Torah Answers for Anti-missionaries
A Review of Jewish Commentary on the Messiah (revised)
(Last Update: 8-nov-12 )
The Modern Rabbinic Dilemma
One of the most closely guarded secrets in the modern rabbinic community is the scope and nature of rabbinic comment on the Messiah. A quick glance at our table of contents will explain why: Many of the conclusions attributed to honored sages describe a Messiah embarrassingly similar to the life and claims of Yeshua of Nazareth, known to the Christians as Jesus Christ.
This fact has resulted in many modern rabbinic authorities deliberately downplaying the importance of the Messiah in Jewish faith, denying the centrality accorded Him in the earlier commentaries. But Messianic expectations return periodically, embodied today in movements such as Chabad (who in the early 1990s hailed their rabbi, Menachem Mendel Shneerson, as King Messiah) and the Breslov Hasidim (whose rebbe, Nathan/Nachman of Breslov, claimed to have the same powers as Messiah). These keep the issue of the Messiah alive in the minds of many Jews, and result in inevitable requests for rabbinic lessons on the subject.
Because of the difficulties involved in "protecting" Jewish students from reaching the "wrong" conclusions, the rabbis largely limit their teachings on the Messiah to a relatively few prophecies considered safe because they are not yet fulfilled. Often these "Messiah" courses focus more on debunking Christian interpretations of Tanach, claiming that they fail to deal adequately with the Hebrew of the passages. In this way, they "prove" that the Messiah has not yet come; or that when He does come, He will not be the "Son of G-d" or any of the other things proclaimed in the New Testament. The trump card in any argument over Messianic Scriptures is the superior knowledge of Biblical Hebrew possessed by the rabbinic establishment.
But from our experience, those same teachers tend to discourage questions about Biblical passages that are difficult to steer away from Yeshua precisely because of what the Hebrew implies.
In some rabbinic circles, the entire Tanach is considered a mine field for this reason - and all the more dangerous for those who know Hebrew well enough to study it on their own. A revered Israeli rabbi (now deceased) who once saw a yeshiva student quietly reading the Tanach, sternly warned him that if he persisted in this activity without relying on parshanut (rabbinic interpretation), he would - "chas ve'shalom - end up a Christian." (This was related to us by the yeshiva student himself - whose Tanach study did eventually confirm Yeshua as Messiah, but also reinforced his obligation to remain a Torah-faithful Jew.)
And despite all these precautions, even Talmudic statements and later Midrashim become unavoidably "dangerous" in their implications, as we will show.
This rabbinic dilemma was created partly by sages who lived before the Gentile-Christian era got underway. Their views of Messiah were more like those of the New Testament than the average anti-missionary is prepared to admit; yet these views were formed without influence from Christian pressure, which leaves no valid reason for rejecting them. But what is even more astounding is the volume of rabbinic comment after the organized church began its persecution of the Jews, which (in spite of their official rejection of Him) continued to paint Yeshua's portrait. The disciples of these sages were more interested in faithful preservation of their teachers' works than in the possible impact on church-synagogue controversies.
For example, rabbinic opinion on Isaiah 53 as speaking of the Messiah remained unanimous as late as the 6th century CE, and rabbis who upheld it as the majority opinion (against a rising current of rejection) can be found as late as the 16th century (see below). The fact that some still affirmed the Messianic theme of Isaiah 53, even during periods when they were harassed and abused for "rejecting Christ", is a tribute to the faithfulness of these rabbis to the light which they did see.
We might speculate that not only will Moses rise up and accuse those who professed to be his disciples while denying his words (John 5:45-46) - but perhaps so also will those earlier teachers of Torah who rightly discerned the character of the Messiah, and to whom the modern rabbinic community professes allegiance while denying their teachings.
Following are representative comments from rabbinic sources on the Messiah which clearly describe Yeshua or support His claims about Himself. Some of our sources and dates are drawn from the research of the late Dr. Raphael Patai, an Israeli scholar who apparently regarded the Messiah as nothing more than a remarkably powerful legend, but who (perhaps because of his detachment) assembled an unparalleled collection of rabbinic commentary on the subject. Patai's book, The Messiah Texts, first printed in 1979 (Avon Books), went out of print for several years. We are happy to report that it is now back in print (Wayne State U Press, 1986) and is available on Amazon .
Our Goals, Motives and Methods
In this work, we seek to simply lay the Jewish sources on the table for consideration by serious Torah students and their teachers. We especially hope it will be read by anti-missionaries and by those who have studied with anti-missionaries. Whether their teaching about Messiah confirmed what you always thought, or gave you doubts about what you once thought, the truth presented here will free you to make a fully informed decision.
A word to our brethren in the faith: You should understand that the goal of his collection is NOT to provide you with a blunt instrument for winning arguments with religious Jews. Rather, we hope you yourself will derive confidence, compassion and hope from the evidence:
NOTE: This research uses Jewish rather than Christian methods of reading and interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures. For readers who are not familiar with the difference, or who are not used to rabbinic methods of interpretation, we strongly recommend first reading our primer article, "How to Read Torah Through Jewish Eyes", before proceeding. The English translations of Scripture that appear here are sometimes drawn from standard Bible translations, but in many cases we have revised them and/or added alternate readings in order to convey the Hebrew meaning(s) more completely.
What's different in this version of "Jewish Commentary on the Messiah"? The previous version, posted at RZ for most of 2012, had been compiled after more than 4 years of research. Since that time, free-access manuscript libraries have appeared online, supplying Hebrew sources for the rabbinic quotes we had found in English only. This update includes a revision of earlier quotes to reflect the Hebrew more accurately, added details where English sources had left out valuable context, and some completely new material (freely translated to English). We have also deleted some quotes which we failed to locate in Hebrew. Readers of Hebrew are invited to click on the links to view the original sources for themselves. Our rendering of passages from the Babylonian Talmud (BT) can be also compared with the Soncino English translation, accessible here. Large parts of the Mishna can be found here, in Hebrew and English.
We have done our utmost to check the accuracy of all information presented here. Anyone who sends us Hebrew documentation of an error on our part will receive our thanks, regardless of which side of the Yeshua Divide they represent.
Contents for Quick Reference
1. The Pre-existence of Messiah, Son of David.
1A. Messiah, Son of David, but greater than David.
1B. Messiah, Son of Abraham, but greater than Abraham.
2. The Messiah is equal with G-d Himself in name, honor and saving power.
2A. G-d Himself will dwell with man.
3. Messiah as Son of G-d and Son of Man.
4. The Messiah who suffers for our sin.
4A. By His righteousness, Messiah's suffering removes our sin and makes us righteous.
4B. Messiah's atonement covers all mankind in every age.
4C. The Messiah and the Binding of Isaac.
4D. The Suffering Messiah - Ben Yosef / Ephraim, or Ben David?
5. The Messiah will crush Satan, redeem us from spiritual slavery, and preserve us for G-d.
6. Waiting for the Messiah: Where and When?
6A. "And even though He should delay..."
6B. Events mentioned in the Talmud that coincide with Yeshua's death.
6C. The Significance of 40-Year Periods.
7. Why the Destruction in 70 CE? Rabbinic answers for Churban Ha-Bayit.
7A. Rabbinic Errors Concerning the Messiah, and Their Consequences.
8. Messiah brought forth, hidden, and returned.
9. The Messiah will be rejected before He is hidden.
9A. Messiah hidden at the Right Hand of G-d.
9B. Messiah revealed - when and how?
10. The Days of the Messiah - New Covenant, New Priest, New Torah.
10A. The Days of the Messiah - Resurrection, Judgment, the Unity of G-d.
1. The Pre-existence of Messiah, Son of David.
ואתה בית-לחם אפרתה צעיר להיות באלפי יהודה ממך לי יצא להיות מושל בישראל ומוצאתיו :מקדם מימי עולם: לכן יתנם עד-עת יולדה ילדה ויתר אחיו ישובון על-בני ישראל
And you, Bethlehem toward Ephrat, young to be among the thousands [or, champions] of Judah, from you one will go out to [or, for] Me, to be a ruler in Israel; and his goings out [or, origins] are from ancient time, from days of old. Therefore he will give them [up], until the time when she who travails has brought forth; then the remnant of his brethren shall return to [or, upon] the children of Israel. Micah 5:1-2 (Heb. numbering)
This is used in Talmud and Midrash as a reference to Messiah the son of David (Yoma 10a, Sanh. 98b, Song of Songs Raba VII.14, I). Rashi, in his comment on this verse, also applied Ps.118:22 to Messiah son of David: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." Centuries before Rashi, the New Testament pointed out this connection over and over again (Matt.21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, Acts 4:11, 1 Pet.2:7).
