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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Afflicted and Oppressed

There are two very distinct lines of prophecy in the Scriptures concerning the Messiah which pose an interesting dilemma.  One line of prophecy portrays the Messiah as a humble and suffering servant, while the other line of prophecy depicts Him as a conquering king and redeemer.  The ancient rabbis recognized these competing functions and labored to resolve the two roles of the Messiah which seem to be at variance with one another.

When the death of the Messiah became an accepted tenet in Talmudic times, it posed a challenge to reconcile this idea with the belief that the Messiah was the Redeemer Who would usher in the Kingdom and the blissful Messianic age.  The dilemma was resolved by splitting the person of the Messiah into two persons: Messiah ben Joseph would raise an army against Israel's enemies only to fall in battle after many victories and miracles, while Messiah ben David would come after him and lead Israel to victory and ultimately triumph.   

This wasn't the only purpose this splitting of the Messiah achieved.  According to our Sages, the person of the Messiah is perfectly prefigured in Moses.  Mose died before he could enter the Promised Land, and so the Messiah, also, had to die before accomplishing His great task of ultimate redemption.  The solution was to let one Messiah, like Moses, die, and then assign the completion of the work of Redemption to a second Messiah.  

And every one who has been delivered from the evils that I have foretold shall see my wonders.  For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years.  And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath.  And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left (4 Ezra 7:27-30).

And the land shall mourn, every family apart (Zech. 12:12).  What is the reason of this mourning?  R' Dosa and the rabbis differ about it.  R' Dosa says: "[They will mourn] over the Messiah who will be slain," and the rabbis say, [They will mourn] over the Evil Inclination which will be killed [in the days of the Messiah] . . . " (Sukkah 52a).

Our Rabbis taught, The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to the Messiah, the son of David (May he reveal himself speedily in our days!), ‘Ask of me anything, and I will give it to thee’, as it is said, I will tell of the decree etc. this day have I begotten thee, ask of me and I will give the nations for thy inheritance. 

But when he will see that the Messiah the son of Joseph is slain, he will say to Him, ‘Lord of the Universe, I ask of Thee only the gift of life’.’As to life’, He would answer him, ‘Your father David has already prophesied this concerning you’, as it is said, He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him, [even length of days for ever and ever] (Sukkah 52a).

Zechariah was said to be prophesying of the Messiah ben Joseph: 

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey."
(Zechariah 9:9)

He is depicted as the King of Zion and yet lowly and riding on a humble donkey.  This passage is quoted three times in the Babylonian Talmud and always in connection with the MessiahThe first occurrence is in a passage that is dealing with dreams: 

He that sees a donkey in his dream should expect salvation because it says: 'Behold, your King comes to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding upon an ass (Berachot 56b).

Another Talmudic reference is found in Sanhedrin 99a where a retort is given to Rabbi Hillel citing the Zechariah Scripture, noting that it prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  Finally, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, referring to the Zechariah Scripture, said that if Israel is not worthy, then the Messiah will come lowly and riding upon an ass.  This is Messiah ben Joseph - the Suffering Messiah.  The rabbis also argued that the Messiah was not only humble, but oppressed as well:

'He is humble and riding upon an ass.'  This refers to the Messiah and He is called anee [poor, humble, and oppressed] because he was oppressed all those years in prison, and the sinners of Israel derided Him . . . (Pesikta Rabbati, Piska 35).  

The prophet Isaiah also wrote concerning the Messiah: 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the L-RD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. (Isaiah 53:6-7)

There was no other way for the Messiah to come.  The Midrashim hold to the view that Isaiah is speaking of the Redeemer in this passage.  Concerning these chapters (i.e. Is. 52-53), Rabbi Moshe Alshekh, 16th century Sfat, commented:

[Our] rabbis with one voice, accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of King Messiah (Isaiah 53, According to Jewish Interpreters, Oxford 1899).  

