Let him who is convinced that his views are true and right express them . . . at every opportunity . . . without considering how much support or how much opposition he will encounter. Only falsehood is in need of many supporters in order to win the day; falsehood must have the authority of numbers to make up for what it lacks in justification. Truth, by contrast, will always prevail, even if it takes time. Noble, courageous and pure, expressed with all the fiery zeal and conviction and with all clarity of sure awareness, stated again and again at every opportunity, truth will ultimately gain respect and admiration even of those who do not accept it. The only truth that can be lost beyond recall is that truth whose adherents no longer have the courage to speak up candidly on its behalf. Truth has never gone down in defeat as the result of opposition, it has done so only when its friends are too weak to defend it. - R' S.R. Hirsch

Friday, January 30, 2015

Inconvenient Traditions?

In a number of previous posts I have presented some material that is contemporary with the Second Temple period, material which provides us with a glimpse into the Sages' understanding of the role of the Messiah.  It is interesting to note the emphasis on the suffering that the Messiah would endure, an emphasis that is practically non-existent in modern Orthodox Judaism, especially today.

The texts also serve in revealing the Sages' understanding of certain passages in the Tanakh which were interpreted as speaking of the Messiah.  Nothing is taken for granted in Jewish hermeneutics, every word is significant, every repetition, every nuance.  The question I hope to raise for serious consideration, of course, is whether or not there has been any figure in all of history (other than Y'shua of Nazareth) who has fulfilled not only what the Scriptures foretold about the the Messiah, but also the traditional expectations of those to whom were entrusted the very oracles of G-d.

I do not see how Orthodox Judaism can maintain a position that so dramatically diminishes the role of the Messiah as a Suffering Servant, while remaining honest in the face of centuries of our own oral traditions and interpretations which testify to the contrary.  Of course, the modern position developed, at least in part, from polemic reactions against Christendom's interpretations of passages such as Isaiah 53 and scores of other passages which argued for the Messiahship of a carpenter from Nazareth.

What is interesting and perhaps even a bit ironic is that the traditional Jewish references to passages that are used as proof texts for  identifying the Messiah and describing His role in this world not only include and agree with the interpretations of the ones most commonly employed in Christian polemics, but far exceed them in scope and sometimes obscurity.

It is critical to remember that the early Jewish believers were speaking in the synagogues proving and demonstrating that Y'shua was the Messiah from the Torah, the Prophets, and, yes, Jewish tradition.  There were no four-point outlines, Gospel tracts, or Romans-road.  Neither were there "Christian" positions, expressions, pogroms, or persecutions for the Jews to react against or resist, theologically or otherwise, at this early stage.

In order to maintain the modern Orthodox position on the role and identity of the Messiah, volumes of oral tradition contained in the rabbinic literature, of which I only provided a small sampling, must be either ignored, reinterpreted, or suppressed.  No matter how much time goes by or how much truth we try to suppress, one persistent question will continue to challenge and expose the futility of our love affair with the darkness: Who do you say that I am?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ordeal and Triumph of the Messiah

I will greatly rejoice in the L-RD, my soul shall be joyful in my G-d; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10).

It is taught, that in the month of Nisan the Patriarchs will arise and say to the Messiah: Our true Messiah, even though we are your forebears, you are greater than we because You suffered for the iniquities of our children, and terrible ordeals befell You, such ordeals as did not befall earlier generations or later ones; for the sake of Israel You became a laughingstock and a derision among the nations of the earth; and You sat in darkness, in thick darkness, and Your eyes saw no light.

Your skin cleaved to your bones, and Your body was as dry as a piece of wood; Your eyes grew dim from fasting, and Your strength was dried up like a potsherd - and all these afflictions on account of the iniquities of our children, all these because of Your desire to have Your children benefit by that goodness which the Holy One, blessed be He, will bestow in abundance upon Israel.  The Patriarchs will say to Him: Our true Messiah, be content with what You have done, for You have made content the mind of our Maker and our minds also.

[The question of the Messiah's sufferings may be explained in Jewish terms as follows: When Israel's sins exceeded all bounds, G-d first vented His wrath on the sticks and stones of the Temple (cf. Pesikta Rabbati 2:6, Midrash on the Psalms 62:4 and 79:3; Lamentations Rabbah 4:11).  After the Temple's destruction the Messiah, by the same token, became One upon Whom G-d's wrath was vented.  For in the absence of Israel's repentance, punishment for sin, violations of the Torah, had to be imposed upon something or someone, in accordance with G-d's design . . . which preceded the Creation of the world.]