Since this is about Messiah, what does it mean that "his goings out are from ancient time, from days of old"? Does it mean that somehow Messiah existed before David?
The same Hebrew word for "from ancient time" (mi-kedem) is found in Genesis, where it is translated "eastward":
:ויטע ה' אלהים גן-בעדן מקדם וישם שם את-האדם אשר יצר
And the L-rd God planted a garden in Eden mi-kedem, and placed there the man that he had made. - Gen. 2:8
Because of the use of mi-kedem, the Talmud teaches that the Garden of Eden was one of the seven things created before the world (Ned. 39b). To say from the verses in Micah that Messiah's goings forth were "Eastward"' would not make sense, since it is stated in the same place that he would come out of Bethlehem; so this would imply that Messiah's goings out began before the creation of the world. But if he is descended from David, how could that be?
In fact, it was not only taught by the rabbis that the Messiah existed before creation, but that He (in spirit form) actively participated in it:
R. Shim'on ben Laqish explained: ורוח אלהים מרחפת על-פני המים -- 'And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water' (Gen. 1:2) - this is the spirit of King Messiah, as it is written, 'ונחה עליו רוח ה -- 'And the spirit of the L-rd will rest upon him' (Isa. 11:2). - Gen. Rab. Parashat Beresheet 2:4
The idea of Messiah working with (or possibly, as) the Spirit of G-d at creation is reinforced in Isaiah, which we will examine later. It is also reinforced by this rabbinic declaration, which repeats the above connection with Isaiah 11:2, and goes on to add:
From the beginning of the creation of the world, King Messiah was born; for He arose in the thought [of G-d], at a time when the world was not even created. Indeed he [Isaiah] says: ויצא חוטר מגזע ישי -- 'And a rod came forth from the root of Jesse' (Isa.11:1); he does not say here 'and he will come forth,' but rather 'and he came forth'. - Pesiqta Rabbati 152a
The Midrash becomes more insistent, repeating the above statement and adding, "From the beginning of the creation of the world, King Messiah was." This necessarily implies that He predates the creation of the world. Thus we have a clear rabbinic explanation for the identity of the One to whom G-d said:
...ויאמר אלהים נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו
And G-d said, 'We will make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...' (Gen. 1:26)
In other places, the sages equated the Messiah with the "Light" of G-d; that is, the spiritual emanation by which we "see" (comprehend) the invisible Eternal One:
[Quoting Isaiah 60:1:] 'קומי אורי כי בא אורך וכבוד ה' עליך זרח - Arise and shine, for your Light has come; the glory of G-d has risen upon you....' What does this mean [Ps.36:9, 10 in Heb.]: ' באורך נראה אור - In Your Light [O G-d] we see light'? Which Light? That which the congregation of Israel awaits. This is the Light of Messiah, as it says [Gen.1:4], ' וירא אלהים את-האור כי-טוב - And God saw the Light, that it was good.' - Pesiqta Rabbati 161a
1A. Messiah, Son of David, but greater than David.
According to R. Papa, Messiah the son of David will be greater in rank than his ancestor, and by implication will be served by him, citing Psalm 110:
לדוד מזמור נאם ה' לאדוני שב לימיני עד-אשית איביך הדם לרגליך: מטה-עזך ישלח ה' מציון :רדה בקרב איביך
A Psalm of David: The L-rd said to my [David's] Lord, 'Sit at My right [hand], until I make your enemies the footstool for your feet.' The L-rd shall send the sceptre of your might from Zion: rule in the midst of [or, within] your enemies. Ps. 110:1-2
Yeshua of Nazareth arrived at the same conclusion from the same passage, and then proceeded to ask, "If David called him [the Messiah] 'Lord', how is he his son?" (Matt. 22:42-45)
A son is required by the Law to fear and honor his parents, which in the Oral Law is understood to include both obedience and service. But in the case of Messiah and David, it seems that the relationship is reversed, as if Messiah were actually the ancestor of David. (That this passage was accepted rabbinically as pertaining to the Messiah is shown later in this chapter.)
The Messiah is also related to David in this way:
והקמתי לדוד צמח צדיק
אצמיח לדוד צמח צדקה
I will raise to David a righteous shoot... I will cause an offshoot of righteousness to grow up for David. Jer. 23:5, 33:15
This indicates that Messiah is to be descended from David. However, Isaiah also calls him "the root of Jesse [David's father]":
:והיה ביום ההוא שרש ישי אשר עמד לנס עמים אליו גוים ידרשו והיתה מנחתו כבוד
And there shall be in that day a root of Jesse standing for a banner of the peoples, to him shall nations seek; and his rest shall be glory. - Isaiah 11:10
This "root", as we saw above, is identified in Genesis Rabbah and Pesiqta Rabbati as the royal Messiah. But how can it be that Messiah is both an offshoot of David (i.e., his descendant), and also the root of Jesse (i.e., an ancestor of David's father)? He must have existed in some other form before His entry into David's line.
1B. Messiah, Son of Abraham, but greater than Abraham.
Yeshua's accusers wanted to stone Him for claiming to be greater than Abraham (Jn. 8:53-59). Yet, rabbinic teaching indeed elevates the Messiah above Abraham:
'A song of ascents: ' שיר למעלות אשא עיני אל ההרים וגו - 'I will lift up my eyes to the mountains' etc (Ps.121). It is written, מי אתה הר-הגדול לפני זרבבל למישר -- 'Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel [you are] as a flat plain' (Zech. 4:7). What does it mean, 'Who are you, great mountain?' This is Messiah Son of David. And why does he call him 'great mountain'? Because he is greater than the Fathers... loftier than Abraham... more elevated than Moses... and higher than the ministering angels.... And from whom will he issue? From Zerubbabel. - Mid. Tanhuma, Parashat Toldot, chp.27:14
Therefore, we must assume that Yeshua was not about to be stoned for declaring the Messiah to be greater than Abraham, but for implying that He was that greater One.
We should also note here that Yeshua's lineage, through both mother and adoptive father, is traced back to David through Zerubbabel (Matt. 1:12; Luke 3:27). Rabbinic opinion that the Messiah would be a descendant of Zerubbabel is probably derived from the rest of above-mentioned verse in Zechariah:
...והוציא את-האבן הראשה
And he [Zerubbabel] will bring forth the head stone....
2. The Messiah is equal with G-d Himself in name, honor and saving power.
When the Pharisees protested to Yeshua that He was making Himself equal with G-d, a charge worthy of stoning (Jn. 10:33), it was not, as is concluded today in both Jewish and Christian circles, because they saw the Messiah as only a man. On the contrary, their exact words ("...because you, being a man, make yourself G-d") show that they saw Yeshua as only a man. In another passage, the people who argued against Yeshua again contrasted the Messiah with the mere "man" they supposed Yeshua to be (Jn. 7:27). These clues go unnoticed because of the truncated Messiah presented in modern Judaism.
Historically, rabbinic commentators freely bestowed titles on the Messiah which are reserved for G-d alone, citing key Scriptures for support. This tradition still survives in some circles; for example, the Bretslav Hasidim, who honor their rabbi and founder Reb Nachman as Messiah, refer to him in their literature as רבנו הקדוש והנורא -- "Rebbenu Hakadosh veHanorah" ("the Holy and Awesome One"), a description of G-d in Scripture (see Ps. 111:9) and in rabbinic prayers.
In fact, given the rabbinic tradition of the Messiah carrying G-d's own Name and glory, Yeshua's identification as the submissive Son of G-d was actually modest in comparison, a point which He made in His defense (Jn. 10:34-38).
