Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Rambam never said Agada is false

Kalonymus HaQatan • 11 days ago

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 whichare ultimate, they must be expressed in riddles and analogies

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