When Moses got the Torah tablets (Ten Commandments) from God, at the top of Mt. Sinai, he stood on the top of Mt. Sinai and spoke the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel/Jewish people, who were all standing at the base of the mountain. Like you do, he said certain words and everyone at the bottom heard something different from each other, which is also what happens in conversation — you don’t hear exactly what someone says, because you have to interpret everything you hear.
A midrash is a story that was originally told by rabbis in order to fill in character story/background outside of the canonical text of the Torah. Over time, these stories would become passed down and written down in their own right, and though they are considered canonical now, they were originally told from the speculation of rabbis rather than the word of God, and are always told with that distinction.
The informant first learned this midrash around elementary school, from her father, and finds the story personally important to her because it gives her, as a Jewish person, the permission to interpret the text to be what she wants/needs it to be, and for that to be allowed. If someone else gets something else from a text than she does, then they can both be good interpretations without having to fight for authenticity.
I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.
I think it’s really interesting that a canonical religious text actually gave a lot of leeway to individual interpretations, and that those interpretations then got folded back into the general religious understanding.
I think the meaning that my informant gathered from the midrash is also beautiful, and uniquely suited to her kind of sensibilities. I’m not that familiar with the Old Testament, or with Jewish traditions at all, so to hear someone speak about her religious practice in a way I, someone who isn’t religious, could understand helped me gain a new perspective on both her religion and her.