Understanding Midrash

“Midrash is a child of prophecy, though, in another sense. The prophets were interpreters of history. They spoke to their generation and their times. Lacking prophecy, the rabbis turned to biblical text to hear, within the word spoken for all time, the specific resonance for this time. Unlike peshat, the ‘plain, simple, or accepted meaning’, midrash is the hermeneutic quest for the meaning of the text as if it were spoken, not then but now. Midrash is interpretation in the context of covenantal time, the word spoken in the past but still active in the present. It is an exercise in conscious and deliberate anachronism (the secular equivalent would be a performance of a Shakespeare tragedy in modern dress, the better to feel its force as contemporary, rather than classical, drama). It is prophetic in the sense of interpreting current events in the light of the Divine word. Midrash is the attempt on the part of the sages to understand their own times as a continuation of the narrative of the covenant.”

The Chief Rabbi’s Haggadah (Essays) p. 95