Our mission: 1) To deliver intelligent, sincere, and thought provoking Divrei Torah, none of which take longer than three minutes to read. 2) To combat unintelligent, unsophisticated, and unfounded Divrei Torah. You know, the ones you usually hear. Check out The Five Commandments.

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's Pshat in Pshat?

The Dvar Torah Project has been accused of accepting only a very narrow brand of Dvar Torah. Specifically, only the so called "New School" of Orthodox interpretation is kosher, while supposedly unsophisticated approaches, say, an analysis of Rashi's commentary, are swept aside as a source of scorn and cruel laughter.

Fortunately, this is false. Firstly, it's not so much cruel laughter as it is a dejected mix of pity and frustration. Secondly, a broad group of styles and methods bear the stamp of DTP approval. Indeed, any approach that offers a "Pshat" interpretation is just fine by us. Now, pshat is a hotly contested expression, so for convenience sake we'll resort to the term "sincere." Sincere Divrei Torah follow a single rule:

1. At the end of the Dvar Torah, the speaker can turn to his audience and proudly say, "I'm serious. I really think that's what it means."

With that rule in mind, a sincere Dvar Torah can explore just about anything. A sincere Dvar Torah can uncover the hidden meaning of a medrash, can discuss a Talmudic interpretation, can explain an argument amongst Rishonic Meforshim, and can even highlight an inference in Rashi's commentary. It doesn't matter what the "what" is, as long there is a serious attempt to actually understand what the "what" is saying.

How often do we hear and read Divrei Torah that fail by this standard? What does it say about our respect for Torah and our respect for ourselves? When and why did the standard "vortlach" format become acceptable?

Don't get us wrong, non-Pshat has its benefits. A rousing Drasha or penetrating Mussar shmooze more than justify the use of non-Pshat. Inspiration is a hard thing to come by. Likewise, some expressions of non-Pshat display remarkable intellectual ingenuity. It takes an impressive mind to tie together the argument in Hilchot Shekhita to Avraham's thoughts at the Akeida. Sure, you can't call these Divrei Torah "true", but a well-crafted Drash weaves together so many disparate sources that you actually begin to wonder.

Unfortunately, most examples of non-Pshat are neither inspiring nor overwhelmingly intelligent. Lacking the integrity of Pshat and the shine of great Drash, they offer well-intentioned but completely meaningless substitutions for Torah.

1 comment:

Julian Horowitz said...

ibn Avraham,

"Sure, you can't call these Divrei Torah 'true'..."

In quotes or not, I daresay you and those of your school are not the arbiters of what is and isn't true. Sure, you can't call these Divrei Torah pshat, but true they very well may be. Just remember that those same Chazal who said that mikra is never "yotzei midei pshuto" are often the most guilty of removing the text from its simple meaning.