The Maharats Chiyus (or Chayos) writes in his Mavo HaAgados that not all of Chazal were born equal, so to speak. More specifically, that among Chazal, there are different levels of intelligence, understanding and character refinement. Additionally, not all of Chazal were experts in all aspects of the Torah. Some of Chazal had areas of expertise and some were unknowledgeable about parts of the Torah. Based off of these points, the Maharats Chiyus concludes that it’s important to note who the speaker is in any given Aggadah and to investigate, before trying to understand the statement, “the ways of that particular person in other places where he spoke and to investigate what happened to him and why (i.e. his life story). By doing this you will be able to easily understand what he means even though what he said seems bizarre at first glance.”

[You can see the original in Hebrew here. I'm referring to the section that starts from the paragraph "Ubetchilah tzarich ani..."]

My questions are:

1-Are there any commentaries that agree with this approach to explaining Aggadeta?

2- Is there a particular commentator that consistently explains aggadeta this way?

  • 1
    Please cite the original text so we can understand better.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 29, 2018 at 11:34
  • Does Maharatz himself bring any examples of such interpretations?
    – Al Berko
    Oct 29, 2018 at 11:35
  • The Talmud often uses מאן שמעת ליה... in a similar way, but usually (always?) for halacha, not agada. Darchei Hamishna is a similar approach to what you describe, but I'm not sure if it would qualify as a commentator
    – b a
    Oct 29, 2018 at 11:52
  • 1
    An example of this idea is the Rambam understood one aggadic statement of Rav based on a seemingly unrelated historical fact about Rav
    – robev
    Oct 29, 2018 at 13:01
  • @robev That's not exactly the same. The Rambam was bringing a support for his understanding of Rav's statement by something else he said elsewhere.
    – Gavriel
    Jul 8, 2019 at 6:20

2 Answers 2


(Somewhat partial answer)

There are many examples in divre Chazal where the sages themselves explained others’ opinions through the scope of an individual’s motivations. Of traditional commentaries there are examples of them too explaining passages with this approach.

An example of the former is Shab 56a, where Rav says that since R. Yehudah HaNassi was a descendant of David he construed a seeming denouncement of David, by God, favorably. (This is a common avowal made by the sages in reaction to others' opinions.)

An example of the latter is Shab. 140b where Rav Papa is recorded saying that one who drinks wine while able to drink beer violates “ba’al tashchit”. Maharsh”a comments that Rav Papa’s disapproval of consuming wine instead of beer was due to personal bias since he had profited handsomely by beer manufacture.

Regarding the general methodical approach it was more properly developed and utilized with the onset of the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement. No particular "traditional" commentator comes to mind who consistently explains divre Chazal with this approach.


This approach was often used by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He will often read this approach in Rashi when Rashi quotes the author of a Misrashic teaching (see Sefer Klalei Rashi pgs 115-6), understanding this as a cue to view the teaching through the history of this author's life. He will often explain disagreements in Aggada in the Talmud in this way, for example here.

This approach is taken from his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Scheerson, who regularly explains the significance of the author of a teaching, but usually according to kabbalah, not pshat.

(Similarly, in Halacha there are many rules like these (which sage is expert in which subject) taken into account when rendering the halacha from the Talmud. These are compiled in Shmuel HaNagid's Mavo HaTalmud (printed in the back of Berachos in many editions). (I don't know if an English translation exists.)

These rules are generally followed by poskim like the Rambam and Rabbi Yosef Kairo.)

  • Which rule exactly in the Sefer Klalei Rashi says that Rashi wants us to view the teaching through the history of the author's life? I only saw that it should be viewed through his other teachings, not through WHO the author was or what happened to him (or what job he had or when he lived etc.)
    – Gavriel
    Oct 29, 2018 at 19:21
  • The second link you have up is what I'm looking for! (in the paragraph titled "Differences in Approach"). Do you have a link directly to the sicha that's based on? That would also be valuable.
    – Gavriel
    Oct 29, 2018 at 19:23
  • @Gavriel Would you like more examples like that? Oct 29, 2018 at 19:26
  • That would be great, also if you could clarify your first point about Sefer Klalei Rashi in relationship to my comment above.
    – Gavriel
    Oct 29, 2018 at 19:46

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