The Targum paraphrases:

Behold My Servant the Messiah shall prosper (Targum in Isaiah 52:13).

The Targum continues: 

He will build the Temple that was polluted because of our sins.  We all have been scattered like sheep, each was dispatched into captivity to his own way, but it was the will from before the L-rd to forgive all our sins for His sake . . . He removed the rulership of the Gentile nations from the land of Israel." (Targum on Isaiah 53)

No one was to build the Temple except the Messiah according to Jewish tradition.   Also, several of the sages in the Midrashim, understand the threefold expressions contained within those Scripture, "exalted, extolled, and to be very high." as an indication that the "Messiah shall be more exalted than Abraham . . . more extolled than Moses . . . and be very high . . . ; that is, higher than the ministering angels." (cf. Midrash Tanhuma and Yalkut vol. ii, para. 338, Edersheim, p. 727).
The Targum clearly paraphrases these verses as consistent references to the Messiah.  A tractate in Sanhedrin relates Isaiah 53 to the sufferings of the Messiah:

The rabbis say the Messiah's name is The Suffering Scholar of Rabbi's House [or the Leper Scholar] for it is written: 'Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of G-d and afflicted.' (Sanhedrin 98a)

The upshot of all this is that the rabbinical authorities have been acutely aware of the clear teaching of Scripture concernng the suffering of a Messiah Who would die.  

"There is in the Garden of Eden a palace named the Palace of the Sons of Sickness.  This palace the Messiah enters, and He summons every pain and every chastisement of Israel.  All of these come and rest upon Him.  An had He thus not lightened them upon Himself, there had been no man able to bear Israel's chastisements for the transgressions of the law, as it is written: 'Surely our sickness He has carried.'" (Zohar II, 212a) 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Whose Fault Divorce?

Some have pointed out the seemingly one-sided nature of the power in biblical divorce proceedings, placing the ability to divorce only in the hands of the husband, leaving wives without biblical recourse to divorce.  Let me put that notion to rest:  It is not "seeminglyone-sided", it is very much intentionally one-sided.  Nowhere in the Bible, from cover to cover, is a woman ever given the moral right, legal power or spiritual justification to enact a divorce, for any reason.  

While this has been labelled, "patriarchic", "chauvinistic" or "misogynistic" by the Bible's critics, it cannot be argued that any woman today has biblical permission to divorce.  Modern notions of property inheritance and disposition, the "power of the purse", division of assets, etc. are just that:  Very modern notions.  Strictly within the biblical paradigm, modern society's ideas about marriage and divorce are untenable and unsupportable.  What's good for the gander is not good for the goose.

As an aside, those people who are in a marriage relationship with G-d should take great comfort in the inability of a wife to divorce her husband.  Israel has played the harlot many times, and today's Israeli society is still running after "another man", begging for acceptance from the nations through alliances, treaties, peace talks and concessions.  Rather than trusting in her Husband to protect and provide for her, she still believes that she may spurn her wedding ketubah (covenant) and not follow Torah.  Nevertheless, the certainty of her marriage is not in her hands.  Stray as she will, the Holy One (blessed be He) will not release her from His household.

In light of the fact that the family unit makes up the strength (or weakness) of a nation, and when marriages (even bad ones) remain intact, a nation is strong, ask yourself several questions:  How many divorces would happen today if women could not initiate them?  Current statistics record a full 70% of divorces are granted to (and thereby initiated by) women.  Conversely, how many marriages would be saved, and how many more men would be forced to take responsibility if divorce was only permitted to men, and only when premarital relations were discovered on their wedding night?

Wouldn't this result in many people being "trapped" in loveless, horrible marriages?  If initiated today, as a new standard - at first, the answer is absolutely… as long as there are sinful human beings, you'll find some of the worst relationships.  However, people would begin living in a radically different way than they are today.  When considering marriage, more would center around goals and character (think Isaac and Rebecca) than around "true love", happiness, keeping the "spark" alive, etc.  If the Disney criteria for marriage was reversed, "first comes marriage, then comes love", more people would discover what "true love" is.  

