I've always made my own inferences and interpretations from the Torah. Whether it's from a story, a Perashah or something from the Tanach. But I don't know how good/permissible that is. A problem every religion suffers from (sadly including judaism) is bad interpretations, which can lead to really wrong - and sometimes extreme - practices/beliefs. When I draw my own conclusions and lessons from the Torah, I don't find negative things, but they could be wrong. Is it permitted to draw my own conclusions? Or should I always look for our sages' interpretations?
There are some areas where drawing your own conclusions is harmless, and some where it can be a big problem. Drawing your own conclusions when it will impact halacha is extremely dangerous, because there is a very real negative consequence.
R' Yaakov Weinberg said that a person can say whatever p'shat (plain meaning) that he wants to in a verse, as long as he realizes it is no more than just his own theory in his own mind. However, even this has its limits - R' Eliezer Lachman told me that R' Weinberg was very happy when Daas Tevunos was published with the footnotes of R' Chaim Friedlander, because R' Weinberg had been experiencing that people were learning it with their own understandings and coming out with heretical beliefs, and R' Friedlander's notes clarified these issues. So, when it comes to areas that relate to fundamentals of belief, in which even accidental mistakes can have very serious consequences, one should be careful not to draw their own conclusions without discussing them with someone more experienced in these areas.
Scripture, meaning Tanakh, is only Cliff Notes (or Spark Notes, if you prefer) to a larger body of knowledge. The "Oral Torah". Yes, one plane of understanding it is the simple meaning, and anyone can get what they want out of it. But the more one is informed, the more likely that answer will be consistent with the Oral Torah.
For example, our sages in the Talmud tie the law that the Shabbos begins Friday evening to the verses in Genesis 1 that read "It was evening, it was morning, it was the 6th day." (Or 5th, 4th...) We see that a day begins in the evening, at sundown.
Rashbam, writing in the 12th century, comments on 1:5 ("and it was evening") that this is exegetical, but not the simple meaning of the verse. "The text does not come to state that the evening and the morning are part of a single day, for it only needs to explain how there were six days – that the morning broke and the night was finished: behold, one day was completed and another day began."
But there is a limit how far the Rashbam took this conclusion. He didn't observe the Shabbos from sunrise to sunrise or anything.
When I write a sermon, I tend to extrapolate from existing opinion rather than propose an idea that contradicts all the pre-existing opinions by well-known sources that I am aware of.
For that matter, I prefer to find two points of contact with existing ideas. When I only have one point of contact, I could be headed in the wrong direction. But when I have two intersections between my novellum and existing ideas... my mental image is "two points define a line" -- I feel more secure that I am headed in the right direction.
These are just my preferences, but it gives you an idea of what one Orthodox rabbi does to compensate for my own incomplete knowledge of what lies beyond the "Cliff Notes". Some are more daring, others less. Consider it a data point to give you a feel of where the ballpark lies.
Welcome aboard @Gabe12. It's a good and understandable question.
In the beginning of learning Torah, like any other subject, it is important to get the data correct. That means quieting your own thoughts and opinions and taking in what has been passed down to us from the previous generations.
Depending on your personal capacity and diligence, that can take many years and great effort.
But it is important to know that the Torah, like any living thing, is not static. It is called Torat Chayim, the 'Way of Life' (like in the Sim Shalom blessing of the Amidah), and is the source of life for us all.
Each year, as the previous year concludes and Rosh HaShanah ushers in a completely new year, there is a new flow of light and blessing from the Creator of us all. That new light illuminates the Torah with new insights that have never been revealed in previous generations. This is derived from the expression of our Sages, "Ner mitzvah v'Torah ohr", 'A candle is compared to Mitzvot (the commandments) and the Torah to light.'
May you be blessed to go from strength to strength in your Torah studies, to become a mature student of Torah and to harvest the ripe fruit from the 'Tree of Life' as we all say at the conclusion of communal Torah reading, 'Eitz chayim he l'machazikim bah.' It is a tree of life to those who grasp it.
If you learn the Gemara in Chagiga 3b ("How can I figure out what to do with so many opinions?") you will find a Rashi that is pertinent.
Rashi there says:
עשה אזניך כאפרכסת. מאחר שכולן לבן לשמים עשה אזנך שומעת ולמוד ודע דברי כולן וכשתדע להבחין אי זה יכשר קבע הלכה כמותו
Once you have weighed all opinions, and studied all relevant material, then decide which one is correct and establish the Halacha appropriately.
So we find that it's correct behaviour to decide for oneself. However, one has to have first studied all relevant information.
And that is why most of us need a Rabbi... for most issues. (Or: That's why it's safer to bounce ideas off a Rabbi, before implementing them.)
This reminds me of a Rov who once commented on a recent Baal Teshuva authoring a Sefer: Has he learned through the entire Shas, that he's sure none of his statements contradict any Tosafos?
Is it permitted to draw my own conclusions?
It depends on who you ask. I saw this question, which peaked my curiosity, and I made an account, just to give you this answer.
A problem every religion suffers from (sadly including judaism) is bad interpretations, which can lead to really wrong - and sometimes extreme - practices/beliefs.
Yes, and there's only one solution: beware of any man that tells you not to think for yourself. Did not God create us with the ability and freedom to reason for ourselves? And yet what you will see with all false religions and bad interpretations is dogmatic teaching from man. Did not God give us His word in completion, without the need for men to come along and add to it? All I am saying is, make sure that what you're reading and thinking is from God. He does not use coercion, because He does not need to.
Is it permitted to draw my own conclusions? Or should I always look for our sages' interpretations?
Again, it depends on who you ask. It's good to humbly listen to counsel and teaching, but always ask yourself: how is this better and more credible than the opposition?