Why does the verse in Jeremiah 31:20 speak twice of mercy: In mercy I will have mercy upon Him?  One mercy refers to the time when the Messiah will be shut up in prison, a time when the nations of the earth will gnash their teeth at Him everyday, wink their eyes at one another in derision of Him, nod their heads at Him in contempt, open wide their lips to guffaw, as it is written: All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head (Ps 22:8); My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my throat; and You lay me in the dust of the earth (Ps, 22:16).  

Moreover, they will roar over Him like lions, as it is written: They open wide their mouth against me, as a ravening and roaring lion.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is become like wax; it is melted in my inmost parts (Ps. 22:14-15).  They will growl over Him like lions who wish to swallow Him, as it is written: All out enemies have opened their mouths wide against us.  Terror and the pit are come upon us, desolation and destruction (Lam. 3:36-47).

The second mercy refers to the time when He will come forth out of prison and the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to Him: My true Messiah, do not be afraid of them [the nations] for all these will die by the breath of Your lips, as it is written: And with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked (Isa. 11:4).   He will make seven canopies of precious stones for Him.  As for each canopy, out of it there will flow forth four rivers - one of wine, one of honey, one of milk, and one of pure balsam.  And the Holy One, blessed be He, will embrace the Messiah in the sight of the righteous ones, the pious ones, the Holy ones, the mighty men of Torah of every generation will gaze upon Him.

[The foregoing commentary is derived from meditation upon the verse Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance . . and My people shall be satisfied with My goodness (Jeremiah 31:13-14) Pesikta Rabbati 37:1]

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Shimon bar Yonah answered and said, "The Messiah of G-d."  And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day . . . (Luke 9:20-22).

Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,  "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things." (Luke 9:20-22; 24:46-48).

"Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled" (Acts 3:18).

Then Rav Sha'ul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and demonstrating that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Y'shua whom I preach to you is the Messiah"  (Acts 17:2-3).

"Therefore, having obtained help from G-d, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come --  "that the Messiah would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:22-23).

Afflicted and Riding on an Ass

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is submissive, and yet he promises salvation, afflicted and riding on an ass, even upon a colt, the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9)

Submissive, and yet he promises salvation describes the Messiah, for when they laughed at Him while He sat in prison, he submitted for the sake of Israel to the judgment imposed upon Him, and is therefore properly called submissive.  Why is He spoken of as yet he promises salvation?  Because after submitting to the judgment for their sake, He said: All of you deserve extermination; nevertheless, you will be saved . . . by the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be He.

Afflicted and He is riding upon an ass describes the Messiah.  And why is He called afflicted?  Because He was afflicted during all His years in prison while the transgressors in Israel laughed at Him.

Why does the Scripture say riding upon an ass?  The ass represents the wicked who have no merit of their own . . . but through the merit of the Messiah, the Holy One, blessed be He, guides them in a straight way, and redeems them, as it is written: They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them; I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way wherein they shall not stumble; for I am become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born (Jer. 31:9)  [Pesikta Rabbati, 34:1-2].

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Y'shua sent two talmidim, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her.  Loose them and bring them to Me. "And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The L-rd has need of them,' and immediately he will send them."  

All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:  "Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on an ass, a colt, the foal of a donkey.' "  So the talmidim went and did as Y'shua commanded them.  They brought the ass and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.  

And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the L-RD!' Hosanna in the highest!"  And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, "Who is this?" (Matthew 21:1-10)

The Light of the Messiah II

R' Isaac taught: In the year in which the King Messiah reveals Himself, all the kings of the nations of the earth will be at strife with one another.  All the nations of the world will be agitated and frightened, they will fall upon their faces, and they will be seized with pangs like the pangs of a woman in labor.  And Israel, agitated and frightened will say:

Where shall we go, where shall we come?  G-d will reply: My children be not afraid . . . the time of your redemption is come.  This latter redemption will not be like your previous redemption, for following your previous redemption, you suffered anguish and enslavement by the kingdoms; as for this redemption - following this one, you will have no anguish or enslavement. 

Our Masters taught: When the King Messiah appears, he will come stand on the roof of the Temple and will make a proclamation to Israel, saying: Meek ones, the day of your redemption is come.  And if you do not believe me, behold my light which rises upon you, as it is written: Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the L-rd is risen upon you.

Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will brighten the light of the Messiah and of Israel, while all of the nations of the earth will be in darkness - in gross darkness - and they shall walk, all of them, by the light of the Messiah and of Israel, as it is written: And nations shall walk at Your light, and kings at the brightness of Your rising (Isa. 60:3).  And all of them shall come and fall upon their faces before the Messiah.

