Monday, October 12, 2009

Did Rambam's Attitude To Aggadah Evolve? - A review of Professor Loberbaum Article (Part 5).

Professor Loberbaum proceeds to try to prove his thesis that Rambam lost respect for Aggadot, as he grew older. Rambam in his introduction to the Moreh describes the metaphors and allegories found in the prophetic texts. He first quotes a Midrash from Shir Hashirim Rabah where the Rabbis describe the processes Shlomo Hamelech used in his metaphors.

Again, Solomon begins his book of Proverbs with the words, "To understand a proverb and figurative speech, the words of the wise and their dark sayings" (Prov. 1:6); and we read in Midrash, Shir Hashirim Raba, 1:1); "To what were the words of the Torah to be compared before the time of Solomon? To a well, the waters of which are at a great depth, and though cool and fresh, yet no man could drink of them. A clever man joined cord with cord, and rope with rope, and drew up and drank. So too Solomon went from figure to figure, and from subject to subject, till he obtained the true sense of the Torah." So far go the words of our Sages. I do not believe that any intelligent man thinks that "the words of the Torah" mentioned here as requiring the application of figures in order to be understood, can refer to the rules for building Sukkot, for preparing the Lulav, or for the law of the four trustees.”

The Midrash presents Shir Hashirim as a prophetic parable. It is teaching us how to read the parable. It offers different metaphors which suggest that we need to be careful how we read these parables and how we decipher them. The metaphor in this segment of the Midrash describes how at times a systematic approach is required, where every component, the ropes and the cords are attached and by slowly following the clues in proper order, we can grasp the intended goal – the difficult and hidden idea. Rambam quotes another metaphor the rabbis use to describe how one reads a prophetic parable.

What is really meant is the apprehension of profound and difficult subjects, concerning which our Sages said, "If a man loses in his house a sela, or a pearl, he can find it by lighting a taper worth only one issar. Thus the parables in themselves are of no great value, but through them the words of the holy Law are rendered intelligible." These likewise are the words of our Sages; consider well their statement that the internal meaning of the words of the Torah is a pearl whereas the external meaning of all parables is of no value in itself. They compare the hidden meaning included in the literal sense of the simile to a pearl lost in a dark room, which is full of furniture. It is certain that the pearl is in the room, but the man can neither see it nor know where it lies. It is just as if the pearl were no longer in his possession, for, as has been stated, it affords him no benefits whatsoever until he kindles a light. The same is the case with the comprehension of that which the simile represents.”

Some prophetic parables contain filler which are unimportant and one should not try to explain every detail of it. The metaphor describes the relative value of the light and the pearl where one is a tool to find the other, the important item. Rambam adds a little to the Midrash by introducing the furniture that fills the room that is a co-conspirator with the darkness in hiding the valuable pearl. In other words although the candle lights up the room, one still has to clean away the valueless furniture before finding the pearl.

Rambam then describes a type of metaphor also found in the prophetic writings where there are dual meanings where both are important, though one may be of greater importance than the other may. In other words, once the reader has grasped what the parable is trying to teach, he may encounter a double meaning where the external teaches important matters but is only like silver in comparison to the gold found in the deeper meaning.

The wise king said, "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in vessels of silver" (Prov. 25:11). Hear the explanation of what he said: The word maskiyoth, the Hebrew equivalent for "vessels," denotes "filigree network"--i.e., things in which there are very small apertures, such as are frequently wrought by silversmiths. They are called in Hebrew maskiyyoth (literally "transpicuous," from the verb sakah, "he saw," a root which occurs also in the Targum of Onkelos, Gen. 26:8), because the eye penetrates through them. Thus, Solomon meant to say, "Just as apples of gold in silver filigree with small apertures, so is a word fitly spoken."
See how beautifully the conditions of a good simile are described in this figure! It shows that in every word which has a double sense, a literal one and a figurative one, the plain meaning must be as valuable as silver, and the hidden meaning still more precious: so that the figurative meaning bears the same relation to the literal one as gold to silver. It is further necessary that the plain sense of the phrase shall give to those who consider it some notion of that which the figure represents. Just as a golden apple overlaid with a network of silver, when seen at a distance, or looked at superficially, is mistaken for a silver apple, but when a keen-sighted person looks at the object well, he will find what is within, and see that the apple is gold. The same is the case with the figures employed by prophets. Taken literally, such expressions contain wisdom useful for many purposes, among others, for the amelioration of the condition of society; e.g., the Proverbs (of Solomon), and similar sayings in their literal sense. Their hidden meaning, however, is profound wisdom, conducive to the recognition of real truth.”

Clearly, Rambam is not talking here about the parable itself but about what was deciphered by either the reader or the prophet in describing his vision. He tells us that one must not stop at the first teaching one grasps because many times there are dual meanings, where a deeper ontological or metaphysical idea is also present.

For some reason YL sees these descriptions of prophetic writings as a criticism of how the Aggadot are different. He contrasts the “good simile” in the last example with the ones before where there is some fluff in the parable. He is confusing the description of a parable with a description of the result one gets once the parable is deciphered. Furthermore, YL somehow reads this whole discussion to refer to Aggadot, though a careful read of the quotations above clearly show they are ALL describing PROPHETIC parables. Rambam is at first quoting Midrashic metaphors that describe the prophetic parables and then quotes Shlomo Hamelech who describes the results of the deciphered parables as having more than one meaning – silver and gold. I reread the section several times and for the life of me cannot see what YL sees there. I leave it to the reader to decide.

z2There is one more purported “proof” that I will discuss before summarizing and opining.

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