Exploring Bible through Text and Midrash
“Look at it closely, grow old reading it” –Pirke Avot 5:22
How are we engaging our learners in Bible this year? How can we help them find ways to relate to ancient texts about people with very different lives that those our students lead?
Torah isn’t simple and it’s not straightforward. Narratives like the creation story that are told in more than one way can be confusing. Narratives that feel incomplete can leave us guessing. We can almost hear the plea: “But what does it mean?”
Like hiking through unfamiliar terrain, or poking into a cave, or even contemplating the patterns in the stars on a dark, clear night, engaging with Torah requires a sense of adventure, of wonder, of curiosity. It is an act of exploration.
One method for helping children explore Torah is to engage deeply with an accessible, age-appropriate, translation that retains the structure and tone of the Hebrew. Take Genesis 1:1-2 from the JPS translation: “When God began to create heaven and earth—the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.” And from The Explorer’s Bible, Vol 1: “When God began to create heaven and earth, the earth had no shape and no form.” Together with the accompanying question “Imagine the earth with ‘no shape and no form.” What do you think it looked like on the first day?” this text can help focus younger learners on the deeper meaning.
Another method is to use midrash to help learners answer their own questions about the story, to see different perspectives. When we look at the text of Genesis 2:16-17, we see only God’s command to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “You are free to eat from every tree in the garden, except from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you eat from that tree you will die.” Yet with the help of a midrashic story, students can contemplate questions that might otherwise feel risky: “Why does it look so delicious?” Eve asked. “Why would God create such a tempting tree if we couldn’t eat from it?” (Adam and Eve Grow Up, from Maybe It Happened THIS Way: Bible Stories Reimagined.
Combining these approaches—close study of accessible translation enriched with modern midrashic stories—can help you lead learners to a growing appreciation of Torah as our foundational text.
To help you consider such a combination for your 4th-6th grade learners, here is a list that matches up stories from our newest Bible resource, Maybe It Happened THIS Way: Bible Stories Reimagined, with chapters of our widely used Explorer’s Bible. While the match is not fully 1-1, there is plenty coordination to help you enrich many lessons with a new, modern perspective that will ignite curiosity.
Match Adam and Eve Grow Up with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 1, Chapter 2
Match Noah’s Hope with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 1, Chapter 4
Match Rebecca Goes Forth with Explorer’s Bible Vol 1, Chapter 9
Match Standing at the Edge of the Pit with Explorer’s Bible Vol. ,1 Chapter 13
Match A Matter of Life and Death with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 1, Chapter 16
Match Miriam Saves Her Brother with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 1, Chapter 16
Match Moses Sees with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 1`, Chapter 17
Match Dancing on the Shores of the Sea with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 1, Chapter 8 or Explorer’s Bible Vol. 2, Chapter 1
Match Standing, Sitting, and Signing at Sinai with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 2, Chapter 2
Match Seeing through Caleb’s Eyes with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 2, Chapter 3
Match Moses Turns Away with Explorer’s Bible Vol. 2, Chapter 3
Maybe It Happened This Way can also be a useful resource for b'mitzvah students working on a d'var. The values guide and discussion questions at the back of the book can broaden understanding further and make deeper meaning.
Maybe It Happened This Way: Bible Stories Reimagined, by Rabbi Leah Berkowitz and Erica Wovsaniker is available now. Educators can get a 30% discount on a single copy for review as part of your program by contacting customer support.
We also offer quantity discounts of up to 30% on Maybe It Happened This Way for use with classes and small groups. To get the best price and all your discounts, be sure to log in to behrmanhouse.com using your school or synagogue account whenever you place your orders.