[The foregoing commentary is derived from meditation upon the verse For with you is the fountain of life: in Your light do we see light. Pesikta Rabbati 36:2]

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the L-rd to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins,  through the tender mercy of our G-d, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:76-79)

"L-rd, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel."  (Luke 2:29-32)

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  There was a man sent from G-d, whose name was Yochanan.  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  (John 1:4-9)

Then Y'shua spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life . . .  I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness."  (John 8:12; 12:46)

The Light of the Messiah I

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the L-RD is risen upon you.  For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the L-RD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you.  The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (Isaiah 60:1-3).

These words are to be considered in light of what David, King of Israel was inspired by the holy spirit to say: For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Your light do we see light (Ps. 36:10).  What did David have in mind when he uttered this verse?  He had in mind the congregation of Israel who said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, on account of the Torah You have given to me, the Torah which is called the "fountain of life," I am destined to enjoy Your light in the time-to-come.

What is meant by in Your light do we see light?  What light is it that the congregation of Israel looks for as from a watchtower?  It is the light of the Messiah, of which it is said: And G-d saw the light that it was good (Gen. 1:4).  This verse proves that the Holy One, blessed be He, contemplated the Messiah and His works before the world was created, and then under His throne of glory put away His Messiah until the time of the generation in which He will appear.

Satan asked the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, for whom is the light which is put away under Your throne of glory?  G-d replied: For Him Who will turn you back and put you to utter shame.  Satan said: Master of the universe, show Him to me.

G-d replied: Come and see Him.  And when he saw Him, Satan was shaken, and he fell upon his face and said: Surely, this is the Messiah Who will cause me and all the counterparts in heaven of the princes of the earth's nations to be swallowed up in Gehenna, as it is written: He will swallow up death forever; and the L-rd G-d will wipe away tears from off all faces (Isaiah 25:8).  In that hour, all princely counterparts of the nations, in agitation, will say to Him: Master of the universe, who is this through whose power we are to be swallowed up?  What is his name?  What kind of being is he?

The Holy One, blessed be He, will reply: He is the Messiah . . . My true Messiah, Who will pull Himself up straight and will pull up straight His generation, and Who will give light to the eyes of Israel and deliver His people; and no nation or people will be able to withstand Him, as it is written: The enemy shall not do him violence, nor shall the son of wickedness afflict him (Ps. 89:23).  

The Holy One, blessed be He, will tell the Messiah in detail what will befall Him: There are souls that have been put away with You under My throne, and it is their sins which will bend You down under a yoke of iron and make You like a calf whose eyes grow dim with suffering, and will choke Your spirit as with a yoke; because of the sins of these souls, Your tongue will cleave to the roof of Your mouth.  Are You willing to endure such things?

The Messiah will say: Master of the universe, with joy in My soul and gladness in My heart I take this suffering upon Myself, provided that not one person in Israel perish; that not only those who are alive be saved in My days, but that also those who are dead, who died from the days of Adam up to the time of the Redemption; and that not only these be saved in My days, but all those who died as abortions; and that not only these be saved in My days, but all those whom You thought to create but were not created.  Such are things that I desire, and for these I am willing to take upon Myself whatever You decree.  [Pesikta Rabbati, 36:1]. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Prophet, Priest, and Redeemer

Although Moses was not of the Messianic lineage, he is certainly a type of Messiah, as our Sages are fond of saying: the latter Redeemer (i.e. the Messiah) will be like the former redeemer (i.e. Moses).  The similarities between Moses and the Messiah are numerous.  

Both Moses and the Messiah began their vocations, if you will, in Egypt (cf. Hosea 11).  As infants, both Moses' and the Messiah's life were in danger (cf. Jeremiah 31).   Moses' life was saved by Divine intervention, as was the Messiah's (cf. Isaiah 53).   Moses was rejected and often treated spitefully by the people he was sent to deliver and yet responded in love, while interceding on their behalf.  The same can be said of the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 53).  And, of course, both functioned as redeemers of their people.  (cf. Zechariah 9 and Isaiah 53). 

The trait that perhaps best characterizes both Moses and the Messiah is humility.  In the Torah it is written that: "[Moses] was very meek, above all men who were upon the face of the earth" (cf. Numbers 12).  When the prophet Zechariah speaks of the Messiah he describes Him as "lowly, and riding upon  . . . the foal of an ass" (cf. Zechariah 9).  Interestingly, both also had a calling as prophet and priest.  

Messiah: The Prophet

We read in in the Torah:

"The L-RD your G-d will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear . . ." (cf. Deuteronomy 18).

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan renders this passage in Deuteronomy as follows:

And a right Prophet (or Prophet of Righteousness) will the L-rd your G-d give you, a prophet from among you of your brethren like unto me, with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit), will the L-rd your G-d raise up unto you; to Him you shall be obedient.

