My Dear Parsha Nuts,
“May you live until a hundred and twenty!”
One of the most classic Jewish blessings, this phrase has found its way into several languages. If you have Yiddish-speaking grandparents, you may have heard it as ביז הונדערט און צוואַנציק (biz hundert un tzvantsig)! In modern Israel, it became popular once again as עד מאה ועשרים (ad meah ve’esrim)!
Where exactly does our national story begin?
Monarchy is one of the most fiercely debated topics in all of Jewish law and literature. On the one hand, we have a long and storied tradition of kings ruling over ancient Israel - chief among them King David, a paragon of passion and piety, and one of the great heroes of the Hebrew Bible. Even our concept of the messiah is traditionally understood not as some supernatural being, but a human king whose reign will usher in an era of utopian peace.
Midrash, the rabbinic method of interpreting the verses of the Torah, always begins with a problem in the text. Something about the way the verse is written is strange or confusing, has missing or extra words or letters, or is inconsistent with some other verse. Such verses, as the rabbis described them, are virtually calling out to us, “Darsheini - Interpret me!” Midrash, then, is first and foremost an exercise in problem-solving.