His answer to the Jewish leaders (v. 35) hints that there may have even been a tradition to designate anyone to whom the Word of G-d came by the title of "God". This is reflected in the Psalm He quoted to them:
:אני-אמרתי אלהים אתם ובני עליון כלכם
I [G-d] said, 'You are God and sons of the Most High, all of you.' - Ps. 82:6
While it is true that "Elohim" can also mean "judges", and probably does mean that (because of the context), here it simultaneously means "God" since it is paired with "sons of the Most High". Note that this is applied to mere men - ironically the equivalence for which the Pharisees wanted to stone Yeshua.
Using the rabbinic logic of "kal ve'homer", He pointed out to them (Jn. 10:35-38) that if those "to whom the word of G-d came" (the "congregation of God" -- עדת-אל -- Ps. 82:1) merited this title, even while being disobedient to that word (see context), how much more a Son who was faithful in doing His Father's works?
Rabbi Joseph Albo (14th-15th c.) noted that other beings who carried the authority of G-d were identified and spoken to as though to G-d Himself, such as the Angel who spoke to Gideon (Judges 6:12-17) and the "Word" who spoke to Elijah (1 Kings 19:9-10). In fact, even manmade objects like the Ark of the Covenant were able to carry G-d's holy Name. R. Albo insisted that the Ark was actually called "G-d" by Moses, and was called "Lord of the whole earth" by Joshua (Num.10:35-36 and Josh.3:11 respectively); "For thus is the way of language, to call the thing by the name of the thing’s Owner, or by Him who drew the thing out from Himself."
What distinguished this position from idolatry, according to R. Albo, was the recognition that to speak to the thing bearing G-d's Name was the same as speaking to G-d Himself:
And this, being the thing presented to the senses to shed light on the hidden Thing not presented, is called “the face of G-d” and “the glory of G-d”. And from here the Prophets allowed themselves to label the thing that appeared to them with the Name of that which was hidden and invisible, namely G-d - to the point where they spoke with the Angel or the Glory visible to them as if they were speaking with the Blessed Hashem....
And there is no doubt [in this matter], for Elijah had no confusion in thinking that he was speaking with Him [G-d] in the beginning, for He [the Word] said to him [1 Kings 19:11]: 'צא ועמדת בהר לפני ה - 'Go and stand on the mountain before G-d'; and nevertheless, he spoke with Him as if speaking with HaShem, and said [v.10]: כי עזבו בריתך בני ישראל - 'For the sons of Israel have left Your covenant.'....
Our rabbis of blessed memory hinted: 'Great is the strength of the Prophets who likened the created being to its Creator' (Gen. Rab. 27). That is, great is their strength in that they allowed themselves to do such a great thing. - Sefer Ha-Ikarim, Part 2, Chap.28
Correspondingly "great is the strength" of the apostle John's testimony that Yeshua made the invisible G-d accessible to Israel, which made it appropriate to also call Him "G-d":
No man has seen G-d at any time; the only begotten G-d, the Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has made Him known [or, declared Him]. - Jn.1:18 (see also Jn.6:46)
Paul held the same view: one G-d who is invisible and infinite, and one perfect visible presentation of Him - teaching this to both Jews and Gentiles (Col.1:15, 1 Tim.2:5, 1 Tim.6:16). Likewise when the doubting Thomas looked in wonder at the risen Yeshua and called Him, "my Lord and my G-d" (Jn.20:28), idolatry was the farthest thing from his mind. As a Jew, he simply realized that the One submitting to his sense of sight and touch was there for the express purpose of presenting the hidden, invisible G-d of Israel to him; therefore, this One ought to be called by the Name of Him who drew him out from Himself.
Based on the Hebrew of Psalm 72, the Talmud also says that Messiah's name was one of the seven things created before the world:
It was taught: 'Seven things were created before the world: namely, the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna [Hell], the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah. ...The name of the Messiah, as it is written, יהי שמו לעולם לפני שמש ינין שמו -- "His name shall endure forever, and may his name blossom before the sun" (Ps. 72:17).' - BT Pesachim 54a
The word "yanin" (changed for public reading to ינון / "yinnon") is found nowhere else in Scripture. From this, a tradition arose that Messiah's name would be Yinnon, quoted by Rashi and others.
The rest of Ps. 72:17 prophesies that this King Messiah will be embraced by the Gentiles:
:יהי שמו לעולם לפני שמש ינין שמו ויתברכו בו כל-גוים יאשרוהו
His name shall endure forever, and may his name blossom before the sun, and in Him all nations will bless themselves [and] will make Him happy [or, blessed].
And based on the use of "nin" as offspring (נין ונכד -- as in Isaiah 14:22), a better reading of the unpointed Hebrew might be:
...before the sun His Name will beget offspring...
This reading helps us understand the Torah/rabbinic basis for the apostles' teaching that the redeemed of G-d, including both Jews and Gentiles, were chosen as sons of G-d "before the foundation of the world" (see for example Eph.1:4-5). We will examine similar evidence below.
As Creator, G-d also has a personal Name which necessarily precedes His creation. If the Torah was created before the world, then the unspoken Name of G-d ("yud=hay=vav=hay", the Tetragrammaton), which is included in Torah, must also have existed before the world. According to several famous rabbis, this very special name was the name of Messiah referred to above in Psalm 72, which was created "before the sun":
R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Johanan: 'Three were called by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, and they are the following: The righteous, the Messiah, and Jerusalem. ...[As regards] the Messiah, it is written: וזה-שמו אשר-יקראו ה' צדקנו -- "And this is the name whereby he shall be called: 'the L-rd [Tetragrammaton] our righteousness'" (Jer. 23:6).' - Baba Bathra 75b
What is the name of King Messiah? R. Abba b. Kahana said: 'His name is "the L-rd" [the Tetragrammaton]; as it is stated, וזה-שמו אשר-יקראו ה' צדקנו -- "And this is the name whereby he shall be called, 'The L-rd our righteousness'" (Jer. 23:6).' For R. Levi said: 'It is good for a province when its name is identical with that of its king, and the name of its king identical with that of its God... As it is stated, "And this is the name whereby he shall be called, 'The L-rd [is] our righteousness'" (Jer. 23:6).' - Lamentations Rabba 1:16
So this Name, which existed before the world, before the Torah, was known by the rabbis to also be the Name of Messiah. Listing it separately, along with the Torah, as one of the seven things created before the world, would mean that before creation it was established that Messiah would be called by that Name.
Incidently, this indicates a need among Yeshua's disciples to become more mature in their understanding of the term: "the Name of Yeshua". Notice that this is not simply the name "Yeshua" as is often assumed. It refers to His Father's Name, which He gave to Yeshua. That it is this Name which has the authority (and not Yeshua's own name) was confirmed by Yeshua Himself (Jn.5:43, 17:11-12), and by Paul (Phil.2:9, where "the Name above every name" is a Jewish euphemism for the Tetragrammaton). So when Paul writes (v.10): "...that at the Name of Yeshua every knee should bow..." he is referring to the Name "of [belonging to, bestowed upon] Yeshua" in the previous verse. Paul knew full well that "every knee should bow" to G-d alone (see Rom.14:11, quoting Isa.45:23). This is why he says that bowing at the Name which Yeshua bears will add "to the glory of G-d the Father" (v.11).
The above passage in the New Testament book of Philippians is a major stumblingblock to many Torah-observant Jews, who are offended at the idea of bowing to Yeshua. And yet, if Messiah will be called by the Tetragrammaton, the Holy Name, in what way should He be honored? According to an interpretation of Jeremiah 30:9 attributed to Rav, He will be honored with the same service which is rendered to G-d:
Rav Judah said in Rav's name: 'The Holy One, blessed be He, will raise up another David for them, as it is written, :ועבדו את ה' אלהיהם ואת דוד מלכם אשר אקים להם -- "But they shall serve the Lord their G-d, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them" (Jer. 30:9): not "I raised up", but "I will raise up" is said [implying Messiah, rather than David himself].'
R. Papa said to Abaye: 'But it is written, ועבדי דוד מלך עליהם...ודוד עבדי נשיא להם לעולם -- [the second time saying] "And my servant David shall be their prince forever" (Ezek 37:25), ["nasi", a lower title than king]' - [so the solution is] the second [David] would be an emperor, and the former [David] a viceroy. - BT Sanhedrin 98b (with notes from the Soncino English translation)
According to Rav's interpretation, the single verb in Jer.30:9, "and they served" (ועבדו) refers to serving both G-d and Messiah. When used with G-d as its object, this Hebrew verb is understood by the rabbis to denote the worship of G-d. Messiah, therefore, not only bears G-d's name, he also receives G-d's worship.
