What is a Midrash?
To understand what a Midrash is, it is important to understand what Pshat is. Pshat refers to the straightforward explanation of a text, while Drash (from where we get Midrash) refers to the rabbinical commentary which serves as a vehicle for transmission of lessons, ideas and concepts which go beyond the literal narrative of the text. A Midrash in the Talmud Chullin gives a dispute between the moon and God about the sun:
R. Simeon b. Pazzi pointed out a contradiction [between verses]. One verse says: And God made the two great lights, and immediately the verse continues: The greater light . . . and the lesser light. The moon said unto the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Is it possible for two kings to wear one crown’? He answered: ‘Go then and make thyself smaller’. ‘Sovereign of the Universe’! cried the moon, ‘Because I have suggested that which is proper must I then make myself smaller’? He replied: ‘Go and thou wilt rule by day and by night’. ‘But what is the value of this’? cried the moon; ‘Of what use is a lamp in broad daylight’? He replied: ‘Go. Israel shall reckon by thee the days and the years’. ‘But it is impossible’, said the moon, ‘to do without the sun for the reckoning of the seasons, as it is written: And let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years’. ‘Go. The righteous shall be named after thee as we find, Jacob the Small, Samuel the Small, David the Small’. On seeing that it would not be consoled the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller’. This is what was meant by R. Simeon b. Lakish when he declared: Why is it that the he-goat offered on the new moon is distinguished in that there is written concerning it unto the Lord? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: Let this he-goat be an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller. (Talmud Chullin 60b)
A moon talking to God cannot obviously be taken literally, rather the rabbis are asking, amongst other things, to consider symbolically, the dangers of jealousy. So what is the literal Peshat meaning of the verse found in Gen 1:16 and how may the contradiction, highlighted in the Talmud be resolved in verse 16? And God made the two great lights;… a possible answer to the contradiction is that from our earthly perspective, the sun and the moon are exactly the same size. Sun and moon being the same size is evidenced during a solar eclipse for example. God therefore has placed two spheres of dramatically different size, so precisely, that an observer on earth views them to be equal in size. Once this miraculous physical reality is given in the text, verse 16 goes onto explain, in terms of illumination, one sphere being greater than the other, hence the apparent contradiction is resolved!
However, despite centuries of anti-Semitism and enforced editing of Jewish literature and even numerous burnings of Jewish literature by the Church; the Church has not stopped the misuse, misquotation and misapplication of Midrashic material in the past to support belief for Jesus. The Church is quite happy to arbitrarily quote and impose that a Midrash is literal or not literal depending on its own theological agenda. Such quoting and imposition of Midrashim as literal or not literal, whilst simultaneously burning Midrashic material, presents a highly schizophrenic and menacing attitude to rabbinic literature and the Jewish Scriptures. More recently, a renaissance in a potential (mis)use of rabbinical literature by both black supremacists, white supremacists and amongst Messianics with a book by Douglas Pyle (staff worker at chosen people ministries), entitled “What the Rabbonim say about Moshiac”. The book by Douglas Pyle is a huge resource of rabbinical texts which the user may arbitrarily quote as literal or non-literal, depending how they fit the user’s theological agenda for converting the Jew.
One thing to always note when Messianics quote rabbinical kabbalistic or midrashic sayings to justify their beliefs in a deified Yeshua – 99.9% of their quotes are from Rabbis who post-dated Yeshua himself. 100% of these Rabbis themselves said what they said and rejected the possibility that Yeshua was the Messiah. That means, what the Rabbis said and meant by their words was COMPLETELY different to how messianics quote their words and then reinterpret them within their own Christian tradition!
Not only are messianics abusive in this way with rabbinical quotations to justify their belief in a ‘deified’ Christ but also to justify their belief that Yeshua is the ‘Messiah.’
Rabbinical sources always have deeper levels of meaning to a text. However, messianics fail to understand a problem with ‘messianic’ (mis)uses of rabbinic commentary. The problem is the (deliberate) rejection that each of the four levels (PARDES) of extended meaning of the text are entirely consistent within themselves and most importantly THE GENERAL RULE; that the extended meaning never contradicts the plain meaning of the text (Peshat). Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — “plain” (“simple”) or the direct meaning. In the first instance, using the famous aleph tav (את), the plain meaning is the grammatical, where the aleph tav (את), tells us that G-d created the heavens and the earth. On an allegorical level G-d created the aleph bet and then used the created aleph bet to ‘speak’ the world into existence. There is no contradiction in the argument of the Rabbis in their use of the Sages in their commentary, just a selective lack on the messianics’ part as to how Jews have always read/ wrote their literature.