Those who weather the storms and crises of marriage, and grit their teeth and go on; the people who grow old together and whose marriages have survived the greatest of tests… they will tell you that it was worth it, that they have discovered what was intended by G-d all along: that their marriage was intended to be a testimony to others - a testimony of the transformative power of G-d to redeem, salvage, renovate and transform.  They will tell you that most of the world does not know the definition of real love, but they have learned it.

A friend of mine described to me how his father required siblings who argued with each other to remain in the same room together until the argument was resolved and harmony again reigned.  

They were forced to work it out, to compromise, to show deference to the other, to demonstrate love.  Notice that I did not say, "feel love".  A society which requires married couples to get along and does not provide an escape hatch will be stronger for it, will be far tougher and more resilient, resistant to adversity in other areas: economically, militarily, politically and morally.

Seventy percent of all Christian marriages will end in divorce today.  Statistically this number is actually higher within the church than in secular society, where that number is sixty five percent.  Why?  Perhaps it's because when people share a religious basis for their actions, their expectations are higher of each other than those whose "moral compass" is flexible, and everyone knows it.  Nobody accuses a secularist or an atheist of hypocrisy, only those who are not living up to a high moral standard they claim to embrace and practice.

The truth is that when a bride and groom today vow to G-d and each other, "for better or worse", they are really only thinking, "better".  When they vow, "for richer or poorer", they are really only thinking, "richer".  When they vow, "in sickness and in health", they are really only thinking, "health".  When they vow, "as long as we both shall live", they are really only thinking of bliss-and-nothing-else for life.  The reality is that they don't really anticipate that they will ever need to remain faithful to their spouses "for worse, for poorer and in sickness, as long as we both shall live".

If faced with only those things as certainties, and absolutely none of the good stuff, they would rather remain single.  Their expectation is that only "better, richer and health" will be theirs for the rest of their days because they possess a very powerful feeling, an emotion that they call "love", which they are convinced will be all that is necessary to overcome every obstacle and make their marriage the greatest that has ever been.

There have been people whose lives were forever changed by a car accident while on their honeymoon, whose dreams were shattered by crippling illness hours after their vows were said, a wife who discovered the man she married only married her to acquire citizenship and was a practicing homosexual with no interest in beginning a family with her, "discovering" this when she came home from work unexpectedly.  

What then?  If we make room "in our hearts" for any avenue of escape, then we never meant those vows.  Biblically speaking, provision is made for each of those things, but our society is so set against the Laws of G-d that they would never submit to His plan, not without Him coming down here and establishing it Himself.

If we followed the gospel according to Disney, we'd all "follow our hearts" from one person to another, whoever was currently making us feel "extra special", we'd "wish upon a star" that they would forever make us feel the exact same way so that we could "all live happily ever after".

Till Death Do Us Part

" Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except fornication (greek: pornea - premarital loss of virginity) causes her to commit adultery (greek: moikah'yo - extramarital relations); and whoever marries this [same] woman who was divorced [for illegitimate reasons] commits adultery."  (Matthew 5:31-32) 

Y'shua cited the "exception clause" in his above Torah teaching: "except 'pornea'" (premarital relations, discovered on the wedding night).  What did He mean by it?  Do the same conditions exist in today's non-Jewish marriages which existed in His day?  Because of an increasing divide between Y'shua's time and ours, His language and ours, His culture and ours, His audience and us, this passage has been misunderstood, quoted and abused over the centuries to provide a faulty rationale and a moral quagmire from which to commit great evil.

After more than twenty years of serving as a rabbi of a small community, I have lost count of the number of times this passage has been used (usually by professing Christians) to justify divorce.  I have even heard learned ministers extend the definition of "fornication" (KJV), "unchastity" (NASB), "marital unfaithfulness" (NIV), or "sexual immorality" (best layperson's guess) to include all kinds of immorality (i.e. physical abuse, pornography, drunkenness, impure thoughts, etc.) as a basis for which a divorce may be sought.  Yet one more example of approaching a text, written from within an Eastern and Hebrew context, with an understanding that is heavily influenced by Greek and Western culture and thought.

