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, December 31, 2015

Before Abraham Was

"Abraham saw My day..."

In the book of John (8:56), we read that Jesus was speaking to a group of people at the Temple, and He said to them, "Your father Abraham earnestly desired to see My day; and he saw, and was glad." What did Y'shua mean by this statement?  Was He saying that Abraham had a vague idea about the coming Messiah, and knew some of the things He would do when He came?

If so, why did the people to whom Y'shua was speaking immediately respond, "you are not yet fifty years old, how could you have seen Abraham?" It was clear to them, at least, that Jesus was stating that Abraham literally saw Him, and thus logically it was safe for them to assume that He saw Abraham at the same time. When did this happen? We'll come back to this question.

What is a "Midrash"?

"Midrash" is a word that most often means a legend or a parable. It is a common tool used by the rabbis, and is usually designed to teach moral lessons. Sometimes a midrash is intended to be taken literally, and sometimes it is meant in a more figurative sense. Y'shua employed this technique many times as he taught: He would tell a story about a traveler who was waylaid by bandits, or a widow who needed justice from an evil judge, then explain what the story illustrated in terms of theological truth.

The "Midrash Rabbah" is the name of a series of books written from the 3rd to 6th century CE; it is a collection of legends and parables told by many rabbis of previous centuries, which are mostly about well-known Biblical figures. The stories can inform us about the way that the rabbis viewed these historical characters, and some of the parables may be meant to teach us what the rabbis thought these famous people would say and do if they were ever in a certain situation. Although the midrashim were not recorded until later, the people of Y'shua's day had grown up knowing these stories and the lessons they imparted.

The Midrash Rabbah’s primary goal was the exposition and explanation of Scriptural verses. Many passages of Scripture, which are difficult to understand by themselves, are pondered over by the rabbis of the Midrash Rabbah and connected to other passages which refer back to the same events, in order to make them all clearer. Sometimes, when several passages have been linked together and all of the dots have been connected, a view of "how it must have looked" emerges that we have never seen before, only because we weren't looking closely enough to see it.

These expositions and rabbinic conclusions are collected in the Midrash Rabbah along with the anecdotes and parables, and it is sometimes difficult to know which stories are conclusions based on Bible passages, and which are stories of a more figurative nature. Occasionally, a story may seem to be completely fictional, but if you dig deeply enough, you find that it was logically deduced from the Bible all along.  In this article, we will be referencing some midrashim (the plural of midrash) that are meant only to teach a moral lesson, and other midrashim which may have foundations in the biblical account itself. 

So how did Abraham see Y'shua's day? As we take a close look at Abraham's life, we find that he spoke with G-d and was given visions of various things at certain times. But was he ever given a visual glimpse into the future? Is there anywhere in the Bible which specifically says that Abraham saw something of the future? The answer is yes, but as it turns out, you are only able to see it in the Hebrew text of the Bible, not in any English translation. The account is found in Genesis 22, during G-d's famous test of Abraham (and, as we shall see, His test of Isaac as well).

The Greatest Test

"And it happened after these things that G-d tested Abraham and said to him, 'Abraham,' and he replied, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Please take your son, your only one, whom you love - Isaac - and go to the land of Moriah; bring him up there as an elevation-offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.' So Abraham woke up early in the morning and saddled his donkey; he took his two young men and Isaac his son; he split the trees for the offering, and rose up and went to the place of which G-d had spoken to him." - Genesis 22:1-3

This test of a father's willingness to give up his only son to obey G-d's command is one of the greatest biblical pictures of Messiah, and is a common teaching topic in Christian circles. However, there may be even more to this Messianic picture than what appears on the surface.

The Hebrew text specifically refers to Isaac as the "only one". In certain passages of the Septuagint the Hebrew word yechid'cha or "only one" is translated as the Greek word monogenes, meaning "only-begotten one".

The greatest difference between the traditional Jewish perspective of the Akeidah and the widely-accepted Western view is the matter of the age of Isaac. According to the Midrash Rabbah, Isaac was not a small child who remained blissfully unaware of his upcoming role in the sacrifice. He was a fully grown man in his 30's who, after discussing the matter with his father, was fully aware that he was going to be the sacrifice. Nonetheless, he submitted himself to the wishes of G-d as expressed through his father, and chose to go willingly to his impending death.

While this image may seem unfamiliar to us because of the various depictions we have seen of the little boy being led to the altar by his frail, aged father, Isaac as a strong, vital grown man is a more biblically sound assumption. Directly after this test of faith, we read about the death of Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, and at the time of her death, Isaac was 37 years old. Therefore, we can conclude that the binding of Isaac most likely took place shortly before Sarah's death, making Isaac a grown man.

In character with Abraham being an honest, faithful servant of the Truth, we cannot believe that Abraham would intentionally deceive his son into going to his death, unwilling and terrified. In addition, a man of his age would not be difficult to overcome by someone in the prime of his life, fighting to remain alive, as would be Isaac’s natural instinct.

