Midrash

Midrash is a way of extracting the meaning of a passage in the bible, a type of exegesis. The bible is full of Gaps, things god or the human authors didn’t think to tell us. What did Eve think? What did Isaac think? The bible tells us that Abraham & Isaac went up the mountain. Isaac wasn’t sacrificed, but he didn’t come back from the mountain with Abraham. What did he do for the three years before he resurfaced?

Sometimes the gaps are seemingly small, but the consequences are large. In Judges 11, Jephthah makes a vow to “sacrifice whoever comes out of the doors of his house, as a burnt offering to the Lord.” Whoever can also be interpreted “whatever.” Why is “doors” plural? And nowhere does Jephthah say the first thing that comes out of his house. Later, his daughter (who is unnamed) requests two months to be in the mountains (wilderness) with her friends to “bewail her virginity.” What could possibly have happened in that time?

Traditionally midrash was the turf of rabbis and sages mainly (though not exclusively) between 500 & 1500 CE. In May, I took a class at Earlham School of Religion (ESR) on writing midrash. While there are several styles, mine are mostly in the form of storytelling. I’ll post them here over the next few weeks.

Snake (Genesis 3)

It has been said that the snake is the craftiest of animals[1]

That it was the deception of the snake

Which led to the expulsion of the humans from paradise

I am said serpent, here to clear my name from slander.

For it was the sloth of the humans,

The ease with which they were tempted

Which caused their so-called fall.

The world, even at the beginning, was an inherently dangerous place.

Temptation lay in the soil, waiting to sprout

Perhaps I served as a catalyst

But a catalyst only serves to speed a reaction which would occur naturally on its own.

There is more to the story than has yet been told.

I will admit to a mischievous streak, which a certain angel was able to tap into.

He came to me on a hot summer afternoon as I lay sunning myself on a slab of stone

And proposed a wager: if I could get them (the man and the woman) to eat the fruit of a particular tree, he would grant me legs upon which to walk.

And I? How could I refuse such an offer? For slithering is so slow and limiting.

What could the downside possibly be? We would have some fun.

The humans would get wise (so he said), his boss would cut him a nice bonus, and I’d get legs out of the deal.

I approached the woman first, though she stood together with the man[2]

She seemed the kinder and gentler of the two. Perhaps more curious and open to new ideas, as well

We raptly gazed at the tree in the center of the garden.

The long rays of the evening sun filtered through the leaves and gilded the branches.

Silver etched the margins of the leaves.

The fruits were like none anywhere else in the garden.

A particular ray of sunlight struck a particular fruit in a particular way.

They later called the fruit an apple.

It winked.

I nudged the woman. “Did you see that?”

“See what?” she queried

“That fruit, the one struck by the golden rays of even’ time, it winked at me,” I said.

“No way,” she said.

I was about to make counterpoint when It[3] spoke.

We were startled. The woman heard it too. The man, though, was looking at his reflection in a mud puddle, picking at a bit of mango fiber between his teeth.

We paid full attention.

“You know that you were created in the image of Me[4],” It said.

“You have a choice to make. You may eat of this shining fruit that is Me. Your lives will be miserable but you will come to know my consort, Sophia, and I will live in your hearts[5]. Or you can choose to be like him (and the apple nodded toward the man). Forever.”

If you’re reading this, you know which was chosen.

So, you see, my plan with the angel never even got to unfold.

Claiming contract non-fulfilment, the angel refused to grant me the promised legs

And, like me, the woman gets a disproportionate share of the blame.

There is more than enough to go around.

[1] Gen. 3:1

[2] Gen. 3;5

[3] “It” was the start of a sentence. Editing moved the clause “It spoke.” Capitalized, in this instance, It implies that God has a hand in this acquisition of wisdom. I.e., “It” wanted us to gain wisdom and was actively involved in getting us to accept this gift.

[4] Gen. 1:26

[5] Jer. 31:33

Mrs. Job, based on the Book of Job.

The Gap: what did Job’s wife (Mrs. Job) think or do about Job’s affliction? Here we have a no nonsense woman who takes matters into her own hands. Enjoy.

Mrs. Job

I like to think I’m as god fearing as my husband. Something’s going on here, and I’m not sure what. The house fell on the kids. It killed them all.[1] What’s up with that, God? You’re so righteous. You know Job puts you first in everything you do[2]. So, Mr. “I’m the omnipotent ruler of the universe,” where are you when we need you? Why? Why have things gone south? I really liked our cushy lifestyle[3]. Now I’m childless, there’s no money for groceries, and I’m in rags out begging for bread. I know in marriage we’re in it together, but whatever kind of deal he cut with you, I want no part of it.

You know I love him, but what can I do for him when he won’t take action to help himself? He just sits out there on that dung heap[4] and does this Eyeore imitation, and I have to say he’s pretty convincing. Wounded male syndrome, I call it. He gets a sniffle and wants me to believe he’s at death’s doorstep. Well, he looks to me like he’s actually at death’s doorstep[5]. Won’t you give me some insight into how to at least give him some comfort? I offer him a blanket. He refuses it.

Sometimes you just have to take matters into your own hands. He wouldn’t help himself, so I started to pray. And I prayed so hard I sweated blood. I prayed like Huldah when she was barren. And God responded. Imagine that.

He said (for he was in a “he” shape at that moment) “Yeah. Well. I was playing rummy with Satan the other night. You guys were the pot. And wouldn’t you know it, the little bugger cheated. I knew the cards dealt, and he still got gin before me. So man up[6] and deal with it.”

“Oh, really,” I said. “So that’s how you roll. You give me a crack at Satan & I’ll knock him out of the park. Just work with me here, will ya, Lord?” Next thing I know, there’s a vacuum cleaner salesman knocking at the door. Polyester suit, straw-brimmed hat, like he was from a barbershop quartet. He was the first attempt. I put up a sign “No Solicitors[7].” Only I guess it should have said “No solicitation.” That was quickly followed by phone marketers. I got on the “Do not call” list. Plainly the frontal attack was a war of attrition. Something creative was needed. Play to his weakness, they said. Which was… deception. I hatched a plan.

“Satan’s plumbing,” a pleasant voice answered. “How may we help you?”

“My kitchen sink drain is plugged. It’s a disaster. Poor little ol’ helpless me, I can’t do a thing with it. Can you send the boss right over?” I simpered.

“Well, yes, as a matter of fact he’s in the shop right now. But he’s not cheap. He only takes payment in souls,” replied the sweet voice. “No credit. Payment at the time services are rendered. You sure a plugged drain is worth that?”

I pretended to consider for a moment. “Yes. Yes, we used to have so much, but now a plugged drain is the only thing we have left. It’s cheap at half the price. Yes, please send him over. It’s 316 John[8] Pl., downtown.” And after a bit, the doorbell rang and there he was. Dressed as a plumber. I put on my best helpless act and took him to the kitchen. He burrowed in under the sink and started right in, tearing things apart. It was then I gave him a quick shove in the butt with my heel, slammed the cupboard doors shut and slid a spatula through the door handles. He’s there for the ages.

“There ya go, God. Thanks for the inspiration. Tell Job it’s all going to be OK.”

[1] Job 1:19

[2] Job 1:8

[3] Job 1:2. Job was a wealthy, powerful man. It is easy to become accustomed to the perks that go along with that.

[4] Testament of Job

[5] Job 2:4-7. All that people have, they will sacrifice for their lives.

[6] Job 38:3 and 40:6. Really, God?

[7] i.e. lawyers

[8] For God so loved the world….