There are at least two things to consider as we move forward: (1) How a traditional Jewish marriage was established prior to and during the Second Temple Period and (2) How most marriages today are generally established in Western and Western Christian culture i.e. upon what basis.

It is also important that what was written in later years also squared with what Y'shua taught in Matthew 5.  Rav Sha'ul (Paul) wrote:

Now to the married I command, yet not I but the L-rd: A wife is not to depart from her husband.  But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.  And that husband is not to divorce his wife.  (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)

The sense of the Greek is that if she has already departed, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.   This understanding effectively precludes her from ever considering it an option for her to separate in the first place.  Her only choice in this situation (after she has already departed) is to either reconcile with her husband from whom she departed or remain unmarried (i.e. not marry another man other than her husband).

An important point to note here is that although Rav Sha'ul speaks of a woman departing (separating), it does not say that she possesses the power to divorce, or to grant some moral justification for leaving in the first place.  Remember, no new laws or permissions are being granted under some "new" dispensation than before.  (Matthew 5:17-19)

This complicates what appears to be a simple reading of a very straightforward text.  In 1 Corinthians, if a woman separates from her husband in spite of being commanded by G-d not to do so, and she is able (by secular laws, not Torah laws) to reckon herself "unmarried", as women in our modern society do, it doesn't change the man's responsibility to refuse her a Jewish "get", as this kind of divorce does not line up with the one reason that Y'shua explained from the Torah.  Don't forget, Rav Sha'ul's audience is comprised primarily of a group of Corinthian Westerners to boot!

This elucidation of Torah law reinforces the importance of understanding how a Jewish marriage was conducted in Y'shua's day in contrast to how most marriages are conducted today in the West.

There were (and still are) basically two stages to a Jewish wedding: betrothal and consummation.  The period of time between the two stages of marriage could even be years long.  In the modern Jewish wedding, both stages take place in a single day.  The betrothal happens at the beginning of their big day, and consummation takes place at the first "yichud" (alone time) during the reception while other guests are eating and celebrating at the main gathering.

It is important to realize that once a Jewish man and a Jewish woman were betrothed to one another, they were considered married.  Many people think that a biblical betrothal is similar to what we in the West would loosely call an 'engagement', but the two states are not even remotely similar.  In every sense, (economically, religiously and socially) the marriage was legally binding.

It is also important to note that when I use the term "legally binding", neither its definition, nor its authority is derived from secular governments or the laws of marriage which a secular government currently defines and permits.  Rather, in the same way that a government may base its authority on pre-existing laws, ("self-evident truths" of G-d, such as are enumerated in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights), true marriage is established by G-d and not by earthly governments.  Any marriage license which a government issues simply reflects and recognizes "that which G-d has joined together", but it does not create a marriage, nor may it dissolve one.

Once betrothed, a Jewish wife now took on new responsibilities, within a new social circle of other married women, being included in community activities which give her the right to act on behalf of her new family, and to build relationships within the greater Torah community.  She represented her husband's interests (Prov. 31) and her "apprentice" style mentoring covered all aspects of her married life; the senior "matriarchs" would take her under their wing so that her transition into married life would be a smooth one. 

Titus 2:3-5 "Older women likewise are to behave in a way which demonstrates being consecrated and set apart, not slandering gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teachers of good things, so that they may encourage the young women to be moderate and sober minded, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, pure in modesty, keepers at home, good natured, to be obedient to their own husbands, in order that the word of God may not be dishonored."

During this same time period, the Jewish man would be working to prepare a home for his wife.  Until all things were ready, they would not be physically intimate during this time.  They would consummate their marriage once the bridegroom had made everything ready for his bride.

