(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis

Date: Tue, 16 May 2000 21:58:17 -0400 (EDT)
From: Russell Hendel <  rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu>
Subject: Re: Genesis

In a previous posting I summarized Rav Hirsch's theory of Symbolism. Rav
Hirsch asked if we are ever OBLIGATED to interpret something symbolically.
Rav Hirsch also asked "Given that we are so obligated HOW should we
interpret the symbols". In a nutshell Rav Hirsch asked how we can be
OBJECTIVE about symbols.

Let me therefore summarize my understanding of Rav Hirsch in his essay
OUTLINES OF JEWISH SYMBOLISM (Collected Writing, Feldheim, Vol 3). Rav
Hirsch held that a commandment/narrative was symbolic in only 3 cases:
(1)G-d explicitly ordered us to consider the commandment symbolic(eg G-d
explicitly says 'Sabbath is a symbol Ex31:13)
(2) G-d explicitly links
PERFORMANCE of the commandment to a MEMORY association (eg WEAR Tzitzith in
order to remember G-d's commandments(Nu15:39)
(3)A deep emotional/spiritual
state (like 'atonement') is linked to a large collection of procedures and
objects all of which have clear symbolic meaning elsewhere in the Bible(eg
atonement is linked to procedures with the blood of animals; but animals
always symbolize personalities(eg Gen 49:3-27) and blood always symbolizes
the soul (eg Lev17:11).)

In interpreting a symbol we are only allowed to use
(1) the explicit statement of the Tnach on its meaning (eg BLOOD=SOUL Lev17:11)
(2)an explicit link by grammatical root (eg the ALMOND vision symbolized
HASTENING because ALMOND and HASTENING come from the same Biblical root(Jer 1:11-12)
(3) an explicit link of an object to its known function and
attributes (eg Judah is symbolized by the Lion because the Lions most
famous attribute is Regal strength and leadership (cf Gen 49:9)

Returning to Gen 1, the key phrase to focus on is RUACH ELOKIM (Gen 1:2)
which occurs 3 dozen times in the Bible and always means prophecy. This
forces us to interpret Gen 1 as dealing with human emotions, not the
physical world. There are further hints of this in Gen 1 (eg Gen 1:2 and
Gen 1:4 speak about "the world HAD been formless and void" "G-d HAD called
the darker emotions NIGHT"...indicating that people (or the world) already

Once these hints are accepted I am obligated (just as Rashi does)
interpreting the rest of Gen 1 as dealing with spirituality and prophecy.
This explains Rashi Gen 1:4 "and G-d said let there be light"--RASHI: We
are forced to interpret this symbolically(lit agadically)--light refers to
the spiritual light (or light of prophecy) bound for the righteous in the
next world." In other words, the various emotional terms in Gen 1 force us
to interpret the rest of the chapter symbolically (but, to answer Pinchas,
we must carefully follow only the allowed procedures).

The above is a very brief summary of a debate that went thru 100 issues of
Torah Forum (Vol 3 and 4). It is also a good 1 page summary of my
presentation at the 3rd international conference.
The full test of my paper is on the RashiYomi website.

Russell Jay Hendel;Phd ASA; RHendel@towson.edu
Moderator Rashi is Simple, Rashi YOmi