The majority of Jewish commentators argue that Joshua or a number of other prophets fulfill this prophecy recorded in Deuteronomy.  However, there is a rabbi, Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (the Ralbag, 14th century), who identifies the Prophet described in Deuteronomy 18 as the Messiah:

'A Prophet from the midst of thee.'  In fact, the Messiah is such a Prophet as it is stated in the Midrash of the verse, "Behold my Servant shall prosper' (Isaiah 52:13) . . . Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of G-d, but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of G-d.  

The Midrashic passage to which the Ralbag is referring: 

It is written, 'Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, He shall be exalted, and extolled and be very high' (Isaiah 52:13).  It means, He shall be more exalted than Abraham of Whom it is written, 'I lift up my hand' (Genesis 14:22).  He shall become more extolled than Moses of whom it is said, 'As a nursing father beareth the nursing child' (Numbers 11:12).  'And shall be very high' - that is, Messiah shall be higher than the ministering angels . . . (Midrash Tanhuma).  

We even read of those in the first century who also believed that the prophet in Deuteronomy was a reference to the Messiah (cf. John 1).  Several years later, Shimon bar Yonah, would quote the Deuteronomy passage as textual support that G-d had, indeed, raised up that prophet from their midst (cf. Acts 3).  

Messiah: The Priest

Although neither the Messiah or Moses were of Aaronic lineage, they were both called to serve in a priestly role.   Moshe anointed Aaron and his sons to serve as High Priests and inaugurated them with the elaborate anointing ceremony recorded in Leviticus.  Moses was also able to enter the Holy of Holies at anytime, while Aaron and his sons were limited to just once a year and not without blood.  Moses would often serve as an intercessor between the children of Israel and G-d whenever they sinned.  

The Messiah was also called to fulfill a priestly role.  The Psalmist speaks of the Messiah when he writes: "You are a priest forever" (cf. Psalm 110).  Isaiah speaks of the Messiah's role of intercessor when he declared that the Messiah "bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (cf. Isaiah 53). 

It is important to understand that the Jewish leadership was anticipating a priestly Messiah.  They also believed that there was a prophetic dimension to the ministry of the priests during the First Temple Period.  

We will recall that the High Priest wore in his breastplate the Urim and Tumim, whereby they discerned the will of Hashem and gave counsel accordingly.  The Sages believe that the Urim and Tumim disappeared towards the end of the First Temple period and since then, many Jewish leaders hoped for a time when a priest would once again employ the Urim and Tumim to communicate directly with G-d and reveal His will for the people.

And the [Governor] said unto them, that they should not eat of the holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Tumim (cf. Ezra 2:63).

And so, there were many who looked forward to a Messiah who would unite the offices of Priest and Prophet (as well as King and Priest cf. Zechariah 6) in himself:

They discussed what should be done about the altar . . . which had been profaned and very properly decided to tear it down . . . and deposited the stones in a suitable place on the Temple Mount to await the appearance of the Prophet who should give a ruling about them (cf. I Maccabees 4).

Curiously, the Talmud also teaches that Moses was indeed a High Priest (cf. Zevachim 101a).  The Talmud also states that: "All the prophets prophesied only for the coming of the Messiah (cf. Sanhedrin 99a).  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Shiloh and the Tribe of Judah

The End of Days

"Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's children shall bow down before you.  Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him?  The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people" (Genesis 49:8-10).

The Midrash and Rashi comment that Jacob desired to reveal to his sons the mystery of the End of Days and the Messianic Era, but was prevented from doing so:

Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rabbi Eliezar bar Avina said: Two men had the end revealed to them, but it became hidden away from them later on; they are Jacob and Daniel.  Jacob here says, 'that I may tell you which shall befall you in the last days,' but goes on to rebuke Reuben instead (Genesis Rabbah 98:3).

The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan:

When the twelve tribes assembled and surrounded Jacob's golden couch on which he rested [they thought that he would reveal to them the ultimate blessings and comforts]; and after the glory of the Shechina of the L-rd had been revealed to him, the time when the King, Messiah, was going to come was concealed from him.

These opinions about Jacob's desire are gleaned from the text where Jacob declares that he is going to tell them what will happen b'acharit ha'yamim (in the last days), but instead begins by rebuking Reuben.  Jacob may not have begun to reveal the events of the last days when he spoke to Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, but he certainly proceeds to reveal the last days when he blesses Judah, prophesying about a scepter that would not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes.  

Shiloh and the Messiah

It would seem that the prophet Ezekiel is referring to the 'scepter' prophecy as well as the term Shiloh when he prophecies:

"I will overturn, overturn, overturn it, and it shall be no more until He comes Whose right it is" (Ezekiel 21:27).  

The Hebrew word for the phrase "whose right it is" is asher-lo, which is essentially the same as the word Shiloh used by Jacob in Genesis 49.  The Aramaic Targum Onkelos also equates Shiloh in Genesis 49 with the Messiah:

"Until Messiah comes to Whom belongs the kingdom . . ."