Interestingly, the Hebrew of the Torah states that Abraham “split (divided - bakah) the wood/trees” for the offering.  (In the Bible, the Hebrew word eitz usually translated by English translators as “wood” literally means, "tree".) The unusual use of the plural, atzei leads the rabbis to conclude that there were two trees used in the wood preparation, in prophetic anticipation of Temple service which G-d would introduce one day, in which it was possible for the one bringing the sacrifice to bring at least “two pieces of wood” for their offering in addition to the animal which was being sacrificed.

Certainly, the Holy One (blessed be He) did not include anything superfluous in the text, so the mentioning of the splitting of the trees was deliberate and purposeful. Whether we can say it was from two sources or it consisted of two pieces of wood (1) will be a matter of debate for others.
"AND HE CLEAVED THE TREES FOR THE BURNT-OFFERING. R. Hiyya b. R. Jose said in the name of R. Miasha, and it was also repeated in the name of R. Bannaiah: As a reward for the two cleavings with which our father Abraham cleaved the trees of the elevation-offering, he earned that God should cleave the Sea [into two] before his descendants, as it says, 'And the waters were divided' (Ex. 14:21)" - [Soncino - 'Trees' is in the plural, whence it is deduced that he cut up two logs"] - Genesis Rabbah 55:8

Temptations in the Wilderness

Their destination was Moriah, the future home of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Place where sacrifices would reconcile the Jewish people with their G-d, the mountain upon which Y'shua would also be crucified. It was a three day journey and there was much to consider and to talk about.

According to one midrash, Abraham and Isaac each were tested separately as they traveled on the road toward Moriah.  While this midrashic story possibly was not meant to be taken literally, we can draw a distinct parallel between this “teaching parable” and the literal accounts of the Gospels. According to this legend, they were each tempted as they traveled through the wilderness by none other than ha satan (“the adversary”).

"And while Abraham and Isaac were proceeding along the road, Satan came and appeared to Abraham in the figure of a very aged man, humble and of contrite spirit, and said to him: "Are you silly or foolish, that you go to do this thing to your only son? G-d gave you a son in your latter days, in your old age, and will you go and slaughter him who did not commit any violence, and will you cause the soul of your only son to perish from the earth? Do you not know and understand that this thing cannot be from the L-rd? For the L-rd would not do unto man such evil, to command him, Go and slaughter your son." Abraham, hearing these words, knew that it was Satan, who endeavored to turn him astray from the way of the Lord, and he rebuked him so that he went away..."

Having failed to tempt Abraham, Satan proceeds to try to sway Isaac from his willing, resolute decision.  "...And Satan returned and came to Isaac, and he appeared unto him in the figure of a young man, handsome and well-favored, saying unto him: "Do you not know that your silly old father brings you to the slaughter this day for nothing?

Now, my son, do not listen to him, for he is a silly old man, and let not your precious soul and beautiful figure be lost from the earth." And Isaac told these words to his father, but Abraham said to him, "Take heed of him, and do not listen to his words, for he is Satan endeavoring to lead us astray from the commands of our G-d."

And Abraham rebuked Satan again, and Satan went from them, and, seeing he could not prevail over them, he transformed himself into a large brook of water in the road, and when Abraham, Isaac, and the two young men reached that place, they saw a brook large and powerful as the mighty waters. And they entered the brook, trying to pass it, but the further they went, the deeper the brook, so that the water reached up to their necks, and they were all terrified on account of the water.

But Abraham recognized the place, and he knew that there had been no water there before, and he said to his son: "I know this place, on which there was no brook nor water. Now, surely, it is Satan who does all this to us, to draw us aside this day from the commands of G-d." And Abraham rebuked Satan, saying unto him: "The Lord rebuke you, O Satan. Be gone from us, for we go by the command of G-d." And Satan was terrified at the voice of Abraham, and he went away from them, and the place became dry land again as it was at first. And Abraham went with Isaac toward the place that G-d had told him."  - Louis Ginsberg, “Legends of the Jews Vol. 1”

* * *

Let's review the main points of this parable. Abraham and Isaac are traveling through the wilderness, and Satan comes to tempt them three times. Each time he is rebuked by Abraham, and the last time Abraham says, in essence, "Away with you, Satan! For G-d has spoken, saying..." Abraham answers Satan by quoting the words of G-d.
(You probably noticed above that in the parable, Isaac was referred to as one "who did not commit any violence". The author of this midrash was directly linking Isaac to a quote from Isaiah 53:9, "He had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth." Isaiah was speaking of the coming “servant of Hashem” who would suffer, not for his own deeds, but on behalf of others.

While it may be currently fashionable among skeptics to reason that the “servant of Hashem” in Isaiah refers to the nation of Israel and not to an individual, prior to Rashi (1100’s CE), the rabbis who recorded the ancient oral tradition in the Mishnah and Gemara (100-500 CE) declared unanimously - a rare occurrence - that Isaiah 52 and 53 spoke of none other than the suffering Messiah. (2)

A Willing Sacrifice

"And Abraham took the tree for the offering, and placed it on Isaac his son. He took in his hand the fire and the knife, and the two of them went on together in unity. Then Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, 'Father,' and he said, 'Here I am, my son.' And he said, 'Here are the fire and the tree, but where is the lamb for the offering?' And Abraham said, 'G-d will see for Himself a lamb for the offering, my son.' And the two of them went on together in unity." - Genesis 22:6-8

The Midrash Rabbah, commenting on the book of Genesis, says: " ‘And Abraham took the wood for the offering and placed it on Isaac his son’ (Genesis 22:6) - likened unto one who carries his own cross on his shoulder." - Genesis Rabbah 56:3

Remember that according to the rabbis, Isaac was in his 30's at this time, which means that there was no way that Abraham, a 130-year-old man, could have bound Isaac without Isaac's consent. Therefore, the rabbis believe that Isaac asked to be bound, lest his courage fail at the end and he try to struggle against his father who was carrying out G-d's will.

