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An Evolution of Apprehension & Trepidation in the Midrash Rabbah: Exodus

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An Evolution of Apprehension & Trepidation in the Midrash Rabbah: Exodus

As seen throughout the Ten Plagues of Egypt in the Midrash Rabbah on the Book of Exodus, notable rabbinic midrashim respond to the complexities and ideologies of biblical text in a pragmatic and subjective manner. The interpretations involved in the story of the plagues, especially that of the plague of blood and the plague of the firstborn, demonstrate the rabbinic perspective of how the Pharoah of Egypt treated the suffering Israelite slaves and the judgment of God through such a phenomena. The numerous interpretations and proposed questions expressed in the anthology, demonstrate reactions to the gruesome and vivid explanations. Evidently, it is impossible to interpret the story of the ten Plagues from the book of Exodus in a literal manner directly from the bible; an assortment of translations and interpretations promote the understanding of the biblical text through methodical and theological analysis. However, the midrashic interpretation of the text does not solely rely on philological and conceptual analysis of esteemed rabbinic scholars, but rather a perceptible reflection of the numerous historical and social aspects at the time, which impacted the understanding, evolution, and revelation of the text.

The Midrashic approach of interpretation deduces the book of Exodus through numerous rabbinical clarifications and connotations of obscure Biblical statements as a means to elucidate ideologies to the audience. The Midrash Rabbah analyzed in this paper is a discontinuous compilation of separate midrashic works by numerous rabbinic midrashim composed of two parts, Exodus Rabbah I and Exodus Rabbah II . Rabbi Dr. S. M. Lehrrman, the translator of the third volume of this midrash, advises that this translation was originally written in Mishnaic Hebrew, "...with occasional borrowings from Latin, Greek, and Armaic" (Lehrman vii). Therefore, the text in this edition includes excerpts taken from earlier versions of Midrash that were translated into Hebrew and structured by later rabbinic midrashim. Additionally, the text is categorized as a Tanhuma-Yelammedenu Midrashim, a distinct genre of midrastic literature that evolved in Palestine, Babylonia, and Europe, which contains frequent usage of epilogues that relate to redemption and a promising future . Thus, the objective of this text is to justify interpretative claims, clarify meanings of outdated words in the Hebrew Bible and language, and delineate specific passages by their most significant characteristics.

The basic axioms of Midrashic interpretation in the Exodus Rabbah includes the significance of the Scripture itself as well as the unanimity of divine will and scribal idioms throughout the story of the plagues. Furthermore, numerous reprinted and refurbished versions of the Midrash Rabbah have been executed since its original estimated publication in Constantinople in 1512, as an evolution of its physiognomy. Encyclopedia Judaica estimates that even though rabbinic literature began in the fifth century, the compilation of both sections of the Exodus Rabbah occurred between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, C.E.; the numerous parables and "...halakhic expositions..." suggest that the Exodus Rabbah II was compiled in during the ninth century C.E. Thus, the prominent emphasis placed heavily upon the study of the Torah was a response to the growing need for restoration in the face of continuous exile from the Promised Land. Although the existence of earlier midrashic anthologies impacted later publications, the evolution of the midrashic anthology progressed to meet the needs of synagogues that discussed and evaluated the biblical texts in this anthology.

Even with the proposed Midrashic guidelines, the philological value of the ancient rabbinic interpretation displayed in the Exodus Rabbah was dominated by the historical and cultural influences following the post-exilic period and the destruction of the second Temple. The tension and rabbinic interpretation of the Torah, as a figurative trope of God, is reflected throughout the rabbinical analysis. David Stern, a notable scholar, insists that the destruction of the temple and the numerous catastrophes in the centuries that followed led the rabbis to a feeling of "estrangement and disparity." In this way, the rabbis' interpretation of the Torah expressed their sense of alienation and confusion caused by the societal upheaval, yet the Torah became a means of communication to the God they still had not lost sight of. Instead of losing hope and their faith in God, the rabbinic midrashim attempted to further investigate the intentions of God through the scripture.

Throughout the multiple interpretations of certain texts in the Exodus Rabbah, the rabbis desperately tried to prolong their conversation with God during such a tragic time. Clearly, the rabbis demonstrate a sense of complete doubt behind the meaning of the texts, but rather imposed opinions and anxieties on their stance in the eyes of God. Expectedly, the rabbis felt a certain anxiety and betrayal from God after the destruction of the temple for allowing such devastation to strike his beloved children. However, David Stern offers that the opinions and revelations produced by rabbinic midrashim lacked original thought. In this way, the essential preoccupation of the rabbinic midrashim, in locating specific biblical texts to analyze and devote their lives to, emphasizes their conservative approach of analysis. Such anxieties produced by various opinions and differing rabbinic thought give insight to a time of instability among the midrashim, ultimately leading to differing opinions and thoughts expressed in the Exodus Rabbah.

Throughout the Exodus Rabbah, the description of the ten plagues represent God's fury with the Egyptian people and His determination to release the Israelite people from their bonds of slavery. Although there are ten varying unique plagues, this paper only analyses the two plagues that emphasize a unique rabbinic midrashim interpretation. As seen through the Exodus Rabbah, a thorough analysis of the first and the final plague demonstrate the anxieties felt by the rabbinic midrashim; God's mighty hand struck upon the Egyptian people. In this way, the rabbinic midrashim portray how each plague demonstrates a gradual build to the final atrocity; as the plagues progress so does the burden upon which the Egyptians suffer. The first plague that demonstrates such interpretation by the midrashim is the horrible affliction of water changing into blood.

"Say to Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thy hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their rivers, upon their canals, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be



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