In comparing King David's essence with that of the Messiah, the Chabad Hassidim teach:
The essence of Moshiach is the same as the essence of G-d. While King David also lives an everlasting life, his life comes only from the world of Atzilus [the highest level of Creation], whereas the life of Moshiach comes from the essence of G-d Himself. [citing the Lubavitcher Mitteler Rebbe (1773-1827) and others]
There are other names of G-d which the rabbis have assigned to the Messiah:
The Messiah is called by eight names: 'Yinnon [Continuing], Tsemach [Sprout], Pele [Miracle], Yo'etz [Counselor], Mashiach [Anointed], El [God], Gibbor [Hero], and Avi 'Ad Shalom [Eternal Father of Peace]'. - Midrash Mishle (with English notes by ed. S. Buber)
Of these names, five were taken from Isaiah 9:6 (verse 5 in Hebrew), at least two of which are appropriate for G-d alone. When we read this verse itself in its original form without the later punctuation, and therefore without arbitrary division between the names, we see other possible names of G-d for the Messiah, especially in light of other Scriptures:
:כי-ילד ילד-לנו בן נתן-לנו ותהי המשרה על-שכמו ויקרא שמו פלא יועץ אל גבור אבי-עד שר-שלום
For a child is [or, will be] born to us, a son is given [or, He gave] to us, and the government was on his shoulder, and his name was called: 'Wonder [or, Wonderful - comp. Judges 13:18, 22] Counselor [or, Wonderful in Counseling - comp. Heb. of Isa. 28:29] God Mighty One [or, Mighty God; or, Counselor of Mighty God - comp. Isa. 40:13] Father-Everlasting [or, Father of Forever]; Prince of Peace'. - Isa. 9:6
The author of Targum Jonathan (7th cent. CE Aramaic commentary) paraphrases the above Isaiah passage in this way:
' And there was called his name from of old: Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty G-d, He who lives forever,' the Messiah in whose days peace shall increase.
There is a passage in Exodus Rabbah (11th cent. CE) in which several verses are brought together, each of which seems to indicate that G-d, in saving His people, will Himself be saved. The author interprets them as references to G-d's presence with Israel in their time of trouble, and that He will be "saved" together with them:
G-d said to Israel: 'If you have no merit, then I will do it for My own sake; for, as it were, all the time that you are there in trouble, I am with you,' for it says, עמו-אנכי בצרה -- 'I will be with him in trouble' (Ps. 91:15). [Then He said,] 'I will now redeem Myself,' for it says, וירא כי-אין איש וישתומם כי אין מפגיע ותושע לו זרעו -- 'And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no intercessor; therefore his own Arm was saved for Him' (Is. 59:16). Again: גילי מאד בת-ציון הריעי בת ירושלים הנה מלכך יבוא לך צדיק ונושע הוא -- 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king comes to you, he is righteous and saved' (Zech. 9:9).
It does not say 'moshia' [saving], but 'nosha' [is/was saved], thus implying that even if you have no good deeds to your credit, G-d will bring salvation for His own sake, as it says, כי קרובה ישועתי לבוא -- 'For My salvation [yeshuati] is near to come.' [quoting Isa.56:1] - Exodus Rabba XXX:24
Zechariah 9:9, which is quoted here, is recognized as such an obvious reference to the Messiah that it is used to refute the opinion of Rabbi Hillel (who stated that Hezekiah had been the promised Messiah, so there would be no future one):
R. Joseph said: May God forgive him [for saying so]. Now, when did Hezekiah flourish? During the first Temple. Yet Zechariah, prophesying in the days of the second, proclaimed, [quoting Zech.9:9]. - Sanhedrin 99a
The same reliance on this passage appears in Genesis Rabbah LXXV.6, XCVIII.9, Ecclesiastes Rabbah I.9#1, and other places. All of these predate Exodus Rabbah by anywhere from three to seven centuries (cf. intro. to Exodus R. in the Soncino English edition).
Now, in the Exodus Rabbah passage quoted above, the author understands that the King is G-d, who Himself is "being saved" (this explanation is also in the footnote of the Soncino English translation). It appears that there is an explicit identification here between G-d and the Messiah; and that Messiah in this verse is parallel to G-d's "arm", which brought Him salvation, in the previous verse, Isaiah 59:16. There the L-rd's "arm" is not a man, for the verse starts by saying that "He saw that there was no man...."
The Arm of the L-rd ("Zeroah HaShem") is the dominant name in Isaiah 53 as well (v.1):
:מי האמין לשמעתנו וזרוע ה' על-מי נגלתה
Who has believed our report; and the arm of G-d, upon whom was it revealed?
We will see later that this chapter was unanimously agreed by early rabbinic authorities to describe the Messiah.
We find a similar identification of Messiah and G-d made in Song of Songs Rabbah:
So in the time to come the prophets will come and say to Jerusalem, 'Your sons come from far' (Isa. 60:4), and she will reply, 'What is that to me?' When they say, 'And your daughters are borne on the side' (ibid.), she will say, 'What is that to me?' But when they will say to her, הנה מלכך יבוא לך צדיק ונושע הוא -- 'Behold, your king comes to you, he is triumphant, and victorious' (Zech. 9:9), she will say, 'This is a real joy,' As it is written, גילי מאד בת-ציון -- 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion' (ibid.), and it is also written, רוני ושמחי בת-ציון -- 'Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion' (Zech. 2:14). At that moment she will say, 'שוש אשיש בה' תגל נפשי באלהי -- 'I will greatly rejoice in the L-rd [Tetragrammaton], my soul shall be joyful in my God' (Is. 61:10). - Song of Songs Rabba I.4#2
In this passage referred to above (Zech. 2:14-15, v.10-11 in the English translations), there is another inclusion of the Gentiles, and also an explicit, paradoxical and complete identification of the Messiah with G-d:
רני ושמחי בת-ציון כי הנני בא ושכנתי בתוכך נאם-ה' ונלוו גוים רבים אל-ה' ביום ההוא והיו לי :לעם ושכנתי בתוכך וידעת כי-ה' צבאות שלחני אליך
'Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for lo I come, and I will dwell in the midst of [or, among] you,' says the L-rd. 'And many nations shall join themselves to the L-rd on that day, and shall be a people to Me: and I will dwell in the midst of [or, among] you, and you shall know that the L-rd of Hosts has sent Me to you.'" - Zech.2:10-11 (v.14-15 in Heb.)
The phenomenon of G-d identifying the Savior also as G-d appears elsewhere in Tanach:
כי לא אוסיף עוד ארחם את-בית ישראל כי-נשא אשא להם ואת-בית יהודה ארחם והושעתים בה' אלהיהם
For I will not yet again have compassion with the house of Israel, but I will surely carry them; and with the house of Judah I will have compassion, and I will save them in [or, by] the L-rd their God. - Hos.1:6-7
כי כה אמר ה' צבאות אחר כבוד שלחני אל-הגוים השללים אתכם כי הנגע בכם נגע בבבת עינו כי הנני מניף את-ידי עליהם והיו שלל לעבדיהם וידעתם כי-ה' צבאות שלחני
For thus says the L-rd of Hosts, after glory He has sent Me to the nations who plunder you; for he who touches you touches the pupil of My eye. For behold I wave My hand over them, and they shall be plunder for their slaves, and you shall know that the L-rd of Hosts has sent Me. - Zech.2:8-9 (v.12-13 in Heb.)
The same identification surfaces in Isaiah, and adds two dimensions: Messiah's pre-existence and His association with the Spirit of G-d:
:קרבו אלי שמעו-זאת לא מראש בסתר דברתי מעת היותה שם אני ועתה אדני ה' שלחני ורוחו
Draw near and hear this [or, they drew near, they heard this]: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time of its being I am there; and now My Lord G-d has sent Me and His Spirit. - Isa. 48:16
2A. G-d Himself will dwell with man.