"When Abraham wished to sacrifice his son Isaac, he said to him: ‘Father, I am a young man and am afraid that my body may tremble through fear of the knife and I will grieve you, whereby the slaughter may be rendered unfit and this will not count as a real sacrifice; therefore bind me very firmly.’ Thereupon, "he bound Isaac": can one bind a man thirty-seven years old without his consent?" - Genesis Rabbah 56:8

When the text says that they traveled “together in unity”, the word, yachdav implies a unity of purpose and goal.  True unity is not possible when one man deceives another or intends to do him harm. When a willing sacrifice volunteers, only then can unity of purpose be attained.

The Midrash Rabbah also says that at the same time Isaac was bound and placed upon the “tree”, G-d bound all of the spiritual forces (the principalities and powers) of this world, because of Abraham's willingness even to sacrifice his son, and Isaac's willingness to be the sacrifice.

R. Hanina b. Isaac said: Even as Abraham bound his son Isaac below, so the Holy One, blessed be He, bound the Princes of the heathens above. [Soncino: Every nation was thought to possess a ‘Prince’ - a guardian angel and patron...] (See Daniel 10:20, 21) - Genesis Rabbah 56:5

Imagine this scene playing out in your mind. You see a man in the prime of his life, placing two pieces of wood upon his shoulder and climbing up Mount Moriah, in a manner which is compared by the Jewish sages to a man carrying his own cross. He does this solely out of obedience to his father, and does not resist against his impending death, though he certainly has the power to do so. As he is bound and placed upon the tree, spiritual principalities and powers are utterly shaken and deprived of power. What picture comes to your mind as you read this? The parallels from this passage to Y'shua's execution are staggering.  But what does all this have to do with Abraham seeing Y'shua's day?

A Ram "Behind Him"

"Abraham lifted his eyes and behold, a ram [behind him?] held in a thicket by its horns." - Genesis 22:13

Usually, this verse is translated to read that the ram was "behind him". However, the Hebrew word which has been translated "behind him" is achar. Achar does not mean "behind" directionally, but "that which comes afterwards, later, that which follows" - in other words, a direction in time. The well-known Hebrew phrase acharit hayamim means "the latter days" or "the end of days".

(In this sense, the word can have two understandings when two people are traveling, and one is behind the other. If the word achar is used to describe this situation, one observer might say, "Thus we can see that achar means 'behind', one person is behind the other." But another observer might say, "No, it still doesn't have anything to do with direction; achar means that where the one person traveled, the other person followed ‘later’." In English, when an unpleasant event has passed, we say that it is “behind us”. In Hebrew when an event is achar, it is yet to come, at a later time.)

So the correct translation of this verse would be: "... Behold, a ram, afterwards [later on], held in a thicket by its horns."  Now, what is a "thicket"? In Hebrew, the word savakh, can be translated "a dense plant which is interwoven, plaited" and implies a woven and interlaced hedge, strong enough to keep the ram from wriggling free.

In the Greek passages which describe Jesus' crucifixion, the place of his execution was called Gulgol’ta in Hebrew, and was translated into Greek as the "place of the skull" (Mark 15:22, John 19:17). The word for "skull" in Greek is kranion, which comes from the root word keras. Many Greek words are borrowed from Hebrew, and this case is no exception: Keras is related to the Hebrew word keren, and it literally means "horn".

Could it be that Abraham not only saw a literal ram standing there, but he also saw something else? "He lifted his eyes and behold ... a ram, in a later time, held fast, with something interwoven in his horns / skull.” (The word hinei - "behold" always means that something unexpected has appeared.)
What future sacrifice of a ram, taking place on Mount Moriah (Jerusalem), with something woven around its head, could Abraham have seen? "Your father Abraham earnestly desired to see My day; and he saw, and was glad." (John 8:56) In one of Paul's letters, he says that G-d "announced the good news ahead of time unto Abraham" (Galatians 3:8).

According to tradition, this ram had been designated and prepared for this sacrifice since the creation of the world, and had waited until now for its purpose to be fulfilled. Truly, Y'shua's sacrifice had been prepared from the foundations of the world.

The Death and Resurrection of Isaac?

Many people do well to see the picture of Isaac being put upon the altar as a parallel to Y'shua's crucifixion, but most of them believe that the picture stops when the ram is offered in Isaac's place. While the death of the ram in place of Isaac does indeed parallel Y'shua's death in our place, Isaac may not be finished yet as a shadow and picture of the Messiah.