Is She a Virgin or Not?

There were a couple of possibilities in which wrinkles to this perfect plan might occur:  On one hand, a man may have been betrothed to a girl whose past was checkered, but he was unaware of it.  If she was truly not a virgin when she claimed to be, entering into the betrothal fraudulently, G-d allowed for the husband to enact the severest penalty upon discovering that she was not a virgin, because of her deception.  He permitted it, but He did not demand that the husband do so.  He also permitted a lesser consequence to be levied against her.

Assuming that all she had lied about was "fornication" (pre-betrothal relations) and not "adultery" (post-betrothal relations), he had two options:

1) The Divorce Option:  He had the legal right to divorce her.  Deuteronomy 24:1 "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a 'certificate of divorce', puts it into her hand, and sends her out of his household . . ."

Divorce was a three step process* (see Deuteronomy 24:1 and 24:3).  In order for the divorce to be finalized, each step needed to be followed… or else she still had the right to be considered his wife, even if not living in his home.  On occasion, a woman was shown a certificate of divorce, also known as a "get", but it was not given into her hand.  She would return to her father's home, sharing no intimacy with her husband, but her identity was still "the wife of…".  Since no time requirement was mandated for her husband to present her with his "get", stories are known of women living in a state of uncertainty, even asking the community's leaders to intervene and force her husband to grant her a "get".

If she entered into another marriage having been "partially divorced", it was considered by G-d to be adultery.  (1 Corinthians 7:10,11, Matthew 5:31,32)  A legitimate divorce (Matthew 5:32) permitted a woman to remarry (Deuteronomy 24:1,2).

2) The Stoning Option:  He could disbelieve her claim that she had committed "fornication" and not "adultery", and demand that she be stoned.  As her husband, it was his right when he discovered this betrayal.  The logic was that if she had already concealed her true state from him regarding her body (a matter of immorality), then she likely also was lying about the timing of her loss of virginity and was trying to introduce a secret double life into his marriage even before he brought her into his house.  Deuteronomy 22:13-21 outlines this sad occurrence in great detail.  This option was not mandatory.  The passage only makes provision for him to do this if he feels like the betrayal is because of adultery.

It was equally possible, however, that during this period of betrothal, that the Jewish woman may behave unfaithfully by engaging in sexual relations with another man.  This was committing adultery, even though she and her husband had not yet consummated their marriage, and if a wife was caught committing adultery, she was to be stoned to death by the witnesses who found her, those judges who presided over her trial and by her community (in that order).
Deuteronomy 17:6,7 "By the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he who is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.  The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you."

According to G-d then, the goal of capital punishment, is to remove evil from society.  A husband who chose Option 1, did so because of the possibility that she was innocent.

There is another example recorded in Matthew:

Now the birth of Y'shua the Messiah was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.  (Matthew 1:18-19)

There are several things to note here.  First, Miriam was betrothed to Joseph, which means that she was in the fullest sense, his wife; second, she was discovered to be with child before they came together; third, Joseph was a just or a righteous man.  According to the Torah, Joseph was permitted to end the marriage at this juncture due to the uncleanness (lack of virginity, due to an unknown relationship) he thought he had discovered in his wife Miriam.  (Only divine intervention would convince him otherwise, cf. Matthew 1:20).

This example is helpful in illustrating how a Jewish marriage was consummated.  And so the 'exception' that Y'shua cites in Matthew is to be understood within this context and also within the context of what was written in the Torah.  In fact, Y'shua will later tell us that this provision is not the ideal, but is due to sin and the hardness of men's hearts.

In the case where a man takes advantage of a young virgin, the Torah also describes how this is to be handled. Barring any objection from the father of the young woman who has been violated, the man is required to marry the young woman and never divorce her all of his days.

Today, I would venture to guess that the vast majority of marriages, are not going to be conducted within these parameters of Jewish law or the Torah.  These marriages, although not Jewish in form, are based on another concept that is no less important:  vows i.e. words we say to G-d and before witnesses.

In sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse . . . UNTIL DEATH DO US PART.   We made a commitment with our words before G-d and before men, words with which we pledged to remain faithful, come what may, until circumstances beyond our control (i.e. death) would separate us.

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?"  And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,'  "and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?  "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what G-d has joined together, let not man separate." 

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?"  He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for fornication causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries this [same] woman who was divorced  [for illegitimate reasons] commits adultery." (Matthew 19:3-9)

In a culture of easy divorce and especially no-fault divorce, Y'shua's instructions here and the L-rd's instructions communicated by Rav Sha'ul to the Corinthians are both well nigh impossible for most everyone.

Am I saying that a woman may not divorce her husband if he sleeps around?**  Yes.  Am I saying she may not divorce him if he beats on her?   Yes.   Am I saying that she may not divorce him if she discovers he is a homosexual?  Yes.  Am I saying that she may not divorce him if . . . yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  She must remain faithful to the words she spoke to G-d and suffer well if that happens to be the case.

But actually, it is not I who am saying this.  I am not saying anything that G-d hasn't already said.  Why?  Because G-d hates divorce, and so should we.  We should abhor, despise, hold repugnant, find repulsive, detest and disavow divorce just as much as He does.   Just because someone else was not faithful to their vows and words they said to G-d, does not excuse the other party from remaining faithful to the commitment they made when they uttered similar words to G-d.   It is better not to vow at all, than to make a vow and fail to keep it.

Nowhere does G-d ever adapt His standards in order to accommodate our weaknesses.  The second set of tablets that Moses gave to the Israelites were not modified to brook any one of our idolatrous tendencies or proclivities.  We have never been promised an easy time in this life, in fact, very much the opposite is what we have been promised.

So if, in spite of what G-d says, you go ahead and get that divorce you have been longing for so that you can finally be happy or safe  Just be sure to leave G-d's name out of it and please stop trying to convince yourself and everyone else around you that G-d spoke to you and that it was somehow His will that you departed from your husband or that you divorced your wife.   And please, for G-d's sake and all our sakes, stop perverting the word of G-d and using it as a license to do things He has clearly disapproved of in His Word.  You don't know better than he does, that's why you're not Him.

"Therefore what G-d has joined together, let not man separate." 

It's really not a difficult concept at the end of the day, and G-d doesn't really care how exceptional or unique you may think your particular circumstances are.  Just finish what your lips started and always remember:

"But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37) 

After all, when our words don't mean anything any more, how much longer do we think the fabric of a society is going to hold together?

*I am indebted to my dear friend, colleague, and mentor, Rabbi Dani'el T, for graciously sharpening my thinking on this very important and oft misunderstood topic and for his help with various revisions.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Re-post . . .

Some may have noticed the deletion of my last post.  I was re-thinking some of the premises which led me to do some more research and consulting with colleagues and realized that my line of thinking was not entirely correct on a number of points.  You're never too old to learn.  I am revising accordingly, and hoping to re-post, G-d willing.  Stay tuned. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Immanu'el: G-d with Us

There were a number of Sages who had pinned their hopes on Solomon as the fulfillment of the promises stated in Nathan's prophecy.  This was not to be.  Solomon soon departed from the ways of Hashem, marrying foreign wives, building altars and high places to foreign gods in the city of Jerusalem, subsequently following after Ashtorot, the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites (I Kings 11:5).

The psalmist describes the character of the promised Son of David:

He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor (Psalm 72:4).

Solomon, in contrast, would become an oppressor in his own right.  After his death, the people would approach his successor Rehoboam:

"Your father made our yoke heavy; now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father, and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you"  (I Kings 12:4).

The One who was destined to sit on the throne forever was the Messiah, Who, according to the psalmist would be everlasting, compassionate, the cause of joy and blessing, bringing peace to the hearts of the people. 

They shall fear You as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing, like showers that water the earth.  In His days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more (Psalm 72:5-7).