The verses just quoted appear to say that G-d has sent Himself in a form (or two forms) that can actually dwell with men. Such expressions are understood by many rabbis to be referring to the Shekhinah (שכינה -- a form of the verb "to dwell"), a visible representation of G-d's presence which is not the totality of G-d Himself, but is addressed as though it were Him.
The incidents most often referred to as the Shekhinah were "G-d appearing" to Moses in the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, and in the Tabernacle (Enc. Jud. vol.14, p.1350-1). Sometimes these appearances had what seemed to be a body similar to ours, but sometimes there was only a cloud or a pillar of fire. In every case, what was seen or heard is understood by the rabbis to be provided by G-d for the benefit of the human witness; and although it may be suggestive of something in G-d's nature, no form or sound can be understood to be properly G-d, since these are created phenomena, and He is the Creator.
However, a created being who carried G-d's Name also carried His full authority and was to be obeyed as G-d Himself; two examples are the Angel sent to lead Israel into the Land (Exod. 23:20-23) and the Prophet like Moses who would come after him (Deut. 18:18-19).
Moses (in Suk. 28a) and David (in Pes. 117a) are described as having had the Shekhinah rest on them, on David for the purpose of writing the Psalms. Since Messiah is to be greater than David (Sanh. 98b on Jer. 30:9 and Ezek. 37:25), even though descended from him; and since, as we have seen, Messiah will be called by G-d's name (which Moses and David were not); and honored with the kind of service rendered to G-d (which Moses and David were not); it follows that Messiah's relation to the Shekhinah will be greater than that of either Moses or David.
Therefore those prophecies about Messiah which indicate that He existed before David, or that He represents G-d, or that He is possessed of a singular righteousness, refer to the Shekhinah in Him; and those prophecies which speak of him as David's descendant speak of his physical ancestry. The Messiah as portrayed in Tanach would be a union of the Shekhinah and man in some greater way than were any of the prophets.
The idea of the Shekhinah uniting G-d's Life with a physical seed in the womb of a virgin is without precedent, but it would be wrong to say that the rabbis did not acknowledge the ability of G-d to perform such a supernatural act. Contrary to the claims of most rabbinic authorities today, Isaiah 7:14 was understood to predict a significant birth whereby G-d Himself would dwell with man.
:לכן יתן אדני הוא לכם אות הנה העלמה הרה וילדת בן וקראת שמו עמנו אל
Therefore the Lord [or, my Lord] Himself will give a sign to you: behold the young girl became pregnant and she births a son and calls his name 'God with us'.
Rashi (1040-1105 CE) stated about this verse:
'Behold the almah [young woman or virgin] shall conceive and have a son and shall call his name Immanuel' (Isa. 7:14). 'Immanuel' - This means that our Rock will be with us. And this is the sign: that she [the one who will conceive] is a girl who never in her life has prophesied. Upon this one shall the Holy Spirit have power. And this is the one of whom it is said below [Isa.8:3], 'And I went into the prophetess' etc; we do not find the wife of a prophet called a prophetess unless she also prophesied. - Mikraot Gedalot , Isa. 7:14
The usual rabbinic teaching is that the woman in this verse was not a virgin (although almah allows for it), and that the child was Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. According to the Talmud (Sanh.98b-99a), the latter was the opinion of the great Rabbi Hillel; it caused him to conclude that there would be no Messiah for Israel in the future, since he had already come (an opinion flatly rejected in the Talmudic passage). This would make the "Immanuel" prophecy only a prediction to comfort Ahaz, by giving a time limit for the fall of two aggressive kings. But Rashi, in the above commentary, rejected the Hezekiah hypothesis based on the fact that he was born 9 years before the reign of his father Ahaz even began, whereas the prophecy speaks to King Ahaz of the future.
Rashi also insisted that there was a more notable "sign" here, a result of direct involvement by G-d with the woman. He concluded that the Holy Spirit's power on the mother would cause her to prophesy for the first time in her life. Following the rabbinic principle of "kal ve-homer", how much greater would be the effect of such power on the child who is the focus of the prophecy? Yet we do not find a record of the birth or activity of anyone named Immanuel in the Prophets, either during Ahaz's time or afterward.We note that an alternate version of Rashi's comment is circulating, which has "hitavra" (never "had intercourse") instead of "hitnavet" (never "prophesied"); only the latter version is accepted by today's sages. This should not be confused with the better-known Jewish objection regarding the translation of "almah", which even Jewish translators have rendered as "virgin" in less controversial passages (see the Harkavy Bible, Hebrew Publishing Co., 1951 - Gen. 24:43, Song of Songs 1:3 and 6:8, and the Jerusalem Bible, Koren Publishers, 1983 - Song of Songs 1:3).
Regardless, Rashi made the translation dispute unnecessary by adding: "And some interpret that this is the sign: that she was a young girl [‘almah'] and she was unfit to give birth (ואינה ראויה לולד).” This closing comment is generally censored by anti-missionaries. It implies that the "sign" overcame a natural barrier to her bearing children, a barrier communicated by the description "almah". Unless we are prepared to interpret "ואינה ראויה לולד" as a moral judgment (i.e. that this girl who was worthy to be a prophetess was somehow unworthy to be a mother), we must assume that it was improper for her to give birth only because she was too young. This implies that marriage and intercourse were improper for her age as well. So regardless of how "almah" is translated, the girl was assumed a virgin in Rashi's day.
As if in unwilling confirmation, we have a curious statement from Maimonides:
If you said to a person among those ranked as the wise men of Israel that G-d sends an angel, enters the womb of the woman and forms there the fetus; the matter would receive his favor and acceptance. He sees that this is greatness and power on the part of G-d, and surpassing wisdom - even though he believes that the angel consists of burning fire, and his size is fully a third part of the entire world, yet it will seem to him that all of this possible when it comes to G-d. - Moreh Nevochim, Part II, Ch.VI (translated from the Hebrew version; go here to compare Dr. M. Friedlander's 1904 translation, p.270.)
Rambam scorned such faith in G-d's power; he began this comment with: "How severe is the blindness of the fools...." He himself believed that "natural forces and angels are identical." Still, his use of this example (of all things!) hints at the existence of "wise men of Israel" in his day who could entertain the idea of G-d bypassing the natural conception process and forming a fetus within a woman by a Divine act. Since Isaiah 7:14 is the only reference in Tanach to such a possibility, we may assume Rambam's ridicule was a frustrated response to rabbis who expected Immanuel to be born via a miraculous birth.
Dr. Friedlander, a Jewish authority and English translator of Rambam's original (Arabic) work, wrote about the rabbinic opposition to Rambam's position as soon as it became available in Hebrew: "The Guide delighted many, but it also met with much adverse criticism on account of the peculiar views held by Maimonides concerning angels, prophecy, and miracles", a controversy which continued to "divide the community" long after Rambam's death. (p.20 in the above work)
3. Messiah as Son of G-d and Son of Man.
Yeshua claimed that G-d was his Father in a way that few rabbis have been willing to accept as anything but blasphemous. However, if he actually was a combination of the Shekhinah and a body with Davidic ancestry, it would fit well with the prophecies we have been examining so far, and also with their rabbinic interpretations. The title "Son of G-d" for such a person would be just as appropriate as "Son of David."
In fact, the admonition in Proverbs would seem to chide anyone who claims to be wise and yet does not know that G-d has a Son:
כי בער אנכי מאיש ולא-בינת אדם לי: ולא-למדתי חכמה ודעת קדשים אדע: מי עלה-שמים וירד מי אסף-רוח בחפניו מי צרר-מים בשמלה מי הקים כל-אפסי-ארץ מה-שמו ומה-שם-בנו כי תדע
For I am more stupid [or, foolish] than a man, and I do not have the understanding of a man, and I did not learn wisdom, and [yet] the knowledge of holy things I will know: Who went up to heaven and came down? Who gathered wind [or, spirit] in His fists? Who bound together water in a garment? Who established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son's name? For you will know. - Prov. 30:2-4
Other rabbinic comments identify the Son of G-d in Psalm 2 as the Messiah:
Our rabbis have learned: 'Messiah, the Son of David, may he be revealed soon in our lifetime - the Holy One, Blessed be He, says to him, "Ask anything of Me, and I will grant it to you," as it is said, אספרה אל חק ה' אמר אלי בני אתה אני היום ילדתיך: שאל ממני ואתנה גוים נחלתך -- "I will surely tell of the decree [of the L-rd: He said to me, 'Thou art My Son;] Today I have begotten thee. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as thy inheritance."' (Ps. 2:7-8) - BT Sukkah 52a
'And Avram said (Gen.15:2), "O L-RD God, what will You give me?"' Said Rabbi Yochanan: Three, of which it was said in them, 'Ask'; and these are Solomon, Ahaz and King Messiah… King Messiah, as it is written (Psalm 2): 'Ask of Me and I will give you nations as your inheritance.' – Genesis Rabba, 44:8
Once more we see the Gentiles included in the Messiah's "inheritance", even though He is reigning from G-d's "holy hill of Zion" (v.6).
