Menachoth, fol. 85, col. 2.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the Aggadah, as explained in the Midrashim”
The Midrashim are ancient Rabbinical expositions of Holy Writ. The term Midrash (of which Midrashim is the plural form) occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible (2 Chron. xiii. 22, and xxiv. 27); and in both passages it is represented in the Anglican version by the word “story,” while the more correct translation, “commentary,” is relegated to the margin. “Legendary exposition” best expresses the full meaning of the word Midrash.
The Midrashim, for the most part, originated in a praiseworthy desire to familiarize the people with Holy Writ, which had, in consequence of changes in the vernacular, become to them, in the course of time, almost a dead letter. These Midrashim have little or nothing to do with the Halachoth or legal decisions of the Talmud, except in aim, which is that of illustration and explanation. They are not literal interpretations, but figurative and allegorical, and as such enigmatic. They are, however, to be received as utterances of the sages, and some even regard them of as binding obligation as the law of Moses itself. The following are fairly representative extracts.
The name of Abraham always precedes those of Isaac and Jacob except in one place (Lev. xxvi. 42), where it is said, “And I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember;” and thus we learn that all were of equal importance.
Midrash Rabbah, Gen. chap. 1.
In the Selichoth for the Day of Atonement the above reversal of the usual order of the names of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is thus referred to: “The first covenant Thou didst exalt, and the order of the contracting parties to it Thou hast reversed.”
Abraham deserved to have been created before Adam, but the Holy One—blessed be He!—said, “Should he pervert things as I make them, then there will be no one to rectify them; so behold I will create Adam first, and if he should make things crooked, then Abraham following him will make them straight again.”
Ibid., chap. 14.
Abram was called Abraham, and Isaac was also called Abraham; as it is written (Gen. xxv. 19), “Isaac, Abraham’s son, Abraham.”