According to the rabbinic tradition, even though Abraham was stopped from performing the deed, Isaac actually did die on that altar. In fact, there is an oft-mentioned wish expressed in the writings of the rabbis and also in the daily prayers for every Jewish man, pleading that G-d would look upon the offering of Isaac and in his merit because of his sacrifice, bring us help and rescue us from danger. But if Isaac died as our tradition states, how was it that he then went back down the mountain with his father?

There are two traditions which give specific answers to this question.  The first tradition has to do with the process of the sacrificial system itself. When a offering for sin was being brought in the Temple, it was not simply a matter of G-d accepting an animal's death instead of the death of the sinner, as if to say that His justice was satisfied since at least something was dying. Before an animal was sacrificed, the person bringing the offering leaned his hands upon the head of the offering and confessed his sins.

With this procedure, an identity switch occurred. The animal took on the complete identity of the sinner who had brought him, and the man took on the blameless innocence of the animal. In this way, the one who bore the identity of "sinner" died on the altar, and the one who bore the identity of "innocent" walked away alive.

This transfer of identity is the basis for the tradition that Isaac did (in a symbolic and figurative way, at least) die on the altar. The ashes of the ram are cited as proof of Isaac’s death. (3)  “And Abraham sprinkled the blood of the ram upon the altar, and he exclaimed, and said, 'This is instead of my son, and may this be considered as the blood of my son before the Lord.' And whatsoever Abraham did by the altar, he exclaimed, and said, 'This is instead of my son, and may it be considered before the Lord in place of my son.' And G-d accepted the sacrifice of the ram, and it was accounted as though it had been Isaac.” - Louis Ginsberg, “Legends of the Jews Vol. 1”

* * *

”Abraham took [the ram] and offered it as a burnt-offering instead of his son; as it says, ‘And he took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering…’ Does more need to be said? What then is the purpose of the additional words, ‘…in the place of his son’?

Abraham said: ‘Sovereign of the universe! Regard the act as though the blood of Isaac were being sprinkled before You!’  He took the ram and flayed it, saying: 'O consider the act as though I had flayed the skin of Isaac before You!’ He took the ram and dried its blood with salt, saying: ‘O consider the act as though Isaac's blood were being dried before You!' He burnt the ram and said: 'O consider the act as though Isaac's ashes were being heaped up upon the altar!'

Another exposition: What is the implication of the phrase ubc ,j, - “takhat beno” - "’In the place’ of his son"? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ’By your life! I do regard it as though your son had been offered first! This ram represents him!’ - B'midbar Rabbah 17:2

This last possibility mentioned in the above paragraph suggests that G-d reckoned it to Abraham as if he had indeed first offered Isaac and put him to death, and then afterward offered the ram which was provided. It uses the Hebrew word, takhat, translating it to mean that the ram was offered after Isaac died, in the same way that when a king dies, his son reigns “in his place” takhat, i.e. following his death, not instead of him or displacing him while he is alive. (1 Kings 11:43)

* * *

Is there a Biblical source which mentions Isaac dying on the altar? Actually, yes. The second noteworthy tradition of our rabbis which speaks of Isaac's death is mentioned by an unlikely source: the book of Hebrews.  ”In faith Abraham offered up Isaac, being tested, and the only begotten son was being offered up by the one who received the promises, (to whom it had been said, 'In Isaac shall your seed be called'); concluding that G-d is able even to raise people up out of the dead, from which he also - in a parable - recovered him." - Hebrews 11:19

Many translators have translated this passage to mean that Abraham received Isaac from the dead "in a figurative sense", that is, since Isaac was so close to death, and Abraham had already given him up for lost, it was as if he received him back from the dead. But the Greek of the passage is quite specific. It says Isaac was recovered from the dead in para’boley ... which means "parable".
Now to what parable is the writer referring, a parable with which his readers must surely have been familiar? Since he was a Hebrew speaker, writing to the Hebrews, he would at least have been thinking in Hebrew concepts, even if he didn't actually write the letter in the Hebrew language. So what is a common Hebrew word for a parable? That's right... it's midrash.

In the Midrash Rabbah and in other rabbinic writings, there is in fact a parable about Isaac which states that in the terror of the moment, as he felt the knife at his throat, he actually died there on the altar, momentarily. The parable then relates that G-d then raised him from the dead.

”As the sword touched Isaac's throat, his spirit fled away; as he heard the Voice from between the two cherubim saying, 'Do not send forth your hand against the young man,' the soul returned to his body and he lived, and he stood on his feet. Then Isaac understood that the resurrection of the dead would take place, in the same way as he had been resurrected... and he said, 'Blessed are You, O L-RD, Who resurrects the dead.' "  Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 31

In this midrashic parable, Isaac was not only resurrected by G-d’s power, but he was also seen as the prototype for all future resurrections to come. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, we are told that Y'shua became the “first fruits” of all those who had died and would be resurrected. This does not mean that nobody had been raised from the dead before Him, but was a reference to a sacrificial requirement of offering up the first fruits of the harvest at the Temple before any other harvest could be gathered in. His was the first fruits offering which would allow all others to be resurrected in the end of days.

The Horns of the Ram

According to tradition, the horns of Isaac's ram were to be used in great events later on in history. The first horn was blown on Mount Sinai, at the time of the giving of the Torah. The other horn, which is the larger of the two and is called the "great shofar" will be blown at the time of the Resurrection, and will signal the ingathering of the exiles and the coming of the Messiah.