For He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper.  He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy (Psalm 72:12-13).

The Messiah would also extend Himself to the Gentiles, providing for their needs:

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles Will bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. There will be an abundance of grain in the earth, on the top of the mountains; its fruit shall wave like Lebanon; and those of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth (Psalm 72:10;16).

His name will be everlasting and His person glorious:

"His name shall endure forever; His name shall be continued as the sun (lifnei shemesh Yinon shemo) (Psalm 72:17) The School of Yanai taught, "The name of Messiah is Yinon for it is written, lifnei shemesh Yinon shemo: his name is Yinon before the sun was created"  (Sanhedrin 98b).

Solomon simply does not fit this description, nor would any of his descendants.  While the children of Israel awaited the promised One, Ahaz, an ungodly king, ascended the throne.  Ahaz was exhorted by the prophet Isaiah to shun any alliances with the enemies of Israel.  Ahaz refused to heed the words of the prophet and refused all signs from the L-rd, while declaring with hypocritical piety: "I will not ask neither will I test the L-rd."  (cf. Isaiah 7:12)

G-d gave a miraculous sign to the entire House of David anyway:

"Therefore the L-rd Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.  "Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.  "For before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings (Isaiah 7:14-16).

With this sign G-d promises the birth of a supernatural child born of a virgin (almah), who would carry the name Immanu'el, G-d with us.  This would be the promised King Who would not make alliances with Assyria.   The enemies of Israel (the Assyrians) would not prevail because Immanuel would rule Israel, rather than Ahaz:

Now therefore, behold, the Lord brings up over them the waters of the River, strong and mighty -- the king of Assyria and all his glory; He will go up over all his channels And go over all his banks.  He will pass through Judah, He will overflow and pass over, He will reach up to the neck; 

And the stretching out of his wings Will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel.  "Be shattered, O you peoples, and be broken in pieces! Give ear, all you from far countries. Gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, but be broken in pieces.  Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak the word, but it will not stand, for G-d is with us"  (Isaiah 8:7-10).

Eventually, Ahaz had a son, Hezekiah, who sat on the throne.  Hezekiah was a godly king and obedient to the Word of G-d, perhaps he would be the one to fulfill all of the prophecies spoken from Adam to the prophet Isaiah.  Doubtless, there were many in Israel who thought so.  In fact, one rabbi as late as the first century C.E. still maintained this position:

Rabbi Hillel maintained: Israel cannot expect the Messiah any longer for they already enjoyed Him in the time of King Hezekiah (Sanhedrin 99a).  

It is interesting to note that none of his colleagues agreed with him:

May G-d pardon Hillel, since he contradicts G-d's prophet Zechariah [who came centuries after Hezekiah] who says 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold Your King comes to you  . . .' (Sanhedrin 99a).  See also Haggai 2:6-10; Malachi 3:1 and 4:5.

However, part of Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in Hezekiah's time: Damascus, the capital of Syria was captured in 732 BCE., while the ten northern tribes would surrender their capital in 722 BCE.  Therefore, it came to pass:

"[B]efore the Child shall kn[ew] to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread [Syria and Israel] will be forsaken by both her kings. (Isaiah 7:16).

The prophecies recorded in Isaiah 8:7-8 and 37:36-37 were also fulfilled in Hezekiah's lifetime.  Nonetheless, Hezekiah did not fulfill the sign of the virgin birth and is not the one who fulfills the Immanuel prophecy.

This did not stop some rabbis from considering the possibility that Hezekiah was the promised Messiah:

"Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end" (Isaiah 9:7).  One may ask why in Hebrew in the first word lemarbe the letter mem, though in the middle of the word, is written as a final mem?  The answer is that the Holy One, blessed be He, considered the possibility of making Hezekiah Messiah . . . (Sanhedrin 94a).  

