Saturday, October 29, 2022

Agada must accept as true?

 Rashbam (Shemos 4:10): It is inconceivable that a prophet who spoke with G d face to face and received the Torah from Him should have a speech impediment. Such an assertion is not found in the words of the Tanayim and Amoraim. We don’t concern ourselves with what is written in books outside the canon [The assertion found in Shemos Rabbah 1:26 that Moshe stuttered]. 

Ramban (Dispute): We have three types of books. The first is the Bible and everyone believes in it with perfect faith. The second is called Talmud and it is a commentary on the mitzvos of the Torah. The Bible has 613 commandments and there is not one which is not explained in the Talmud. We believe in it concerning the explanations of the mitzvos. There is a third type of book which is called medrash i.e., sermons. It is comparable to a preacher getting up and giving a sermon and some listening liked it and recorded it. Concerning medrash - it is fine if one wishes to believe them. However there is no loss if one doesn’t want to believe them.

Sefer HaEshkol (Hilchos Stam): Rav Sherira Gaon [found in Sefer HaEshkol] stated that those things which are produced from verses and are called medrash or agada are the result of deductive reasoning (umdena). Some of them fit this description such as Shimon being included with Yehuda… which is supported by the fact that Yehoshua had a portion with Yehuda. However many Agada are not such as R’ Akiva’s identification of Mekosheis as being Zlafachad or R’ Shimon identify the “tenth fast” as being the fast of the 10th of Teves. The various views are presented in the Agada and medrash and we decide based on understanding which we view as praiseworthy. This is true also of the later medrashim such as from R’ Tanchuma and R’ Oshiya where the majority are not based on deductive reasoning. Consequently, we don’t rely on the authority of Agada. The valid ones are the ones that are consistent with our understanding or supported by verses. However, there is no end to Agada. Rav Hai Gaon was asked what is the difference between those Agada and medrashim which are written in the Talmud and those that are not? He replied that whatever is found in the Talmud is more valid that what is not found in the Talmud. Nevertheless, even those Agada and Medrash which are found in the Talmud if they make no sense or are erroneous are not to be relied upon. That is because in general we don’t treat Agada as being authoritative. However that which is found in the Talmud, we should correct their errors if possible. That is because if they didn’t have validity they would not have been included in the Talmud. Those that we cannot figure out how to correct should be viewed like that which is not the Halacha. In contrast that which is not in the Talmud, we have no need to attempt to correct them and make sense out of them. We merely should examine them as to whether they are correct and nice. If they are, we teach them. If they are not, we pay no attention to them. 

Menoras HaMeor (Introduction): Rav Sherira Gaon wrote: Medrash and agada which are derived from verses are just conjecture. This statement is true, however, only for some of the more recent medrashim such as those of R’ Tanchuma and R’ Oshiya and to a small number of agada found in the Talmud which were written speculatively. An example of the latter is found in Shabbos (96b) where it states that Mekosheis and Tzelafchod were two names of the same person. However, the majority of medrashim and agada are profound secrets and esoteric wisdom as well as ethical principles, good traits and conduct as well as beneficial prescriptions for health and spirituality. It is not fit to reject the majority for the sake of the minority. Even the Torah which is interpreted through the 13 hermeneutic principles there are minority opinions and views which are clearly not the Halacha. Nevertheless, they are recorded in order to aid in determining the truth.

Rav Avraham ben Haram bam (Essay on Derashos): The fourth type of drasha is explanations of verses in the manner of poets. What they say is not because they believe it is the actual meaning of the verse - G d forbid! This is what our Sages mean when they say the language of verses is different than ordinary speech [Chullin 137b]…One should not think that the drasha is merely explicating that which is in the verse  - as those who are ignorant think. These ignorant people think that the drasha is based upon some tradition and it constitutes Torah itself and is part of the Torah traditions. This is simply not so! They are simply comments about verses which are not connected with foundation principles of religion or Halacha when they don’t have a tradition concerning the verse. Some of them are simply conjecture and some are beautiful poetic expressions. They utilize the verses for whatever they can associate with them but it is in essence a form of poetry…The main point is that these drashos are not the actual meaning of the verse but are ideas and expressions that are independent… Close to the majority of drashos of our Sages are in fact in this fourth category. This is the truth that cannot be questioned except by idiots and fools. This category is itself subdivided into as many types as there are different types of poetic expression and ways of thinking. It is important to understand this.