”The two horns of the ram are shofars (horns for blowing). The left one the Holy One - Blessed be He - sounded on Mount Sinai, as it is said, 'The sound of the shofar (ram's horn) grew louder and louder.' The right one is greater than the left, and it is destined to be sounded at the Time to Come, when the gathering of the exiles takes place, as it is said [in Isaiah 27:13], And in that day, a great shofar (ram's horn) will be blown, and the straying ones in the land of Assyria and the expelled ones in the land of Egypt will come to worship the L-RD on the holy mountain, in Jerusalem.' " - Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 31

Source Notes:

Me'ila 19b - For our Rabbis taught: If a man said, I take upon myself to present wood to the Temple, he may not offer less than two logs.

Yoma 22a - …He who obtained the task of clearing the altar of the ashes thereby also obtained the ordering of the pile of wood on the altar, and of the two pieces of

Yoma 26b - It was taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Whence do we know that at the continual offering of dusk, two logs of wood were to be brought up by two priests?  Because it is said: "And they [the sons of Aaron the priest] shall lay wood in order upon the fire." (Leviticus 1:7)

2.  "I may remark then, that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves shall adhere to the same view." - Rabbi Moshe Alshech regarding Yeshayahu 53 in the Tanakh - [Following is a partial list:]

• Talmud b. Sanhedrin 98b • Midrash Rabbah Ruth 6 • Maimonides - R' Moshe Ben Maimon • R' Moshe Ben Nachman • R' Yitzchak Abarbanel • Sifrei • Targum of Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 • B'reishis Rabbah of R' Moshe Ha-Darshan • Midrash Tanchuma - Yelammedenu 6:14 • The Yalkut • Yalkut Reubeni • Yalkut Chadash • R' Yephet Ben 'Ali LII.13 • Mysteries of R' Shimon Ben Yochai • Lekach Tov on Num. 24:7 • R' Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin v. 13 • R' Shlomo Astruc LII • R' Sh'muel Lanyado • R' Shlomo De Marini • R' Naftali ben Asher Altschuler LII • R' Eliyyah de Vidas

3.  Berachot 62a - "And as he was about to destroy, the Lord beheld, and He relented." (1 Chron. 21:15) What did He behold? ... Samuel said: He beheld the ashes of Isaac, as it says, "God will see for Himself the lamb." (Genesis 22:8)

Ta'anit 16a - “And why does everyone else put ashes on his head? With regard to this there is a difference of opinion between R. Levi b. Hama and R. Hanina. One says: [To signify thereby], We are merely like ashes before You; and the other says: That [God] may remember for our sake the ashes of Isaac.”

Zevachim 62a - “As for the Temple, it is well, for its outline was distinguishable;* but how did they know [the site of] the altar? — Said R. Eleazar: They saw [in a vision] the altar built, and Michael the great prince standing and offering upon it. While R. Isaac Nappaha said: They saw Isaac's ashes lying in that place.”

Soncino ***[“They could easily ascertain, from a study of the ruins, what had been sanctified for each part of the Temple.”]

Soncino ***[“According to legend Isaac was bound, and the substitute ram sacrificed, on the very site of the altar, and the ashes were still there.”]

B'reishit Rabbah 94:5 - “R. Berekiah made two observations: The Holy One, blessed be He, never unites His name with a living person* save with those who are experiencing suffering, and Isaac indeed did experience suffering.** The Rabbis said: We look upon him as though his ashes were heaped in a pile on the altar.***

Soncino ***[“To say, I am the God, of e.g., Abraham, Isaac, while they are in life.”]

Soncino ***[“This is quite irrelevant here, since Isaac was in fact dead by now. But in Gen. 28:13, God's name is united with Isaac while he was yet alive, and R. Berekiah answers that Isaac was a sufferer, being blind; cf. supra, LXV, 9.”]

Soncino ***[“Thus the reference to Isaac here is understood as meaning that Jacob invoked the memory of Isaac's sacrifice.”]

Vayikra Rabbah 36:5 - "’Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob; and also My covenant with Isaac; and also My covenant with Abraham I will remember, and I will remember the land.’ (Leviticus 26:42) Why was the expression ‘remembering’ mentioned in connection with Jacob and Abraham but not in connection with Isaac? R. Berekiah and our Rabbis offer different explanations. R. Berekiah says that it was because he was a child of suffering,* and our Rabbis say it was because He saw Isaac's ashes, as it were, heaped up upon the altar.”

Soncino ***[“He was blind. Suffering purified him and made him like the angels, so that he was always, as it were, in God's mind and did not need a special act of remembrance; (M.K.).”]

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Who is Your Father?

Why Did Jesus Use Spit to Heal People?

The Gospel of John records that while in Jerusalem, Y’shua spat onto the ground, creating mud, and then applied this mixture to the eyes of a blind man.   In Mark, we read of another blind man who was brought to Y’shua in Bethsaida, and Y’shua simply spat upon his eyes to heal him.

