Dear Rabbi Simon
If someone gives me an interpretation of a posuk (biblical verse), how do I know if it is correct? I am not referring to a specific posuk but generally.
Thank you for your interesting question. It is well-known that there are multiple facets to the Torah (70 in the Talmudic reckoning), so there can certainly be a multiplicity of “correct” (or valid) interpretations. Nevertheless, this does not mean that any and every fanciful or even malevolent (eg Christological) interpretation may be considered legitimate.
So, a good rule of thumb is if the explanation in question is found in one of the (many) classic or respected commentaries, that’s great. Or if your informant is a knowledgeable and G-d-fearing individual, this is a favourable indicator.
Two further thoughts:
- An interpretation may be perfectly valid and authentic, even if it does not accord with the halakhah. For example, there may be two opinions in the Talmud, and the halakhah follows one over the other. Yet, in the realm of parshanut they are both equally valid and legitimate. (In fact, Rashi himself will sometimes deliberately explain a word or phrase in a manner which does not accord with the halakhah—if it is closer to the straightforward meaning of the text.)
- Occasionally one can find an opinion advanced by a classic commentator (such as Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, or many others), yet dismissed as heretical by others.
Bottom line: It is not always easy to know (or even to define) the “correctness” of an interpretation. But the more Torah you study the better you will be able to evaluate such things for yourself.
I hope this is helpful.
Best wishes and shanah tovah
Rabbi Rashi Simon