Michtav M’Eliyahu (4:355): R’ Shmuel HaNagid in his Introduction to the Talmud is to be understood in the following manner. Those words of Agada which we don’t understand - we are not obligated to learn them and to base our service of G d upon - even though we know that all agada are foundation principles of the Torah. In contrast, Halacha which is involved with deed, is obligatory even if we don’t understand it. The purpose of Agada is inspiration and therefore when it doesn’t inspire us because of our limited ability to understand we have no obligation to study that which doesn’t inspire. When we reach the level that that we can understand it then it becomes obligatory. Furthermore, Agada has deep secrets of the Torah. As long as we are not on the spiritual level that these secrets should be revealed in a particular Agada, there is no reason to study it since we would be misunderstanding its true meaning. This is actually what R’ Shmuel HaNagid meant when he said if the Agada doesn’t make sense to use we shouldn’t learn it or rely on it. You will notice that he didn’t say that those Agada that we understand are true and the rest are fantasies - G d forbid! However, it is as we explained that there is no benefit in learning profound material that we don’t comprehend. This is also the correct way of understanding commentaries such as Rashi and the Radak when they say a medrash is far from the simple meaning of the verse or doesn’t fit the verse. They are saying the medrash can’t be used until it is comprehended and clarified…

Shmuel HaNagid (Introduction to the Talmud): Agada are all the statements in the gemora that are not concerned with Mitzvos. You should only learn from them what makes sense. Those statements of Halacha which Chazal indicate are from Moshe Rabbeinu which he received from G d cannot be modified, however Chazal’s explanations of verses were done according to whatever each one thought was correct. Therefore, whatever makes sense of these explanations you should study and the rest do not rely on.

Rav S. R. Hirsch (Letter on Agada): You believe that Agada was received by Moshe at Sinai and that there is no difference between Agada and the Halacha that was transmitted to Moshe. However, in my humble opinion this is a very dangerous path to take. It poses a serious threat for those students who grow up believing this to be true and comes close to opening the gates of heresy for them. What should these unfortunate students do when they hear from their teachers that “Agada was given at Sinai just as the Torah itself,” and then they discover in the books of the Rishonim - upon whom all of Judaism is based - statements to the contrary. For example the statement that “Agada are not required matters of belief but are speculation” and “Agada are exaggerations” and “Agada are like statements people make to others which are not intended to be accepted as true but just to entertain for the moment” and “These are description of what they saw in a dream” and “Learn from Agada only that which makes sense” and others like them? What are these unfortunate students to do when they read these and other similar statements which contradict that which they have been trained to believe by their teachers that Agada also came from Sinai and there is no difference between Agada and the Torah itself? Obviously, they will find themselves in great spiritual danger and be ready to reject both Agada and the Torah itself and accept only that which their little minds can comprehend. Wouldn’t it be better for them never to have studied Torah and mitzvos in depth and instead observe the mitzvos mechanically and thus avoid this dangerous path? That is why in my humble opinion that we should not budge from the path of life which we have been taught by the Rishonim. They made a large and intrinsic distinction between that which has been transmitted to Moshe from G d and Agada. Their names reflect this distinction. While both have been transmitted person to person through the generations, only Torah originated with what G d told Moshe. In contrast Agada originated in the mind of a sage according to his broad understanding of the Bible and the workings of the world or what he said concerning ethical conduct and fear of G d to draw his audience to Torah and mitzvos.