Mark also records that Y’shua inserted his spit moistened fingers into the ears of a deaf man and touched his tongue with saliva also.   When you think about it, a miracle worker gains attention simply by performing a miracle. When men who have been born blind, deaf or dumb since birth start to see, hear or talk... it needs no great fanfare or embellishment. Why then did Y’shua do this?

Moreover, when a society such as second temple period Israel understood and avoided issues of ritual impurity, you might think that for someone to heal a person using his own saliva would raise more than a few eyebrows.


Couldn’t Y’shua have simply spoken or reached out His hand to bring about the healing of these three men? If so, why did He choose this method? Was there a hidden message in what Y’shua did?


Y’shua chose to use spit in order to send a powerful message about His parentage and His
position as sole legitimate heir to His Father’s inheritance.  It was conceivable in biblical times for a man to have several sons by different wives. Abraham sent away his wives and sons from Isaac so that there would be a clear demonstration of who was his heir.

Occasionally one son would contest the claims of another as to who was the genuine heir. One reason for disputing the claim would be illegitimacy (whether the son was conceived within wedlock or not.) The writer of Hebrews speaks of how we know that we are truly a child of G-d because we are disciplined by Him. An illegitimate son is not corrected in this way. 

Jewish tradition taught that in matters of dispute with regard to inheritance, G-d had a test which would supernaturally reveal who the legitimate son was; heir to the leadership birthright and family property inheritance.  The people of the second temple period were well aware of a tradition of the Sages which proclaimed that the saliva of a legitimate, first born heir would have healing properties against injury or disease.

Once the disputed son's saliva anointed the affected member, healing was expected to miraculously take place if he was legitimate.  

There were some in the second temple period who believed in and followed Y'shua, but there were also those who did not. Foremost among their concerns were questions about His parentage.
After all, Yosef, Miriam and Y’shua had freely acknowledged that Yosef was not Y’shua’s father... and also that Miriam had never been married before she married Yosef. Yet, Y'shua clearly had been conceived and born... and someone had to be the father, but who?

Sadly, in today's society these facts would hardly raise an eyebrow. However, in that day it had all the makings of a horrible scandal with real lifelong ramifications. However, Y'shua also claimed that He had no earthly father... none whatsoever. He claimed to have come from the Heavenly Father, G-d. If He had been a sinner or the product of sin, He could hardly be expected to be able to heal anyone, as G-d was the Source of all healing.

This is the context of John 8 and 9. A much larger lesson is at work here than simply a series of disjointed teachings and healings. In chapter 8, Y'shua had spoken extensively about His origins, and when He spoke of His Father, the answer from his audience was, "Who is your father?" It was no accident that just after this exchange, in the same hour, He was asked the question, "Who sinned - this man or his parents [to bring about his blindness]?"

It was also believed by some that an illegitimate child would be chronically ill or have birth defects. He verbally answered the question of the origin of the blindness, but then demonstrated something which spoke convincingly about His own origins, His legitimacy and His right of inheritance.  Y’shua chose to demonstrate that His saliva contained healing properties, presenting a “catch-22” to those who were His critics. According to the Sages, anyone whose saliva could heal in this way demonstrated by a supernatural revelation of G-d that He was the legitimate first born heir of His Father.

How could His earthly lack of a father, yet the clear demonstration of legitimate inheritance from Above be reconciled?  They could only be reconciled if His statements about His origins were true. The only true Heir of the Father, legitimate and unsullied, the Source of healing and restoration.

The conclusion of the story is both happy and sad.  As with much of mankind, few choose to believe; most will not. The blind man believed, but the doubt expressed by others says they could not reconcile the conflict. "We know that G-d spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is." His origins were still unresolved in their minds. His claim of legitimate inheritance, validated supernaturally by the Father, could not be reconciled with other things their ears had heard and their eyes had seen.   Proclaiming their ability to see clearly, they remained blinded to His person, His nature and His purpose.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Water-Walk III: Leap of Faith

When we are looking for details of the story that don't appear on the surface, a good way to begin is to look for strange or unusual wording which can only be found in the Hebrew text (not in the English) of the passage.  Often Hebrew contains clues to hidden aspects of the story.  As it turns out, there are a couple of sentences in the Red Sea passage that don't seem strange in English, but they look downright odd in Hebrew.  First, before the Sea was split: "...the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold!  Egypt was journeying after them, and they were very frightened; and the children of Israel cried out to the L-RD."
So, what's unusual about this?  They see huge armies of chariots approaching, and they are terrified.  Wouldn't you be?  But there is just one problem.  The text doesn't say they saw the armies or the chariots... or the Egyptians.  The Hebrew text says that they saw "Egypt".  Was this simply a reference to the Egyptian army as a whole, as a unit?  No. 

The wording in Hebrew is singular, not plural, and Hebrew is very specific about these kinds of things.  The text literally says that the people saw some individual thing called "Egypt" coming after them.  Later on in the passage, when G-d is breaking the chariots of the Egyptians,  the Hebrew text clearly refers to an individual when it says, "Egypt said, 'I will flee from before Israel, for the L-RD is waging war for them... against Egypt.'”  Who is speaking here?  Had it been a collection of people, wouldn't they have said, "We will flee..." ?

