One of my favorite Shabbos reads used to be the Parahas Derachim, and some of the comments to a recent post brought the sefer to mind again. The sefer is a series of essays, each opening with a Midrashic theme which is used as a springboard to construct elaborate twists of pilpul by trying to impose the halachic system onto the chumash. You have essays explaining the “machlokes” Moshe Rabeinu and Pharoah, explanations of how the Avos kept mitzvos (a ben noach cannot keep shabbos), etc. When I would say over one of these my wife would almost always ask whether it really makes sense to say things like Pharoah held like the Ra’avad while Moshe held like the Rambam, etc.? Isn’t that anachronistic? By the same token, isn’t asking whether the Imahos observed non-zman gerama mitzvos (as discussed in a previous post) surrendering too much to literalism and anachronistically imposing the halachic system on past events?
But if one dismisses these approaches as overly literalistic, as anachronistic, as pilpul shel hevel, what is one to make of seforim like the Parashas Derachim… the Chasam Sofer… the Hafla’ah… the Netziv…the Yismach Moshe… the Meshech Chochma… and so many others which engage in these type readings?
In the same vein, what is one to make of Chassidic seforim which impose an entire system of meta-halachic concerns for tikunim and birurim on the acts of the Avos? Isn’t this an anachronistic reading as well, an imposition on the text which could not possibly be pshat or inherent in a “rational” understanding of the text?
I’m holding my cards for now and simply raising the question for comment.