 As does Pseudo-Jonathan:

"Until the time that King Messiah shall come . . ."

 We also find support in the Talmud for the interpreting Shiloh as the Messiah:

Rabbi Yochanan taught that all the world was created for the Messiah.  What is His name?  The school of Sheeloh taught: His name is Shiloh as it is written (Genesis 49:10) 'Until Shiloh come and unto Him shall the gathering of the peoples be.' (Sanhedrin 98b).

 Genesis Rabbah:

'He stooped down, he couched like a lion' (Genesis 49:9).  Some interpret it to mean, "He couched", that is, He waited from Zedekiah until King Messiah (Genesis Rabbah 98:7).

The Midrash Tanhuma relates the Genesis 49 passage to the Messiah:

'The scepter shall not depart.' This means the kingly throne . . . 'The lawgiver from between His feet.' refers to the time when the King will come to Whom belongs the Kingdom.  

The Yalkut understands the word Shiloh as a contraction of shailadonai, words which are found in the book of Isaiah and mean "gift of the L-rd."  The Yalkut, therefore, relates Shiloh to the Messiah:

Until Shiloh come; He is called by the name of Shiloh because all the nations are destined to bring gifts to Israel and to King Messiah, as it is written., 'In that day shall the present be brought to the L-rd of Hosts.' (Yalkut 160)

Judah's Prominence until Shiloh

We have demonstrated that traditional Jewish thought equated Shiloh with the Messiah.  History would bear out another aspect of Jacob's prophecy concerning Judah: that Judah would legislate until Shiloh (the Messiah) come.  

Zedekiah was the last king of the southern kingdom of Judah before our people were carried away by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. During the captivity, Nebuchadnezzar would liberate another legitimate king of Judah, Jehoiachin, from prison.  Later, after the Babylonian captivity, one of Jehoiachin's descendents would lead the returning exiles under King Cyrus.  His name was Zerubabel.  It was Zerubabel to whom the returning exiles looked for political leadership in Judea.  

Even when the Hasmoneans, who were from a Levitical and therefore non-Davidic and non-Judean lineage, took over the leadership in 167 BCE, the religious Jewish leadership denounced their rule and those who were faithful to G-d's Word never recognized the illegitimate rule of the Hasmoneans, but continued to express fealty to the Judean religious body. 

The upshot of all of this is that the scepter did not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between 'his feet' until after 30 CE, about the time when Y'shua the Messiah was crucified.  It is also interesting to note that the Sages taught that a number of changes occurred in the intervening 40 years between Y'shua's crucifixion and the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. 

According to our Sages, the lot for the goat to be sacrificed on Yom Kippur ceased to come up on the right hand of the High Priest as in previous years and the crimson cloth they put out on Yom Kippur would not turn white as it had before (cf. Rosh HaShana 31b).  The Western light would not remain burning as before; and the doors of the Temple would no longer open of themselves (cf. Yoma 39b).

The Obedience of the Nations

"And to Him shall the gatherings of the peoples (goyim) be."  The Midrash Tanhuma relates this statement to the "root of Jesse" in the prophecy spoken by Isaiah: 

'Velo Yikhat Amim' means the One to Whom in the future the nations shall gather, as it is written in Isaiah 11:10 'A root of Jesse who will stand for an ensign of the peoples.  To Him shall the nations seek.

Another rendering of ve-lo-yikhat is "to whom the peoples shall render obedience."  Therefore, the goyim will gather and obey the Messiah which relates back to the promise to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  

Isaiah, as mentioned above, foresaw that the Messiah would become a nes or an ensign to the nations.  (Interestingly, nes, ensign, is usually translated miracle).  Both Isaiah and Micah spoke of a time when the mountain of the L-rd's house would be established and the nations would all flow unto it (cf. Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).  The prophet Jonah was sent to the goyim in Nineveh in hopes of sparing them from G-d's judgement and wrath. 

The prophet Zechariah also spoke of a time when:

It shall come to pass that ten men of all the languages of the nations shall take hold of the tzit-tzit of him that is a Jew, saying we will go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you (cf. Zechariah 8).

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Seed of the Woman

When Adam and Eve challenged G-d's authority, it became necessary to mete out punishment for the act of disobedience.  However, the punishment would be accompanied by a blessing and a promise.  The woman is told that out of her seed One would come who would bruise the head of nachash ha-kadmoni, the Serpent, HaSatan, the Accuser. 

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15).  

The Aramaic paraphrase of the Torah, Targum Jonathan, connects this prophecy with the Messiah:

But they will be healed [shuph] in the footsteps [heels] in the days of King Messiah (Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel).

