Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Literal meanings of the bible.

From Stan Tenen:

The problem with talking only about the "literal meaning" of the bible is that there is no plain literal meaning to a work that has four levels (PRDS). It's misleading. What we understand as the pshat, which we call the "literal" meaning, is not the literal meaning without the commentaries that tell us what it is. And the pendulum has swung too far. We wholeheartedly cling to the literal meaning, even while we remember a footnote that tells us that there are other levels, but we only give lip service to the deeper levels. And this leads simple people to exaggerate the literal, at the expense of the more complete. Pretty soon, we have translations like the scholars and the religious fundamentalists make, that have no reference to Oral Torah, and while they're literal, they're not the "literal" that we mean.

We should stop telling ourselves that the Bible stories are Torah per se. We should make it clear that the Bible stories are the garments of Torah, and that they're necessary and a reasonably good history. But without the other levels, they're misleading.

Here's a prime example.

It's generally taken that the literal meaning of "an eye for an eye" implies a nasty vengeful God, who suggests we should have our eye plucked out if we've injured another's eye. This is the literal meaning. But it's completely wrong, and it has done enormous damage to Judaism and Torah, because it has enabled non-Jews to call Hashem cruel. The word being translated eye - Ayin - does not mean an "eye" as a thing. An eye has a function, and it's this function that is being referred to. The function of an eye -- its deeper meaning -- is to take in a field of view and a spectrum. So "an eye for an eye" actually means, "a spectrum of causes leads

(inevitably) to a spectrum of consequences." This is the golden rule -- "what goes around comes around." This is "Torah on one foot" and it has nothing to do with the slander that labels Hashem as cruel compared to the concept of God held by other faiths. Personally, I think a picture is worth 1000 words (as long as it's not a picture of an idol) .


Bill Haber said...

When people ask about these issues, I usually refer them to the following five quotations.

from R. Eli Munk, "The Seven Days of the Beginning," (Feldheim) note 6, p. 11:

"The day that five elders wrote the Torah in Greek for King Ptolemy
was as hard for Israel as the day when the (golden) Calf was made,
because the Torah could not be translated as it should be."
The following two quotations from the sages are taken from "The Light
Beyond, Adventures in Hassidic Thought," copyright 1981 by R. Aryeh Kaplan (New York: Maznaim Publishing, ISBN 0-940118-33-5): Kaplan, pages 158-9:

"Rabbi Yehoshua Avraham of Zitmar:
'Our sages teach us that the Torah was created two thousand years
before the world. This is difficult to understand, since the Torah contains accounts of many events that happened after creation. How can the Torah speak of creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, the holy Patriarchs, and all the other happenings recorded in the Torah? All these things had not yet happened (when the Torah was written)...'Actually, when the Torah was first created, it was a mixture of letters. The letters of the Torah were not yet combined into words as they are now...
'Whenever anything then happened in the world, these letters were
combined, and the words were recombined to form the account.
‘This was true of the account of creation, and the story of Adam and Eve. The letters combined with each other, forming the words that told this story. Similarly, when an individual died, a combination of letters was formed, saying that he had died. The same was true of the rest of the Torah.'As soon as an event (that was to be recorded in the Torah) took place, a combination was immediately formed, corresponding to that event. If a different event had taken place, the letters would have combined differently. The Torah is God's wisdom, and it has no end.
Rabbi Yehoshua Avraham of Zitmar,
Geulath Yisroel, Pithgamin Kadishin.
Quoted in "Sefer Baal Shem Tov," Zoth
HaBerachah 4. Cf. Machazeh Avraham,
Zoth HaBerachah 5."

Kaplan, pages 160-1:

"Rabbi Levi Yitzchok:
...'In its sequence of descent to this lowly world, the Torah must
become clothed in a material garment, which often consists of stories.
When God grants a person knowledge, understanding and intelligence,
uncovering the mask that blinds his eyes, he can see the wonders of
God's Torah. The people on this level are few, however, and the
majority only understand the Torah according to its simple meaning.'......

See Zohar 1:153a, 1:201a, 3:98b, 3:152a, Zohar Chadash 10d."

The following excerpt from the Zohar is taken from Louis Ginsberg, "On
Jewish Law and Lore," copyright 1955 Jewish Publications Society of
America. New
York: Athenum, 1970. LCC #55-6707.pp. 144-145

"Regarding these levels, the Zohar [Zohar, iii. 152] states:

'Wo [sic] unto the man who asserts that this Torah intends to relate
only commonplace things and secular narratives; for if this were so,
then in the present times likewise a Torah might be written with more
attractive narratives...Now the narratives of the Torah are its
garments. He who thinks that these garments are the Torah itself
deserves to perish and have no share in the world to come. Wo unto the
fools who look no further when they see an elegant robe! More valuable
than the garment is the body which carries it, and more valuable even
than that is the soul which animates the body. Fools see only the
garment of the Torah, the more intelligent see the body, the wise see
the soul, its proper being, and in the Messianic time the 'upper soul'
of the Torah will stand revealed.'"

The following is from "The Bahir: Illumination"--Translation,
Introduction, and Commentary, ©1979 by Aryeh Kaplan. New York: Sam
Weiser. ISBN
0-87728-343-5 -- Part Two: Commentary on the Bahir by Aryeh Kaplan,
p. 177

(# 165.) The Torah was created and "written" two thousand years efore
the creation of the universe, as above. This is difficult to
understand, however, since the Torah contains accounts regarding
people, and these people have free will. But actually, when the Torah
was first written, it did not contain the accounts themselves, but
only a system that stated how accounts would be written with regard to
various types of actions. Rather than a book, the Torah was very much
like a computer program, set to produce a specific book from specific
events. It was only after the Torah was actually written down by Moses that its form was fixed for all eternity.

WORDWarriorDeb said...

The "eye for an eye" Old Covenant Scripture must be the most misunderstood passage of all time...

Learning that Hebrew letters and words are built as a foundation of verbs instead of nouns like English, goes a long way in being able to see the intent and fuller meanings of the scriptures. I have found it true that after many readings of scriptures that there clearly are more than one level or dimension to the intent and possible meanings being projected for our continued learning and they do become more visible as our eyes of understanding open.

One example I can add is from the book of The Revelation 21. A very interesting passage talking about a future place in space and time made up of people in a city of Righteousness, with gates and angel messengers alluding to the prophets and the 12 tribes of Israel, the foundations of the wall of the city compared to stones...Stones all have different piso electric values and frequencies in the range of the electomagnetic spectrum and that suggests to me a corresponding parallel to the people who make up the city of the Spirit, the bride who becomes the wife in new Jer Usa Lem...Different people attain to different levels of spiritual consciousness while in their physical development and there is evidence of it now. Some people just are not ready, willing or able to see with eyes of understanding unless they can see feel or touch something literally. This is a valuable benefit to those of us who have ansered the inner calling and spent the time required to seek the knowledge offered in scriptures...