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Prophecy for the Generations: A Look at an Analytical Approach to Navi

Dovid Sussman

Many of us tend to think of the stories that appear in the Neviim Rishonim as just that — stories. But a prominent rosh yeshivah who has studied, analyzed, and written and spoken about Navi for decades reveals in an interview that there is a way to see past the simple narrative on the surface and uncover the treasures within.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Iyun (in-depth study) is a term that takes on different meanings for different people. The world of yeshivos today features a variety of different analytical approaches, all of which share the goal of delving beneath the surface of the Talmudic text and unearthing the principles, the reasoning, or the deeper meaning behind its statements. Far less common than the application of an iyun approach to Gemara, however, is its application to the study of Navi.

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Sosevsky, the rosh yeshivah of Yeshivas Ohr Yerushalayim (which is actually located just outside of Yerushalayim), is an accomplished Talmudic scholar and educator who has also devoted a significant amount of time and effort to the study of Navi and has developed a rigorous analytical approach to its study. Some of his lectures on Navi have been released in a series of eight cassette tapes put out by the Orthodox Union, in which he presents an analysis of a number of subjects in the Neviim Rishonim.

In an interview with Kolmus, Rabbi Sosevsky shared some insights into how the principles of iyun can be applied to the study of the Neviim Rishonim, the narrative portion of Navi. With the proper approach, Rabbi Sosevsky explains, it is possible to uncover incredible depths of meaning beneath the deceptively simple text of Navi and Chazal’s comments on it. This approach, he adds, is very similar to the way that one dissects and analyzes a Talmudic sugya.

Rabbi Sosevsky’s first experience writing on Navi actually began when he was learning in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yaakov Yosef on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. After he completed his smichah, he began delivering a shiurin English for post-high school students who did not speak Yiddish. He spent the next three years delivering this shiur, which brought him to the attention of the Judaica Press publishing house.

Judaica Press was then in the midst of producing its well-known series of Neviim u’Kesuvim with an English-language translation and commentary digest, and the publisher approached Rabbi Sosevsky to ask if he would work on the volume on Shmuel Beis. Although he protested that he did not consider himself an expert on Navi, the ready reply was, “The fact is that no one learns Navi, but we were told that you enjoy it. Would you be willing to try?”

He took up the challenge, and the Judaica Press version of Shmuel Beis that exists today is to his credit. The Rosh Yeshivah recalls, “It wasn’t exactly my style and approach. My job was to translate the text based on Rashi, as well as to write an English digest of all the commentaries. But it gave me my initial exposure to Navi and got me into it.”

The next stage on his journey came after Rabbi Sosevsky’s marriage to the daughter of Rabbi Shimon Romm. A former student of Yeshivas Mir (where he was known as Shimon Wisoker) who delivered a shiur in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, Rabbi Romm was known as a brilliant darshan. “At one point, when he was learning in Slonim at the age of 13, he taught himself all of Navi by heart,” the Rosh Yeshivah relates. Rabbi Romm expressed an interest in having a learning seder with his son-in-law, and he suggested that they learn through the haftaros together. “Like any good seder with a father-in-law, it lasted only about four or five weeks,” Rabbi Sosevsky recalls, “but the approach that he taught me lasted a lifetime.”

Rabbi Romm made a very important comment about the study of Navi, which became one of the crucial underpinnings of Rabbi Sosevsky’s approach: Even though Chazal have a rule that ein meshivin al hadrash (we do not ask questions on drashos), the study of Navi and midrashim is a very serious form of learning. It is crucial to be sensitive to subtleties in the text, to analyze every comment of Chazal in order to understand what questions are bothering them and what they are deriving from the text of the Navi. In short, a sugya in Navi is, in fact, not all that different from a sugya in Gemara.

“I didn’t appreciate the approach at first,” Rabbi Sosevsky relates, “but ultimately I realized how unbelievably true this principle is. At least in the stories of Tanach, it is very true that as you read through them, you are going through a sugya. There are questions, some of them quite difficult, but Chazal pick up on the nuances of the text in order to offer a resolution. When you study the midrashim, you must be aware that they are building an approach to the sugya.” As the author of two seforim on Gemara, the Rosh Yeshivah is certainly well-equipped to determine that the style of study in Navi is not much different.

The next stage for Rabbi Sosevsky came when he began studying the works of Rabbi Yehoshua Bachrach, who wrote extensively about the various accounts that appear in the Neviim Rishonim. Rav Bachrach, an eminenttalmid chacham and a student of Rav Shimon Shkop ztz”l, became famous for his own approach to Navi. In his seforim, Rav Bachrach presents various difficulties without immediately providing the resolution. Instead, he develops the answer slowly, quoting various statements of Chazal so that the reader will gradually come to understand his intent. Ultimately, what results is a solid mahalach, an analytical approach to the question at hand. His writings include works on Shaul HaMelech and Dovid HaMelech, Megillas Rus, and other parts of Tanach. “I consider him a rebbi in terms of my approach to Navi,” Rabbi Sosevsky reveals.

The key to his approach is maintaining sensitivity to the subtleties in the text of the Navi and in the language of Chazal’s commentary on the Navi. The Yalkut Shimoni, for instance, which is a compilation of maamarei Chazalon the Navi, is a very useful tool for this sort of learning, but all of the midrashim that deal with issues in Navi are highly pertinent and may be brought to bear on a sugya.

In terms of the classical commentaries, Rashi’s commentary, of course, is a basic text, although Rabbi Sosevsky points out that Rashi’s commentary on the Chumash tends to be much more thorough, since Rashi generally quotes the sources in Chazal that are closest to the pshat, the simple meaning of the text, and there are not as many sources in Chazal on Navi. He also notes that Radak’s commentary on Navi tends to be useful, and, of course, he recommends the seforim of Rav Bachrach. In general, however, this approach focuses on an in-depth reading of the relevant texts in ChazalIn order to analyze the texts, one must be aware of the difficulties that Chazal address and attempt to ascertain how the midrashim answer those questions.



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