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70 different aspects from one Torah, thank God

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Anyone who studies from a rabbinic Bible, such as Mikraot Gedolot, is struck by the number of different commentaries that surround the few lines of the biblical text on each page. Most religions that have a sacred scripture have editions that come with a commentary. Occasionally they have an edition with two commentaries.

I do not know of any other religion that has editions of scripture surrounded by five to ten or more different commentaries. All of this traces back to a verse in the Book of Psalms: One thing God has spoken; two things have I heard (Psalms 62:12) and its gloss in the Talmud, “One biblical verse may convey several teachings . . .

In R. Ishmael’s School it was taught: And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jer. 23:29), i.e., just as [the rock] is split into many splinters, so also may one biblical verse convey many teachings” (BT Sanhedrin 34a).1

In other words, multiple interpretations of each verse of Scripture can be correct, even if they contradict one another. The term for this concept of pluralistic interpretation is Shivim Panim LaTorah (each verse of Torah has 70 different facets).

The earliest source for the term Shivim Panim LaTorah is in the Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 13:15-16. The concept, though not the exact wording, also appears in a post Talmudic midrash Otiot d’Rabbi Akiba as Torah nilm’dah b’shiv’im panim” Torah is learned through 70 faces/facets.

The term was used by the rationalist Avraham Ibn Ezra (died 1167) in his introduction to his Torah commentary and, a century later by the mystic Nahmanides (died 1270) in his Torah commentary on Genesis 8:4. It also appears several times in the Zohar. That this concept was used both by rationalist and mystical Torah commentators indicates how fundamental it is to understanding the meaning of Divine revelation. The number seventy is used in rabbinic literature to indicate a large number, e.g. seventy nations, seventy languages, and here too it reflects the idea that there are many different ways to interpret a biblical verse.

Jewish tradition enumerates four general types of interpretation. P’shat, the plain, simple, historical meaning; Remez, the logical, metaphorical, cosmic,........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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