Biblical Interpretation

As Maimonides points out in the first chapter of the Mishnah Torah, there are verses which pose a challenge for interpretation because they seem to contradict things that we know about the world, even some that would seem to imply that the Creator possesses physical form. Some take the approach that the Torah cannot be understood as a literal text, and must be read as an allegorical work intended to impart moral lessons which can be derived from it's stories, but is not a work of imperical fact. Others disdain this approach, pointing out that such a laissez faire attitude to understanding the text undermines it's message by making it so vague that it could mean practically anything. They aver that although it may not make sense to us, the text is to be taken literally at face value.

I believe a better third approach based on a more nuanced understanding of the nature of language is required. Every language uses idioms, phrases that have a precise meaning which is different from the literal meaning of the words that make it up. For example, if I say that I took the ball home, I mean that I grasped a spherical object in my hands and moved it to my place of residence. If, however, I say that I took the train home, I do not mean that I physically moved the train into my house, but only that I rode in it to get home. I am using the word 'took' in a completely different, although no less literal, sense. This difference in meaning would be lost on someone from another period in history, who would infer from my statement that a train must be an object small enough for me to carry.

The scriptures are not a product of our time, and consequently uses idioms with which we are unfamiliar. The only way to understand the intended meaning is to refer to the accompanying explanations of the text that have been passed down to us through Jewish tradition as the Talmud and Midrash, and the classic commentaries based upon them. This is demonstrated repeatedly in Maimonide's Guide for the Perplexed, which addresses many of the idioms found in scripture and explains their idiomatic meaning it's relationship to the words they contain.

The Eternal Haggadah

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Shelly's poem "Ozymandias" describes a decayed statue with an inscription defying the ages to despair in face of it's might. It expresses sadness at those who thought they were powerful and important and would last forever, and yet their memory has crumbled to dust. Ozymandias is the Greek name of Ramses the Second, considered by historians to be the greatest of the Pharaohs of Egypt. He is suspected of being the Pharaoh of the Exodus. However, although many large monuments were built to him in his time, not enough information about him was preserved for us to be certain whether he presided at that historical event. If not for the Jewish record of it, the whole story might have been lost to history. The Jewish People were at that time only slaves, and built no statues, and yet they are still around today to tell their tale. It is even more ironic than Mark Twain makes it out to be in his essay "Concerning the Jews."

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Click here to read a series of newspaper articles covering the scandal at Agriprocessors meat plant in Posteville, Iowa that lead to the arrest of it's owner Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin. The story has been featured in most major newsmedia, but never before have all the facts been laid out in one place.


Work in progress:

I will do what I want, and not let anything get in my way. Even if it becomes difficult, I will not let that stop me. I will not let anything distract me from my goals. I will figure out a way to make it happen. I don't let circumstances control me. I know that I am in control. Just knowing that makes it all worth it.


The world is a garden.
It is a beautiful place, with many warm, cozy spots to sit and enjoy.
The many pains, frustrations, and hardships
are the nuances that make it endearing. They make life personal and detailed.
All the effort I put into it on account of these weeds make it mine.
I know it intimately, flaws and all, and
I smile knowingly when I come across one of them. Because nothing has gone wrong. All is as it should be.
These are the little challenges, little games, that it plays with me.
Sometimes I just stop and smell the roses,
and take in the grandness of it all.