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Literally, to search. A particular manner of interpreting the verses of the Bible, developed mainly in Judea during the period of the Second Temple. Jewish sages were convinced that the words of the Bible lent themselves to multiple interpretations, each intended for people of a par­ticular level of understanding and culture, as well as for a particular age and circumstance. The sages contemplated and discussed some of the greatest and most profound ideas of humankind. They were anxious, moreover, to teach these ex­alted ideas to ordinary people of the towns and villages of Judea. On Sabbaths and holidays they would preach in the synagogues, using Bible verses as their text and revealing many profound interpretations of these verses. So that their ideas might be understood by the people, they used illustrative parables, imaginative stories, and poetic inter­pretations of the verses. In their sermons, the sages also discussed those problems that deeply troubled the people. After the burning of the Tem­ple and the destruction of the Jewish state, the sages strove to heal the wounds of the people, raise their spirit, and restore their courage. They extolled the greatness and power of God, His abiding love for His people, His sympathy for their suffering, and His promise of a glorious future.

The sages preached on the weekly portion of the Torah, to which pertinent verses from other parts of the Bible were added. Most of their ser­mons were lost, but the finest of them were often repeated and zealously guarded in the memories of devoted students. Eventually, beginning with the 4th century, many of the sermons were collected and written down, as books of midrashim. Today, we possess more than 100, the most important of which are:
Midrash Rabbah (The Great Midrash), which consists of collections of midrashim on the Five Books of Moses and the Five Scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther). Each collection was edited by a different man at a different time from the 6th to 12th century C.E.; they were the most popular collections of midrashim, widely read by Jews the world over.
Midrash Tanhuma, a more homogeneous col­lection of midrashim on the Five Books of Moses, in which the preachings of Rabbi Tanhuma, a sage of the 4th century, predominate.
Pesikhtot, two collections of lengthy sermons delivered on the special Sabbaths before Passover and the High Holy Days).
Yalkut Shimoni, a collection of midrashim on all the books of the Bible. This collection was edited in the 13th century and consists of material taken from many early collections of midrashim now lost to us.

A number of briefer midrashim, such as: Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer on the first nine chapters of Genesis; Midrash Shohar Tov on Psalms; Midrash Mishle on Proverbs; Midrash Shemuel on the books of Samuel; and Midrash Lekah Tov on the third, fourth, and fifth Books of Moses and the Book of Ruth.

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