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

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Branch

Now the L-RD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided Myself a king among his sons." (1 Samuel 16:1)  

The prophet Isaiah recalls the calling of David:

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.  The Spirit of the L-RD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the L-RD.  (Isaiah 11:1-2)

The rabbis and commentators are generally agreed that the passage in Isaiah is clearly Messianic.  The Targum on verses 1 and 6, the Talmud in Sanhedrin 93b, and a number of passages in the midrashim all interpret Isaiah 11 Messianically.

In the Yalkut, where it is described how G-d had shown Moses all the spirits of the rulers and prophets in Israel, from that time forward to the Resurrection, it is said that all these had one knowledge and one spirit, but that the Messiah had one spirit which was equal to all the others put together, according to Isaiah 11:1.

The second verse is quoted in connection with Messianic times, when by wisdom, understanding and knowledge the Temple will be built again.  On Isaiah 11:3, the Talmud contains a curious explanation.  After quoting Isaiah 11:2 as Messianic, it makes a play on the words, 'of quick understanding' or 'scent', [i.e. to smell, or to perceive odor] as it might be rendered, and suggests that this word is intended to teach us that G-d has laden Him with commandments and sufferings like millstones.

Immediately following, from the expression 'He will not judge with His eyes, but reprove with equity for the meek of the earth,' it is inferred that the Messiah knew the thoughts of the heart, and it is added that, as Bar Kochva was unable to do this, he was killed.

The prophecy in Isaiah 11:1 not only narrows the ancestry of the Messiah even further to Jesse and his descendants, but the use of the Hebrew word netzer, branch, specifies where the Messiah would grow up, as it were.  There is another word that Isaiah could have use for branch, tsemach, a word which he used previously in Isaiah 4:

In that day the (tsemach) Branch of the L-RD shall be beautiful and glorious; and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and appealing for those of Israel who have escaped.  (Isaiah 4:2)

Nor is Isaiah the only prophet to refer to the Messiah as 'branch':

"Behold, the days are coming," says the L-RD, "That I will raise to David a (tsemach) Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
(Jeremiah 23:5)

'In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A (tsemach) Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.  (Jeremiah 33:15) 

'Hear, O Joshua, the high priest, You and your companions who sit before you, for they are a wondrous sign; for behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the (tsemach) BRANCH. (Zechariah 3:8)

So, it is very curious indeed that Isaiah would be inspired to use the word netzer instead of the more common word, tsemach.  In the Greek writings we read:

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:23)

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote -- Y'shua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."  (John 1:45)

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets . . . the town Nazareth is the word netzer which contains a feminine ending designated by the letter tav.  And so the use of netzer becomes a play on words: He is a netzer from Natzeret.  

Not only is Messiah the branch, it is clear that He is also the root:

"And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious."  (Isaiah 11:10)

The Messiah will be a standard bearer Who will attract the non-Jews.  This love of the Gentiles for the Messiah will also result in a love and concern for the Jewish people:

He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.   (Isaiah 11:12)

Therefore, the Gentiles will be instrumental in re-gathering the Jewish people to their homeland:

Thus says the L-rd G-D: "Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders . . . (Isaiah 49:22)

In a later chapter, the Root of Jesse is described as a "tender plant and like a root out of dry ground; He has no form nor comeliness, and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him."  (cf.  Isaiah 52-53) 

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