We saw earlier how the Messiah would not only bear G-d's holy Name, but receive the same honor and worship. This opinion was held by Rav Akiva, who said that Messiah would sit on a throne next to G-d (Enc. Jud., vol. 11, p. 1411).
This same equality is attributed to the title and person of the "Son of Man" portrayed in Daniel 7:13-14, and described extensively in Enoch (an apocryphal work appearing around 150 years before Yeshua). The following excerpts are from a 1892 Hebrew translation ( property of the Chabad-Lubavitch library), whose Jewish translator commented that the book had been "given over to strangers" (Christians) until his translation "returned this precious treasure to its first owners". Again, we note that this Son of Man, also identified here as Messiah and the Son of the Lord of Spirits, was affirmed to exist from before creation:
At that time that Son of Man was called to the Lord of Spirits, and his name came before the Ancient of Days. And before the sun and the [celestial] signs were created, and before the stars of heaven were made, his name was called before the Lord of Spirits. He shall be the staff of the righteous and holy ones; they will be supported on him, and they shall not fall. And he shall be the light of the nations and the hope of those who are troubled in their hearts. All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship, and shall bless and glorify and sing praises to the name of the Lord of Spirits. Therefore a Chosen and Concealed One was in His presence before the world was created, and forever he will be before Him.
The Lord of Spirits revealed him in His wisdom to the holy and righteous ones, for he will keep the inheritance of the righteous… And in the days of their [the wicked rulers’] distress, there will be rest on the earth; before him [the Son of Man] they will fall and not rise, and no man will take them in his hands to lift them up; for they denied the Lord of Spirits and His Messiah: and may the name of the Lord of Spirits be blessed. - Enoch 48:2-10
For I [the Lord of Spirits] and My Son will fellowship with them [the holy sons of men] forever, and they shall walk in My ways of righteousness all the days of their lives; my sons of righteousness will rejoice in truth, for peace shall be theirs. - Enoch 105:2
The Talmud likewise identifies the Son of Man as the Messiah (Num. Rab. 13:14, commenting on Dan. 7:13-14), also deriving another name for Him from the scene in Daniel: "Anani", or "He of the clouds". This is more explicit in a Midrashic passage:
And now let us speak in praise of King Messiah who will come in the future with the clouds of heaven and two seraphim to his right and to his left, as it is written, וארו עם-ענני שמיא כבר אנש -- 'Behold, with the clouds of heaven came one like unto a son of man' (Dan. 7:13). - Pirke Mashiah, Beit haMidrash 3:70 [the verse uses the Aramaic "bar enosh" for the Hebrew "ben adam"]
This passage goes on to describe Messiah's coming by quoting Habakkuk 3:5:
לפניו ילך דבר ויצא רשף לרגליו
Before Him went pestilence, and fiery destruction followed at His feet.
Yet this prophecy is clearly about G-d, for the verse begins with: אלוה מתימן יבוא - "God will come from Teman..."
The image of the Son of Man wielding G-d's power to judge the earth is also described in Enoch (written several generations before the New Testament):
And the Lord of Spirits seated His Chosen One on the throne of His glory, and he will judge all the deeds of the holy ones in heaven above, and in scales he will weigh their deeds; and when he lifts up his face to judge their hidden ways in the name of the Lord of Spirits, and their paths according to the ways of righteous justice that belong to G-d Most High, then shall everyone speak with one voice, and they will bless, honor, exalt and thank the name of the Lord of Spirits. - Enoch 61:8-9
The characterization of the Son of Man in Enoch harmonizes well with that of Yeshua and Paul (compare Matt. 24:30-31; I Thess. 4:16), which can explain why this once-recognized work was neglected by the rabbinic community and was eventually lost (to all except the Ethiopian Jews and Christians).
A teaching attributed to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (BT Sanh. 98a) warns that the Messiah will come in the clouds as the Son of Man only if Israel is righteous (quoting Dan. 7:13); if not, He will come "as a poor man, riding upon an ass" (quoting Zech. 9:9). The apparent purpose of this teaching is to explain how both prophecies about the Messiah's coming can be true. It fails to resolve that problem, since the way it's expressed here, one must be fulfilled at the expense of the other. But it provides evidence of rabbinic agreement that Israel's spiritual condition would influence the Messiah's mode of arrival.
Assuming that this was already being taught in Yeshua's day, His deliberate choice of a donkey for His final entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-5) could be interpreted as His rabbinic indictment on His generation. However, He promised to come in the clouds as the Son of Man the next time (Matt. 24:30; 26:64). This, together with His promise that Israel's greeting at that time would be appropriate for the Messiah (Matt. 23:39), would confirm R. Yehoshua's conclusions (although in a way which he would not have anticipated). It also solves the dilemma of the conflicting prophecies - in due time, both will be fulfilled.
4. The Messiah who suffers for our sin.
According to one story, R. Joshua b. Levi, a contemporary of Rav and R. Jonathan (2nd-3rd cent. CE), was shown by Elijah the Prophet that the Messiah had already been born and was a grown man. R. Joshua met Elijah outside the tomb of R. Simeon b. Yochai, and in the ensuing discussion was told that the Messiah was one of the poor lepers outside the town gate (Sanh. 98a).
No reason is given in this passage for the Messiah being in such a state, but it fits into a wider tradition:
And the rabbis say: 'The Pale One of the House of Study [Soncino translation: the Leper Scholar] is his [Messiah's] name, as it is said: אכן חלינו הוא נשא ומכאבינו סבלם ואנחנו חשבנהו נגוע מכה אלהים ומענה -- "Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken [Soncino: a leper], smitten of G-d and afflicted" (Isa. 53:4).' - BT Sanhedrin 98b
From the words חיוורא (Aramaic) and נגוע (Hebrew), the Jewish translators rendered the Messiah's name in English as "the Leper Scholar." This is due to the association of נגע with leprosy (see the Hebrew of Lev.13 for example), and the use of חיוור by Onkelos to translate the Hebrew לבן that describes leprosy (Lev.13:21, 26, 42-43). This word association led to rabbinic agreement that Isaiah 53 was describing Messiah as a "leper".
A rabbinic work called Sefer Zerubbabel (7th-9th cent. CE) puts other phrases from Isaiah 53 into a meeting between Zerubbabel (the same man who rebuilt the Temple) and the Leper Messiah:
'And I [Zerubbabel] saw a man, despised and wounded.... And I asked him: "What is the name of this place?" And he said to me: "This is Great Rome, in which I am kept captive in prison until my end comes. (I am the Messiah of G-d, who am captive here until the time of the end.)" And when I heard this, I hid my face from him for a moment; and I looked again at him and again I hid, for I was afraid. And he said to me: "Fear not and dread not, why are you silent, and why did you hide your face from me?" And I said: "I have heard your report, that you are the Messiah of the God of Jacob."' - Sefer Zerubbabel, Beit haMidrash 2:54-55
Ruth Rabbah, an earlier Midrashic work that drew on the Jerusalem Talmud rather than the Babylonian, interpreted Boaz's words to Ruth as a prophecy about their descendant the Messiah.