The word shuph used here is not translated as bruise but in the sense of 'rubbing with a medicine' and thus, healing.  In the 12th and 13th century, Rabbi David Kimchi [the Radak] also supported the idea that this Scripture in Genesis 3 is a prophecy about the Messiah's redemption of mankind.  He understood that salvation will be through the hand of the conquering Messiah "who would wound Satan, the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked." 

There is indication that Eve understood this to be a prophecy of sorts as well.  When she bears her first son, Cain, she declares, "I have gotten a man from the L-rd" (Genesis 4:1).  The Targum reads as follows:

And Adam knew . . . his wife . . . and she conceived and brought forth Cain, and she said, 'I have obtained the man, the Angel of the L-rd' (Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel). 

This rendering implies that Eve was expecting more than an earthly child, perhaps one who would literally fulfill the promise in Genesis 3.  Later, when she bears Seth, she exclaims, "For G-d has appointed me another seed . . ." (Genesis 4:25).  The Sages comment:

[She (Eve) hinted at] that seed which would arise from another source . . . the king Messiah (Midrash Rabbah Genesis 23:5).

Thus, the "Appointed One" would arise from Eve's Son, Seth.  The genealogical line is now further identified and pinpointed.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Too Numerous and Mighty

And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation.  But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.  Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.  And he said to his people, "Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we;  "come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and it happen, in the event of war, that they also join our enemies and fight against us, and so go up out of the land." (Exodus 1:6-10)

Rav v'atzoom mimenu (more and mightier than we) cannot mean 'more numerous and stronger than we are'.  There can be no doubt that the Egyptians were much more powerful and numerous than the Jews living in Goshen, unless we consider the possible scenario below:

The Hebrew sense of the phrase rendered "Now there arose a new king over Egypt" in most translations does not imply a normal legitimate succession to the throne.  In all likelihood, Egypt was invaded and overthrown by a foreign dynasty, which would also help explain why this "new king" did not know Joseph.  If the new king had been a native successor, it would have been impossible for him not to have known Joseph, one who was responsible for saving Egypt.

It is also conceivable that the foreign ruler would have brought with him a number of people from his own tribe.  Suffice it to say, the general Egyptian population was already subjugated.  It would have been to his own people (not the Egyptians whom he had lately conquered) to whom this foreign king turned and whom he addressed when he said: "The Egyptians we no longer fear, since they are already under our power.  But in an outlying area of Egypt there resides a tribe that is growing too strong, and if given enough time, we will not defeat them easily."

This is the first recorded instance of baseless hatred directed against the Jewish people as a whole.  The Pharaoh never actually charges the Jewish people with any wrong doing.  If the Pharaoh could have cited any actual wrong doing, it would not have been necessary for him to deal 'cleverly' with them. Nor did this baseless hatred originate with the general population in Egypt, rather, the Egyptians were incited from above.  The incitement served the Pharaoh as a political tool to consolidate and strengthen his regime.  Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.  This methodology has been the favorite modus operandi of countless tyrants throughout history. 

In order for the tyrant to effectively maintain control over a people he has just conquered and for the oppression to continue unabated, the tyrant must be sure to deliver into the hands of the conquered another people whom they (the conquered) can in turn oppress and afflict.  This provides the general population who has been vanquished a certain measure of compensation from the powers that be for its tyrannical rule.  And so the Pharaoh sought to create a pariah caste whom the general population could look down upon.  As long as all of the other castes had one caste which they could disdainfully and contemptuously oppress with impunity, the illusion that they themselves were living as free men could be maintained. 

All the Pharaoh needed to do was to cite reasons of grave "national interest" (in this case a high birth rate) to justify the harsh measures he had in mind when it came to a final solution to this most ancient Jewish question.  It is important to note that if the Pharaoh initially had the support and loyalty of the Egyptian populous, it would not have been necessary for him to act cleverly by inciting the people to envy or hatred based in irrational fears; with the undivided loyalty of the Egyptian nation, bondage and subsequent expulsion would have proved to have been no less effective.

Pharaoh cited high birth rates and 'what if'' scenarios to maintain order and tighten his iron grip on a subjugated nation which culminated in state sanctioned infanticide.  Several centuries later, another king would arise, this time in Persia.  The justification for making war against the Jews on his watch?  Their laws were not like his laws.  A disillusioned German corporal convinced one of the most civilized nations on the planet that the Jews were their misfortune and set out to do something about it.

Do we really believe that we can ignore the past?  Do we really think that such times will never recur?  "Never again!" is the clarion call of fools.  There can be no doubt that another king, who does not know Joseph, will soon rise up in our midst and we will witness once again the persecution of a caste populated by people whose only crime is their commitment to holding fast to the truth.