  1. also

    Introduction to Aggadata 2: Three Approaches to Understanding Aggada
    Rabbi Jonathan Ziring:
    1. Introduction of Rambam to Perek Chelek, Translation based on I. Twersky, A Maimonides Reader, pp. 407-409
    You must know that the words of the Sages are interpreted differently by three groups of people.
    The first group is the largest one. I have watched them, read their books, and heard about them. They accept the teachings
    of the Sages in their simple literal sense and do not think that these teachings contain any hidden meaning at all. They hold
    these opinions because they do not understand science and are far from having acquired any knowledge. They posses no
    perfection which would give them their own insights, nor have they found anyone else who would provide them with a similar
    understanding. Therefore, they believe that the Sages intended no more with their deliberate and straightforward utterances
    than what they understand based on their own inadequate knowledge. They understand the teachings of the Sages only in the
    literal sense, even though some of these teachings, when taken literally, would make even the uneducated (let alone
    sophisticated scholars) ask how anyone in the world could believe such things are true, let alone edifying.
    The members of this group are ignorant, and one can only regret their folly. Their very effort to honor and exalt the
    Sages using their own meager understanding actually humiliates them...
    The second group is also large. When the people in this group read or hear the words of the Sages, they too understand
    them according to their simple literal sense and believe that the Sages intended nothing other than what may be learned from
    their literal interpretation. Inevitably, they ultimately declare the Sages to be fools, hold them in contempt, and slander that
    which does not deserve to be slandered. They imagine that they are more intelligent than the Sages, that the Sages were
    simpletons who suffered from inferior intelligence. The members of this group are so pretentious and stupid that they can
    never attain genuine wisdom. Most of those who have stumbled into this error are involved with medicine or astrology. How
    remote they are from true philosophy compared to real philosophers! They are more stupid than the first group; many of them
    are simply fools.
    There is a third group. Its members are so few in number that it is hardly appropriate to call them a group, except in the
    sense that one speaks of the sun as a group (or species) of which it is the only member. This group consists of men to whom
    the greatness of the Sages is clear. They recognize the superiority of their intelligence from their words, which point to
    exceedingly profound truths. Even though this third group is few and scattered, their books teach the perfection which was
    achieved by the authors and the high level of truth which they had attained. The members of this group understand that the
    Sages knew as clearly as we do that difference between the impossibility of the impossible and the existence of that which
    must exist. They know that the Sages did not speak nonsense, and it is clear to them that the words of the Sages contain both
    an obvious and hidden meaning. Thus, whenever the Sages spoke of things that seem impossible, they were employing the
    style of riddle and parable, which is the method of truly great thinkers. For example the greatest of our wise men (Shlomo)
    began his book by saying, “To understand an analogy and a metaphor, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Mishlei 1:6).
    All students of rhetoric know the real concern of a riddle is with its hidden meaning, and not with its obvious meaning, as:
    “Let me now put forth a riddle to you” (Shoftim 14:12). Since the words of the Sages all deal with supernatural matters which
    are ultimate, they must be expressed in riddles and analogies

  2. “Agada must accept as true?” Torah thought parshat נח “And the LORD said unto Noah: ‘Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this generation. 2Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, each with his mate; and of the beasts that are not clean two [and two], each with his mate; 3of the fowl also of the air, seven and seven, male and female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. 4For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I blot out from off the face of the earth.’ 5And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him.” (Genesis 7:1-5).
    בראשית פרשת נח פרק ז פסוק ב
    מִכֹּל הַבְּהֵמָה הַטְּהוֹרָה תִּקַּח לְךָ שִׁבְעָה שִׁבְעָה אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ וּמִן הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא טְהֹרָה הִוא שְׁנַיִם אִישׁ וְאִשְׁתּוֹ:
    רש"י בראשית פרשת נח פרק ז פסוק ב
    הטהורה - העתידה להיות טהורה לישראל, למדנו שלמד נח תורה:
    שבעה שבעה - כדי שיקריבי מהם קרבן בצאתו:
    Rashi says: Seven from the tehorah, obviously what in the future will be called tehorah. We learn from this that Noah learned Torah. Beautiful
    Torah thought daf hayomi Nedarim 4a:
    “ Mar Zutra the son of R. Mari said: He might violate Thou shalt not delay in respect to his sacrifices. Is this deduced from here; surely, it is rather inferred from elsewhere: [When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord, thou shalt not slack to pay it, for the Lord thy God] will surely require it of thee: this refers to sin-offerings and trespass-offerings?”

    “22When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it will be sin in thee.” (Deuteronomy 23:22).

    דברים פרשת כי תצא פרק כג פסוק כב
    כִּי תִדֹּר נֶדֶר לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא תְאַחֵר לְשַׁלְּמוֹ כִּי דָרֹשׁ יִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ מֵעִמָּךְ וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא:

    Beautiful. Noah promptly did his sacrifices when he left the ark. We must always do promptly what we are obligated to do. What a fine thought! The magid shiur says that rabbis in Europe that invited poor to a Friday night meal, would skip shalom alechem to serve the starving poor food faster in keeping with Deuteronomy 23:22.


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