This passage in the Talmud goes on to imply that Hezekiah was not the Messiah and explains that the closed mem signifies the decision concerning the Messiah was closed for now and postponed to another time.  [The closed or final mem in the middle of the word may also allude to a closed womb].

Rashi also concluded that the Immanuel prophecy could not refer to Hezekiah, because "if you count up the years of Hezekiah you will find that Hezekiah was born nine years before his father [Ahaz] ascended the throne."  Hence, Hezekiah was born nine years before the prophecy was given, and yet the prophet says, "Behold, the virgin shall (future tense) conceive . . . "  (Messianic Speculation in Israel, Abba Hillel, pp. 66-67). 

So, although there were a number of Sages who speculated that Hezekiah could have been the Messiah, they eventually rejected the idea and emphasized the attributes that are alluded to in his name, Hezekiah, which means "G-d has strengthened", concluding that during Hezekiah's reign Israel was strengthened and encouraged through his reign as king.

Israel would have to continue waiting.

How is He His Son?

"When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.   (2 Samuel 7:12-13)

The line of the Messiah has now been narrowed to Jesse's son David.  Shortly before his death, David expressed a desire to build a house for the L-rd, a desire which he communicated to the prophet Nathan.  However, G-d's answer later expressed through the prophet was "No."  David had shed an abundance of blood during his lifetime and instead it would be David's son Solomon who was selected to build G-d's house.   What is important to understand is that Nathan's prophecy extends much further than just building an earthly edifice which would house the Ark of G-d:

"He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  "I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever." ' " (2 Samuel 7:13-14; 16)

This is a prophecy that was clearly not fulfilled in David's son Solomon for the simple reason that Solomon did not reign forever.  The eternal throne spoken of here would be secured by the Messiah Himself as One Who will establish eternal peace. David is the name that the prophets often use to reference the Messiah:

 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the L-RD their G-d and David their king. They shall fear the L-RD and His goodness in the latter days.  (Hosea 3:5)

It should be obvious that Hosea is speaking of a "greater David" - i.e. the Messiah.  Ezekiel, Amos and Jeremiah speak in similar fashion:

"I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them -- My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd.  "And I, the L-RD, will be their G-d, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the L-RD, have spoken.   (Ezekiel 34:23-24)

"On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old;  (Amos 9:11)

"Behold, the days are coming," says the L-RD, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.  In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.  (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Ethan the Ezrahite also understood that the throne referenced in Nathan's prophecy was no mere earthly throne:

Also I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth.  My mercy I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall stand firm with him.  His seed also I will make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven.   (Psalm 89:27-29) 

My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.  Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me;  it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky." Selah (Psalm 89:34-37)

The Midrash comments on this Psalm:

Rabbi Nathan said that G-d spoke to Israel, saying, "As I made Jacob firstborn, for it is written 'israel is my son even my firstborn (Exodus 4:22), so I will make Messiah my firstborn as it is written, 'I will make him my firstborn (Psalm 89:27)  (cf. Exodus Rabbah 19).

Therefore, the Messiah is both David's descendant and G-d's begotten Son.  Many Scriptures reveal the sonship of the Messiah:

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 [i.e. Mashiach], saying . . . "Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion." "I will declare the decree: The L-RD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You.   (PSalm 2:1-2; 6-7)

Agur ben Yakeh in the Proverbs poses this riddle:

Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name, If you know?  (Proverbs 30:4)

The prophet Isaiah also speaks of the Son of G-d Who would ascend the throne of David:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty G-d, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the L-RD of hosts will perform this.  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

The Messiah would be the Son of David and the Son of G-d, a concept which has puzzled the Sages and rabbis from the first century until now:

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Y'shua asked them, saying, "What do you think about the Messiah? Whose Son is He?" They said to Him, "The Son of David."  

He said to them, "How then does David in the Spirit call Him 'L-rd,' saying:  'The L-RD said to my L-rd, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool" '?  

"If David then calls Him 'L-rd,' how is He his Son?"  And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.  (Matthew 22:41-23:1)