The Jewish rabbis puzzled over this wording, knowing that since G-d referred to "Egypt" as an individual, there must be some individual representative, someone who was like the embodiment of Egypt.  Based upon other places in the Bible, the rabbis believe that each and every nation on earth has a spiritual representative, an angel (or demon) who stands for that nation and is known as its "prince". 
Thus, they reasoned, Israel "lifted up their eyes" and saw the spiritual being which is Egypt, the demonic "prince of Egypt" coming after them (no relation to the movie).  They were terrified (understandably), and felt that they could not hope to escape the clutches of this demonic being; but Moses told them not to fear even this creature, but to "stand fast and see the salvation of the L-RD".
Now before you roll your eyes and label this legend a 'fable', please remember that the idea of spiritual "princes" over different nations is first mentioned not in the Talmud, but in the Bible, in the book of Daniel.  In chapter 10, Daniel is speaking to an angelic being who has fought against the "prince of the kingdom of Persia" for twenty-one days, and was helped by Micha'el, another angel.
The angel says that once he goes back to fight against the "prince of Persia", the "prince of Greece" will arrive.  Later on, in chapter 12, Micha'el is mentioned again, with the words: "Michael... the great prince which stands for the children of [Israel]".  In other words, Micha'el is Israel's "prince".  Remember, all of this is from the Bible, not something made up by men.

At this point, perhaps the rabbinic interpretation doesn't seem quite so farfetched as it did before.  If you still find it too much to swallow, that's fine.  It is not a prerequisite that you believe this legend, only that you understand that the disciples of Jesus knew of it and would respond accordingly.

According to the rabbinic understanding, this demonic power was finally thrown into the Red Sea by G-d Himself as the Egyptian army was drowned.  The Bible clearly says that the Egyptian army was covered over by the sea: "The water came back and covered the chariots and the horsemen of the entire army of Pharaoh...", yet in the Song at the Sea, it clearly states that G-d "is exalted over the arrogant, having thrown the horse with its rider into the sea."
Again, the wording in Hebrew is decidedly singular.  Whether you believe that this tradition was meant to be taken literally or just as a parable, perhaps you can see a foreshadowing in the casting of this demonic "prince" into the sea, a foreshadowing of the final judgment on the Adversary and his demons when they are cast into the lake of fire.

In any case, it is important to realize that the disciples knew this legend very well, and in the hours, days and even years to come, they would have reflected on their own fears and understood in a unique way what it was like to be at the Red Sea with the unclean spirit of "Egypt" chasing after them. 

And they would well have remembered Y'shua's response to their own fears: "Courage!"  The disciples of Y'shua had read the Exodus account in Hebrew, but they also would have read it in Greek, in the Septuagint.  It translates Moses' words of comfort to the people: "Courage!  Stand firm and see the salvation of the L-RD..."

What about the term, "the salvation of the L-RD"?  Many people read the name "Jesus" (an altered form of the Greek 'Iesous') in their English Bibles, and do not realize that His disciples, His family, even His enemies would have used His Hebrew name, "Y'shua", which does have a literal meaning.  It means "G-d's Salvation" or "G-d Will Save".
In the Bible, Hebrew names had significance in their meaning.  They represented the personality of a person, or their lifelong goals, which is why some people had several names or changed their names after a momentous change in the focus of their lives.
But when translators of the Bible chose not to translate the names, choosing instead to "transliterate" the Hebrew words so that we could hear what they sounded like, it kept us from learning the meaning of the names, and therefore we lost some of the significance of that person's purpose.

This helps to explain the passage in Matthew before Y'shua is born, where the angel is speaking to Joseph, His foster-father.  The angel says, "You shall call His name Y'shua [G-d's Salvation], for He will save His people from their sins."  If we don't understand the meaning of the name, we miss the significance in the angel's proclamation.  But now, we can see that "you shall call His name 'G-d Will Save', for He will save His people from their sins."  It makes perfect sense now.

So, knowing what we do now about the meaning of Y'shua's name, let's summarize the walking on water passage.  The disciples see what they take to be an unclean spirit, and they are frightened.  They immediately received Y'shua's response, "Courage!  It is I."  In other words, "Courage! It is 'G-d's Salvation'."  Also, they would have remembered reading how Moses called out to the people, "Stand fast and see the 'Y'shua' of the L-rd".

What Was Peter Thinking?

After Y'shua reveals Himself to the disciples and calms their fears, we read that “Peter answered Him and said, 'Master, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' So He said, 'Come.' And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Y'shua.”

"But when he saw the mighty wind, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Master, save me!”

And immediately Y'shua stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O little-faith, why did you doubt?”

If you ask most people why Peter got out of the boat in the first place, they will give you answers like, "He was carried away by the emotion of the moment; he was an impulsive guy", or "He wanted to get in on the action; he was a very hands-on individual". In light of the symbolism we have been seeing in this entire episode, is there perhaps another explanation for Peter's behavior? Did he make a mistake, jumping into the middle of things and messing up a perfect foreshadowing Mosaic picture of the coming Messiah, or was his action the most symbolic piece of the entire puzzle?