He [Boaz] is speaking [to Ruth] of the King Messiah: גשי הלם -- 'Come here,' draw near to the kingdom; ואכלת מן-הלחם -- 'and eat of the bread,' that is the bread of the kingdom; וטבלת פתך בחמץ --'and dip your morsel in the vinegar,' these are his chastisements; as it is said (Isaiah 53), והוא מחלל מפשענו -- 'he was wounded for our transgressions'. - Midrash Rabbah Ruth 5:6
We should note that isolated verses from Isaiah 53 were sometimes also used to refer to the righteous of Israel, who likewise suffered for G-d's name (for example BT Berachot 5a). However, the interpretation widely promoted today among rabbinic teachers - namely that Isaiah 53 does not speak of the Messiah at all, but only of the nation of Israel, was not taught until Rashi (11th c.), and it remained controversial until well into the 13th century. A contemporary of that time, Rabbi Moshe Kohen ibn Crispin, responded to this theory with a strong rebuke:
As then it seemed to me that the doors of the literal interpretation of the Parashah [Isaiah 52:15-53:12] were shut in their face, and that "they wearied themselves to find the entrance," having forsaken the knowledge of our Teachers, and inclined after the "stubbornness of their own hearts" and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it in accordance with the teachings of our Rabbis, of the King Messiah, and will be careful, so far as I am able, to adhere to the literal sense; thus, possibly, I shall be free from forced and farfetched interpretations of which others have been guilty. - The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters: vol. II, trans. S. Driver and A. Neubauer (New York: Ktav, 1969), p.99-100. [see also the abridged reprint of this work (Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit, 2011) p.39.]
Rabbi Moses Alshech (a 16th-century Maggid in Sefat and a student of Rabbi Karo, author of the Shulchan Arukh) apparently ignored the nation-of-Israel interpretation altogether, stating flatly:
And I say that here our rabbis of blessed memory with one voice established and accepted that he [the prophet Isaiah] is speaking about King Messiah, and after those sages we will follow. - Marot HaTzovot (commenting on Isaiah 52:13, "Behold My Servant".)
These sages had good reason to be dogmatic; even Rambam (Maimonides) had expounded on the entire chapter as referring to Messiah (Driver & Neubauer, p. 374-375; reprinted edition, p.210).
The controversy over Isaiah 53 revolved around the recognition that rabbinic honesty could be (and was) exploited by the medieval Christian church as a blunt instrument to be used against the Jews. R. Joseph ben Kaspi (1280-1340 CE) urged the rabbinic community to shift the majority opinion to that of Rashi, on the grounds that failure to do so would "give occasion to the heretics to interpret it of Jesus." (Driver & Neubauer, p. 203) In that context, it's important to repeat that Rashi did not invent the "people of Israel" interpretation; Jews for Judaism rightly points out that this alternate view dates back to the beginning of church-sponsored pressure on Jews to debate this Isaiah passage with Christians (3rd c. CE). What the anti-missionaries fail to mention is that these two "contradictory" views co-existed in the rabbinic community without cancelling each other for at least 1000 years. (Readers who are not familiar with the rabbinic acceptance of "conflicting opinions" as equally valid can read more about that custom here.)
Given the universal rabbinic obligation to uphold the majority opinion at any cost (Baba Mezi'a 59b), we may assume that Rashi never expected later rabbis to replace the clear agreement of many generations with his secondary interpretation - and certainly not in our modern age, when militant church rule has disappeared. Yet that majority view is opposed more strongly today than in the Middle Ages, to such an extent that most Torah Jews now believe the Messianic interpretation of Isaiah 53 to be a Christian invention.
4A. By His righteousness, Messiah's suffering removes our sin and makes us righteous.
The rabbis recognized that every man is in need of atonement for his sins:
The scholars propounded: 'Is burial [intended to avert] disgrace [because of the decomposition of the body], or as a means of atonement [for sins committed during one's lifetime]?' ...Come and hear: 'From the fact that the righteous were buried.' If then you say that it is for atonement, are the righteous in need thereof? Even so [they are in need], for it is written, כי אדם אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה-טוב ולא יחטא -- 'For there is not a righteous man upon earth who does good and sins not' (Eccl. 7:20). - Sanh. 46b
He [R. Eliezer] said to him, 'Akiva, have I neglected anything of the whole Torah?' He replied, 'You, O Master, have taught us, כי אדם אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה-טוב ולא יחטא -- "For there is not a righteous man upon earth, who does good and sins not."' - Sanh. 101a
A similar story is recorded (Berakhot 28) in which Yohanan ben Zakkai's disciples gather around his deathbed and find him weeping. They ask, "Rabbi, you are the light of Israel, the pillar on which we lean, the hammer that crushes all heresy. Why should you weep?" In answer, the tzaddik confesses that he is afraid to die, because he is not sure whether he will end up in heaven or hell.
Another lesson in the same tractate records rabbis confessing one after another that any sufferings they or the people of Israel endured were the result of some sin; only one rabbi makes the claim that his ten fingers kept the Ten Commandments - but (according to the teaching) this boast proved that he was a transgressor in the matter of humility.
The same recognition is firmly imbedded in Torah Judaism via the prayers for Yom Kippur, in which the following is repeatedly recited:
Our God and God of our fathers! May our prayers come before You and do not hide from our supplication. For we are not boldfaced and stiff-necked so as to say before You, L-rd our God and God of our fathers, that we are righteous and we have not sinned; but rather we and our fathers have sinned. - Shachrit Prayer for Yom Kippur (translated from the Heb.)
In contrast, Messiah the son of David is especially noted for His righteousness. It is written:
והקמתי לדוד צמח צדיק
אצמיח לדוד צמח צדקה
I will raise for David a righteous Sprout...
I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth... - Jer. 23:5, 33:15
Both of these are followed immediately by:
בימיו תושע יהודה
בימים ההם תושע יהודה
In His [or those] days Judah will be saved... - Jer. 23:6, 33:16
The name of G-d which we discussed earlier, "the L-rd our righteousness," also appears in both these passages, but each one applies it to different people. First it is the Messiah who is called by this name, signifying that He will be the embodiment of G-d's righteousness; in the second passage, the same name is given to Jerusalem, and/or the Lord's saved ones.
It is this that Baba Bathra 75b cites (quoted earlier) to show that these three will bear G-d's special Name (i.e. Messiah, Jerusalem and the redeemed). By linking both of the verses, we see that they also have G-d's righteousness: the Messiah first by natural right, then the righteous and Jerusalem through His salvation. Eventually all of Judah is saved through these three.
The author of Ecclesiastes Rabbah connects Messiah with songs to the Righteous One:
To the place where the dead assemble for the world to come, there they return and will utter a song in the days of Messiah. What is the reason [for this statement]? 'מכנף הארץ זמרת שמענו -- From the uttermost part of the earth we have heard songs' (Isa. 24:16), and it says (26:19) יחיו מתיך נבלתי יקומון - Your dead ones shall live; My dead body shall rise them.'"- Eccl.R. 1.7#7
This last verse (Isaiah 26:19) we have translated literally according to the Masoretic text, which reads: "My dead body" [singular, נְבֵלָתִי], even though the word could also be read as "My dead bodies" (as reads the JPS translation, which breaks tradition by rejecting the MT pointing for a more "logical" option). The deliberate enigma created by the Masoretes, and the linkage of that verse here with the days of the Messiah, hints at a rabbinic view that the Messiah's death would somehow raise the dead.
The other verse referred to (Isaiah 24:16) goes on to tell us what the "songs" were that "we have heard": " צבי לצדיק -- Glory to the Righteous One." Why should one person's righteousness be singled out above all others? Who is worthy to be addressed in this way other than G-d Himself? And indeed the name of G-d is lifted up by these singers (v.15), who come "from the west" and "from the east" (v.14-15). But if it is G-d who is this "Righteous One", why do the resurrected dead sing about it only "in the days of the Messiah"?
And if it is a day for resurrection and songs of praise, why is Isaiah's reaction so dismal? For the rest of verse 16 reads:
:ואמר רזי-לי רזי-לי אוי לי בגדים בגדו ובגד בוגדים בגדו
And I said: 'My ruin [or, my secret] is mine, I waste away, woe is me; traitors [or, garments] have betrayed, and with treachery the traitors have betrayed.'