Even God Laughs at Islam

Sultan Knish offers a strategy to combat an ideology whose only hope of expansion lies in promoting itself through intimidation, conformity, deception, and political correctness:

When Mark Twain said that, "Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand", he was speaking as part of a long tradition of American humorists who satirized the great and powerful, who knew that nothing so much cuts a puffed up ego to size and the insecure man hiding behind it, as a well told joke. Islam in our time is the biggest puffed up ego there is. A fraudulent religion based on the plagiarism of a vicious desert warlord turned into a global empire. There is not one thing new in Islam. Its only claim to power is that it is wielded by men more ruthless and murderous than any other today.

Muslim rage is not a strength. When Muslims riot screaming in the streets every time they're offended in some way, this is not the mark of a strong faith but a weak insecure one. So weak and insecure that it cannot turn the cheek or look down from a superior position of belief in the true God. Instead like all pagan savages it goes into a murderous rage because inside its worshipers know they are not the servants of a living God who can avenge all insults, but of a faith cribbed from Jews and Christians by an illiterate bandit who proceeded to win convert by terrorizing everyone who didn't join his gang of bandits.

Muslim rage does not emerge from a deep respect for Allah but from the knowledge that their entire system of belief is a fraud that could never stand up to any scrutiny. If the world's religions were paintings in a museum, Islam would be a child's dirty smeared finger painting all in one color.

Islam's drive for world conquest is a sign of weakness. It is a sign of a deeply insecure faith. But then most killers are driven by their own insecurities too. The man who opens fire on a crowded cafeteria is weak inside but that only makes his explosive violence more dangerous and it makes coddling him more dangerous because sooner or later he will kill.

The way to defeat Islam is never to coddle it, to enable its rages or its conquest of our lands. It is to stand up to it over and over again. It's to laugh at it. Yes laugh it and ridicule it. America is a collection of immigrants with the humorous traditions of dozens of cultures, Irish, Jews, Italians, Scots, Russians, Asians. We're not just the reservoir of the world's talent but its humor too and humor is the ultimate weapon against the balloon that is Islam. 

Islam can only expand by force. It can't leverage any real military force against us. Instead it expands by intimidation, by conformity, by deception, by political correctness. It has no defense against laughter. Men who are so insecure they would kill over a stray word here or there, can't stand up to being laughed at, to being ridiculed, to have their cherished values transformed into a laughingstock.

The approach suggested here is not without precedent.  One of the primary purposes of the plagues that G-d sent upon Egypt was to expose the foolishness and impotence of Egypt by mocking its entire system of worship, while clearly demonstrating that the L-rd is G-d and no other.     

And the L-RD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him:  and that you may tell in the ears of your son, and of your son's son, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians through my signs which I have done among them; that you may know that I am the L-RD"(Exodus 10:1-2).  

Elijah was not averse to a little mockery when it came to confronting the priests of Baal and the entire false system of worship that had been established in Israel as the national religion by the daughter of a foreign king.   

So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, "O Baal, hear us!" But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.  And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened"  (1 Kings 18:26-27).

G-d Himself was perhaps having a bit of fun when the Philistines entered the temple of Dagon only to discover the image of their god prostrate before the Ark of the Covenant.  A short time later, the mighty Dagon would have its head and its hands severed after the Philistines had set him back in his  place.  What could be funnier than a god that is so powerful and mighty that it must be propped up and set back in its proper place by its own worshipers?  What could be funnier than carving an idol out of half a piece of wood, only to burn the remaining half to cook a meal?  Now, that's funny. 

On his arrival in Athens and after walking around the city, the apostle Paul would draw the Athenians' attention to a statue that they had erected to an unknown G-d, a statue to which the paid homage in order to cover all their bases just in case they were unable to determine which particular god they had offended.  That's funny. 

Ironically, this mockery culminates and finds its ultimate expression in an event that is not so funny:

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses . . . Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in His death on the tree (cf. Colossians 3).  

In stark contrast to Islam, where men lay down their lives commit suicide in exchange for an eternity of sensual pleasure, what is so funny about one man laying down His life for the sake of others, while receiving the punishment that we all deserved in order to afford us the opportunity to live and be judged worthy of eternal life based upon the record of One Who did no wrong?

What's funnier, the religion that bullies, terrorizes, and threatens in order to establish and maintain its dominance in this world, or the one which teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, to extend forgiveness to those who don't know any better, and whose hope lies in a world where we no longer struggle against sins of the flesh? 

 In the second Psalm we read:   

"Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the L-RD and against His Anointed, saying,  "Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us."  He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the L-RD shall hold them in derision" (Psalm 2:1-4).

