Monday, August 25, 2008

1:1:9 (Koheles 2:8)

[My regular posting day is Thursday, but out of love for this project, I’d like to post something on our kick-off day]

Sefer ha-Aggadah 1:9 “quotes” Koheles Rabba to Koheles 2:8:

“The delights of the sons of men” (Koheles 2:8).  These are the Aggados, which give delight to [the study] of Scripture.

Interestingly, my copy of Koheles Rabba quotes a different meaning here (in the Judaica press translation):  “i.e. public baths and lavatories . . . with numerous demonesses to heat them.”  The Judaica Press translation contains footnotes claiming that public baths and lavatories were “considered in those times to be great luxuries” and takes “demonesses” from the obscure שדה ושדות claiming that שד refers to demons, and asserting “evil spirits were popularly believed to haunt baths and privies; according to the Midrash he pressed even those into his service.”

I think this Midrash has many levels of meanings.  The aggados are great luxuries – but they are also viewed by many as being haunted by demons (and, perhaps in the male-centric world of the Talmud, the even more seductive and dangerous demonesses.)  Perhaps the secret to deep mystical study is not to be scared of those demons, but rather to turn them – for they are also God’s creation – into sources of warmth and power.

I wish all of you great success in your study in of the aggados.  May you even turn the demons into positive, Godly energy.


Rabbi Yaakov Feldman said...

If you're going to delve into Midrash, you're going to have to allow for demon-fear and other raw, "primitive" (in the sense of wholly natural and without analyses)emotions and reactions. For the baalei midrash and their contemporaries understood grit and sugar far better than we do. Skip that and turn it all into margerine, and you miss the point. Midrash allows us the healthy religious sturm-und-drang we sorely lack. B'hatzlacha!

Iyov said...

R. Feldman --

Thank you for your insightful comments.

I am a huge fan of your translation trilogy for Jason Aronson: Gates of Repentance, Path of the Just, and Duties of the Heart. I'm also a big fan of your postings on

I hope someday soon we have a chance to meet, if the Aibishter wills it.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman said...

Thank you so much for your response. A new book of mine is due out around Sukkos time: Rambam's Shemone Perakim.
Feel free to contact me at feldman AT -- I'd love to correspond!

anotherqueerjubu said...

As a storyteller, I find the stories that attract me, and the stories I tell best, are the stories that disturbed me greatly on the first reading. Demons are projected onto aggadah. And no wonder, since stories give rein to the imagination -- and that can terrify someone locked into a system of tight boundaries. But that's where the juice is.

David A.M. Wilensky said...

I don't care if the demons are real or not. Just as in Little Red Riding Hood, where one need not believe that there are acutal talking wolves, in aggadah, we can assume that most of it is pure invented parable and move forward in our search for the meaning of the story.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman said...

That's known as the theory of "the suspension of disbelief". That's to say, you know what you know, but you elect to disregard it and play along. But isn't that a rather removed stance? Did Chazal suspend disbelief? I hardly think so: they suspended rationality, which is a whole other thing, that we moderns could benefit from when called for.