, 5, 215.
1. Martin McNamara, M.S.C., trans., The Aramaic Bible Vol. 1A, Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 104-105
5. Burton Visotzky, Midrash on Proverbs (Yale University Press), p. 14
6. The Library of Biblical Studies, Harry M. Orlinsky, ed., Studies in Targum Jonathan to the Prophets by Leivy Smolar and Moses Aberbach and Targum Jonathan to the Prophets by Pinkhos Churgin (New York and Baltimore: KTAV Publishing House, Inc. and the Baltimore Hebrew College, 1983), p. 306
7. Martin Buber; Jewish philosopher who authored numerous works on Biblical interpretation, art, education, sociology and philosophy of religion, The Legend of the Baal-Shem (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 221
8. William G. Braude; Rabbi of the Congregation Sons of Israel and David, Providence-Rhode Island, The Midrash on Psalms (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 293-295
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