The Hebrew word translated "laugh" is sachak (to laugh, usually in contempt or derision, to play, to mock, to make sport, to jest, to laugh mockingly).  He also holds them in derision (la'ag: to deride, to ridicule, to laugh to scorn).

Islam is a religion characterized by rage where its most devoted adherents behave as wild asses of men.  How does G-d respond to such men who have devoted themselves to this false ideology?  He laughs.  He derides.  He mocks.  That is precisely what such an ideology is worthy of.

When one of the disciples drew his sword in the defense of the Messiah, he was commanded to put away his sword and told that whoever lives by the sword would eventually die by the sword. Later, when testifying before the Roman leadership, the Messiah was questioned about His kingdom and kingship.  The Messiah replied that His kingdom was not of this world and that if it were, his disciples would indeed take up their swords to defend it.

Why is Islam a religion of the sword?  Because they are the spiritual descendants of Esau who sold his birthright for a meal; and when they are slighted like Esau was, they can only find consolation in the thought of killing the offender.  Because 'eternity' is nothing more than an extension of the present world where one may continue to gratify the base desires of the flesh.  Because they are fighting from a futile position of abject weakness in hopes of  establishing a kingdom that is earthly which is the best they can hope for.  They are like the impotent husband who can only blame his wife.  Take away the sword, and nothing of substance remains.

When we are cursed, we bless.  When we are derided, we forgive.  When we are falsely accused, we speak the truth. When we are persecuted for His name's sake, we rejoice.  When we are insulted and mistreated we do not feel compelled to right the wrongs ourselves or to take it out on the 'infidel'.  Instead, we leave room for the wrath of the One Who is enthroned on high and Who eventually gets the last laugh.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Guilt, Shame, and the Birth of Forgiveness

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks highlights a moment that changed the world:

“I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:4-8)
This is the first recorded moment in history in which one human being forgives another.  Forgiveness does not appear in every culture. It is not a human universal, nor is it a biological imperative.  Alternatively . . . the perpetrator may beg, plead, and perform some ritual of abasement, humiliation, or appeasement. This is a way of saying to the victim, “I am not really a threat.” The Greek word sugnome, sometimes translated as forgiveness, really means . . . exculpation or absolution.  It is not that I forgive you for what you did, but that I understand why you did it.

Appeasement as a form of conflict management exists even among non-humans. Frans de Waal, the primatologist, has described peacemaking rituals among chimpanzees, bonobos and mountain gorillas.  There are contests for dominance among the social animals, but there must also be ways of restoring harmony to the group if it is to survive at all. So there are forms of appeasement and peacemaking that are pre-moral and have existed since the birth of humanity. 

[W]ithin Judaism a new form of morality was born. Judaism is (primarily) an ethic of guilt, as opposed to most other systems, which are ethics of shame. One of the fundamental differences between them is that shame attaches to the person. Guilt attaches to the act. In shame cultures when a person does wrong he or she is, as it were, stained, marked, defiled. In guilt cultures what is wrong is not the doer but the deed, not the sinner but the sin. The person retains his or her fundamental worth.  It is the act that has somehow to be put right. That is why in guilt cultures there are processes of repentance, atonement and forgiveness.

Forgiveness only exists in a culture in which repentance exists. Repentance presupposes that we are free and morally responsible agents who are capable of change, specifically the change that comes about when we recognise that something we have done is wrong and we are responsible for it and we must never do it again. The possibility of that kind of moral transformation simply did not exist in ancient Greece or any other pagan culture. Greece was a shame-and-honour culture that turned on the twin concepts of character and fate.  Judaism was a repentance-and-forgiveness culture whose central concepts are will and choice. The idea of forgiveness was then adopted by Christianity, making the Judeo-Christian ethic the primary vehicle of forgiveness in history.

Repentance and forgiveness are not just two ideas among many. They transformed the human situation. For the first time, repentance established the possibility that we are not condemned endlessly to repeat the past. When I repent I show I can change. The future is not predestined. I can make it different from what it might have been. Forgiveness liberates us from the past. Forgiveness breaks the irreversibility of reaction and revenge. It is the undoing of what has been done.

It seems to me that this is what redemption is all about.

In my experience I have found that many of the missed opportunities which we later regret, whether large or small, often present themselves again in similar contexts, graciously affording us the opportunity to boldly discharge our duty in a situation where we may have previously shrunk back. Where would any of us be without our mistakes and failings and the opportunity to grow and learn from those failings?

We are grateful that we will be standing before the Judge of all the earth on the merits of Someone else’s record, and yet at the same time we are just as grateful for the opportunities we are afforded by His grace and power in this life to improve our own records in the light of His redemptive work.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which the Messiah took hold of me . . .  I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which G-d has called me heavenward in the Messiah.  (Phil. 3)