A Leap of Faith 

To make sense of Peter's actions, we need to look once more at the traditions and legends of the rabbis. In the rabbinic retelling of the Red Sea story, there is a character who figures prominently in the crossing itself, and though the Bible does not mention him in this particular passage, he is a well-respected, somewhat famous individual in certain other passages of Scripture. His name is Nach'shon, son of Aminadav.

The Bible tells us that Nach'shon was the leader of the tribe of Judah, often called the "prince of the tribe of Judah".  No, this is not the same kind of prince that we were talking about earlier, but you need to know that he was held in very high regard and was one of the twelve leaders of the nation under Moses.

The tribe of Judah itself was considered the foremost of the tribes, because Jacob (also known as Israel), the father of all the tribes, had blessed Judah and given him the right of kingship. Judah was officially the royal tribe. Nach'shon was also King David's great-great-great-grandfather, which puts Nach'shon in the direct lineage of Y'shua. In fact, one of the traditional titles that the rabbis gave to the coming Messiah was the "Son of Nach'shon".

According to legend, Nach'shon first became famous at the shore of the Red Sea.  When G-d gave the order to walk into the sea, the waters had not yet parted and solidified (this can easily be verified by reading the Biblical account), and all of the people were afraid to venture forth.
But in the legend, Nach'shon, hearing the command of G-d, immediately ran forward and leaped into the sea.  He didn't care whether the water had yet parted.  G-d had commanded for them to go forth, and he was going forth.  However, as the sea was still in its natural state, he found it difficult to keep above water, and the rabbis quote Psalm 69 as a passage which could be applied to him at that moment: "Save me O G-d, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing... Let not the waterflood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up."
As Nach'shon cried out to G-d for help, Moses received the command from G-d to "stretch out his hand over the sea", so that Nach'shon would be rescued.  "Nach'shon's Leap" became a proverbial expression for bravery and faith, and of obedience to G-d's commands even at the risk of one's life.

Once again, whether you believe this really happened or think it's just an interesting parable, the important thing is that the disciples knew this tradition and believed it, and would see parallels to the events they were going through.

Let us look at this event again with new eyes.  It is conceivable that Peter sees Y'shua walking on the water, and the Red Sea crossing immediately comes to his mind.  He says, "if it is You, command me to come to You on the water".  In his mind, this statement is clear: if Y'shua is the "second Moses", then He should command us to journey forth onto the waves. 

Y'shua commands him to come, and he jumps down out of the boat and starts to walk, not realizing that he may be playing the part of Nach'shon, whose faith was exemplary but whose buoyancy was lacking... Nach'shon who sank before being rescued.  Peter sees the storm and becomes afraid, but holds on to his courage and presses on, and then... horror of horrors! he starts to sink.  We can only imagine what must have gone through his mind in that moment.  "Have I been abandoned?  Does G-d want me to drown? 

Why is He letting this happen to me? Was I wrong to request this?" etc. In his terror and despair, he cries out to Y'shua for help... and immediately, Y'shua "stretches out His hand" and saves him.  As the shock and panic wears off, Peter begins to realize the part he has just played, and his own words and actions fall into perspective as he realizes that his sinking was part of the plan all along. He hears Y'shua say to him, "Why did you doubt?" Peter shakes his head in chagrin, knowing that his faith had indeed faltered as he slipped beneath the waves.

As they climbed into the boat together, the wind ceased, another reminder of the Red Sea.  The disciples bowed down to Y'shua, in so doing, proclaiming their belief that He was the Messiah, the second Moses.  Remember that after the Red Sea crossing, the Bible recorded that "the people believed in Moses". Another parallel.

What time of year did all this happen? John 6:4 provides the answer: "And the Passover, a festival of the Jews, was at hand." Whenever one of G-d's holy festivals was drawing near, everyone studied portions of the Bible that dealt with that particular festival. Furthermore, it has been an established tradition for thousands of years that the passage of the Red Sea crossing is always read during the Passover season. It seems that the disciples were being given the opportunity to witness first hand the crossing of the sea, within a week or two of the Passover celebration and the anniversary of the nation's water-walk.

One Last Piece to the Puzzle: Teleportation

In John 6:21, we read, "Then they willingly received Him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land where they were going." This is an extremely odd event, unless again... we can find something in the disciples' understanding that would point to a Mosaic quality.

The rabbis, looking at the biblical quote where G-d says, "I bore you to me on wings of eagles", have a tradition that G-d supernaturally transported them in an instant out of Egypt, "rapturing" them in a split second away from the Egyptian city of Rameses to the area of Sukkot, where they would begin to journey on their feet, using natural means, before crossing the Red Sea.

The teleportation of the disciples would have been the icing on their cake, completing the comparison of Moses and Messiah in a most profound way.  It would be this and other similar "movie moment" incidents, long after His resurrection and ascension, that would have given them the courage to boldly proclaim Y'shua as the long awaited "Prophet like unto Moses", Messiah and final Redeemer, even to the point of giving up their own lives to do so.

A Challenge

We have looked at the first part of Deuteronomy 18:15 and we have seen that the Messiah will be like unto Moses; but what does the rest of the passage say? "And it will be that anyone who will not hearken to My words which He shall speak in My name, I will require it of him." The voice from Heaven proclaims, "Hearken to Him!"