What is the Talmud all about? The first thing that must be emphasized is that the Talmud displays deliberate chaos. It roams from one topic to another without any real inner logic, other than that one word gives rise to a whole new idea without warning us that it is coming. The outsider may have trouble making heads or tails of it all. And then suddenly one gets the hang of it and realizes that all this chaos flows together into an unbelievable picture, with hundreds of colors harmoniously coming together. That moment of comprehension is a great joy for the intellect and the human soul.
Thoughts to Ponder
Rabbi Cardozo's weekly insights into Jewish life.
In returning the prophetic spirit to Judaism, the world of Aggadah is of crucial importance. Aggadah is the prophetic voice within Judaism, where prophecy not only speaks, but allows the reader to answer. It is the part of Judaism that deals with the sum total of human life. It prevents mechanical observance by freeing our inner spirit. Whereas Halacha is the consummation, Aggadah is its aspiration.
The prophets had a universal message, far beyond the Jewish people. Their calls to aid the poor, widows and orphans, and the promise of the coming of the Messianic age were meant for the whole world. The State of Israel is itself the greatest proof that prophecy is slowly coming alive again. Judaism has been handed an opportunity to restore its full capacity, including its redemptive message, to heal the world and end the amputation of the best part of itself.
In this week’s parashah, Yosef set’s up the ultimate test for his brothers. Will they let their little brother down and not sell him to the enemy or will they fight for him? The answer will show whether they have truly repented of their betrayal of him.
Halacha was meant to rely heavily rely on the prophetic voice to give it its spirit and motivation. Because of the absence of prophecy, this spiritual component is missing or overlooked in our day-to-day experience. It is the absence of this prophetic dimension that underlies the spiritual malaise in which we currently find ourselves.