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

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.

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