The Hebrew is extremely ambiguous, including an obscure noun (רזי) which can be translated three different ways, and a word that could be read as both "begadim" (garments) and "bogdim" (traitors). This hints that the traitors were able to cover their betrayal with their "garments" - either their appearance or their outward deeds (see Isa.59:6 where the parallel between בגד and מעשים is explicit).
What is not ambiguous is the tone of distress and accusation. The joyful shouts that were heard glorifying G-d were coming from "the islands of the sea" (v.14-15). The singing to "the Righteous One" comes from "the ends of the earth", not from Zion. So the "I" and "we" are presumably Isaiah and his people. Who then are the ones whose "treachery" causes Israel to wail, and who are blamed for its "ruin"? (See Sanh.94a, which sees Isaiah wailing here because the Messiah is delayed.) Or, if this should be understood as G-d saying, "My secret is mine" (thus the Soncino Talmud translates it), does G-d delay the Messiah because of the "treachery" He sees, or because of Hezekiah's own failure (an explanation attributed to Bar Kappara of Sepphoris and R. Pappias)?
Paradoxically, the Righteous One was said to be coming to one of the most unrighteous generations in Israel. R. Yishma'el (8th cent. CE) described the moral condition as one in which lies will multiply, the truth will be suppressed, the Law will be removed and Israel's sins will multiply (Pirqe R. Eliezer, ch. 30, end). A 5th-century work (Sefer Hekhalot) applies Isaiah 59 to the Messiah's generation, noting that their blatant sinfulness will require G-d to rescue His Righteous One:
And when the Holy One, blessed be He, sees that there is no one righteous in the generation, and no one pious in the land, and no righteousness in the hands of man, and that there is no man like Moses, and no one to entreat like Samuel who asked mercy before the Place [המקום -- "haMakom", a name for G-d], for Him to return salvation before Him and to do salvation through it for Israel; instantly the Holy One, blessed be He, remembers His own righteousness, mercy, and compassion, and He saves His Great Arm for Himself, and it [the Arm] will uphold for Him all His righteousness: as it is written [Isa.59:16], ' וירא כי אין איש - And He saw that there was no man' ." Sefer Hekhalot, Beit HaMidrash 5, p.189 (1873 edition)
The comment that G-d will "save His Great Arm for Himself" (Heb: ומושיע לעצמו את זרועו הגדולה ) is derived from the rest of the verse which ends the midrash:
וישתומם כי אין מפגיע ותושע לו זרעו וצדקתו היא סמכתהו
...And He was astonished that there was no intercessor, and [so] His Arm was saved for Him, and His Righteousness upheld Him. - Isa.59:16
It serves as a rabbinic cross-reference to another passage, which is explicitly about Messiah:
גילי מאד בת-ציון הריעי בת ירושלם הנה מלכך יבוא לך צדיק ונושע הוא
Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion; shout aloud, daughter of Jerusalem: behold your King is coming to you, He is righteous and saved... - Zech.9:9
This is generally smoothed over in English by both Christian and Jewish translators as, "He is endowed with salvation" (NASB), "He is having salvation" (KJV) or, "He is victorious" (Judaica Press, used by the Chabad Tanach site); but many rabbinic commentaries remain faithful to the Hebrew that portrays King Messiah being "saved". Saved from what?
We should ask why the longed-for King would need to be "saved" by G-d, if he is the perfect model of G-d's Righteousness. The above midrash derives an answer from the key verse and its context (Isaiah 59). It is a singularly unrighteous generation that greets his arrival, a situation that guarantees hostility and the Righteous One's need to be saved from the very people who were supposed to welcome him. This was also the conclusion of other rabbis, as we will see later. But even more astonishing is the rabbinic willingness to conclude that G-d is also somehow "saving" Himself (seen earlier in Exodus Rabba).
The sinful generation of the Messiah is more graphically portrayed in the Mishna and Talmud, especially in a Baraita inserted by students of Rebbe. Note the emphasis on the guilt of the Jewish leadership:
In the footsteps of the Messiah [when the Messiah is about to come], insolence will multiply and prices will soar [or, honor will vanish]..., the government will be transformed into heresy, and there will be no admonishing [of sin] and no rebuke. The council house [of scholars] will be for harlotry... The wisdom of the scribes will decay, and those who fear sin will be despised. The truth will be absent. Youths will cause the faces of the elders to go white, elders will stand [in respect] before the young.
כי-בן מנבל אב בת קמה באמה כלה בחמתה איבי איש אנשי ביתו -- 'A son dishonors a father, a daughter rises against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies are the people of his own house' (Mic. 7:6). - M. Sota 9:15, Baraita at the end (see also BT Sota 49b)
Yeshua quoted this same verse with reference to His generation:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came [as it is written] to set 'a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household.' - Matt. 10:34-36
Assuming that the above rabbinic teaching on Micah 7 was already circulating, Yeshua supplemented it here with the understanding that it is He Himself who will trigger the family enmity, driving a wedge between the righteous (the few who receive Him) and the wicked (the majority of His generation).
According to a very moving rabbinic passage, the Messiah was given the choice to avoid the rejection and suffering which His generation would inflict on Him:
[In Heaven] The Holy One, blessed be He, began to meditate with him [King Messiah, on the conditions of his future mission], and said: 'Those who are hidden with you [your generation], their sins will in the future force you into an iron yoke, and they will make you in the yoke like this calf whose eyes have grown dim, and they will choke your spirit with the yoke; and with the sins of these, your tongue will in the future cleave to the roof of your mouth. Do you accept this? ...If your soul is troubled, I shall banish them [your generation] as of now.'
He said before Him: 'Master of the Worlds! With gladness in my soul and with joy in my heart I accept it upon myself, so that not a single one of Israel will be lost; and not only that those alive will be saved in my days, but even those hidden in the dust; and not only that the dead will be saved in my days, but even the dead who have died from the days of the first Adam until now..., even the stillborn will be saved..., even those to whose creation You gave thought but who were not [as yet] created. This is what I want, this is what I accept upon myself!' - Pesiqta Rabbati 161b
With profound insight into the heart of G-d and His union with the Messiah, the passage goes on to put words from Psalm 22 into the mouth of the suffering Messiah, at which G-d comforts him:
Concerning that hour [of Messiah's suffering] David had cried and said [Ps.22:15, 16 in Heb.], ' יבש כחרס כחי - My strength is dried up like a clay pot!' In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be He, says to Ephraim, 'Messiah, My Righteousness, you already accepted this upon yourself from the six days of Creation. Now your sorrow is like My sorrow....' In that hour, Ephraim says to Him, 'Master of the world! Now my mind is at rest - it is enough for the servant to be like his Master.' - Pesiqta Rabbati 162
Compare Ephraim's statement with that made by Yeshua to His disciples (Matt. 10:24-25), to prepare them to suffer mistreatment for His sake.
4B. Messiah's atonement covers all mankind in every age.
The preceding quote, besides its moving portrayal of Messiah's love for Israel, also describes a far-reaching effect of His sacrificial suffering: "... even the dead who have died from the days of Adam the first man until now..., even the stillborn..., even those to whose creation You gave thought but who were not [as yet] created." In short, Messiah was expected by the sages to redeem all men in every generation (for all men everywhere are in need of it).
These rabbinic parameters are startlingly similar to the New Testament statement:
So then as through one transgression [of the first Adam] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. - Romans 5:18-19
By this will [Messiah's union with the will of His Father] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua the Messiah once for all... For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. - Hebrews 10:10,14
It is also noteworthy that in the Pesiqta passage above, G-d proclaims that the Messiah had accepted His role of suffering "from the six days of creation," thus dating the Messiah's atoning work, as well as His existence, from the foundation of the world.
This too reveals a remarkable agreement with New Testament teaching:
Otherwise, He [Messiah] would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the completion of the ages He has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. - Heb. 9:26
[You were redeemed] with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, [the lifeblood] of Messiah, having been foreknown before the foundation of the world... - I Peter 1:19-20
And all who dwell on the earth will worship him [the false Messiah], every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the Book of Life of the Lamb who has been slain [the true Messiah]. - Rev. 13:8
Since the rabbis recognize that the Messiah's atoning sacrifice was ordained from the time of creation, and that it covers all mankind back to Adam, it would be not be hard for them to accept (as is taught in Hebrews 10:1-4) that it is not the sacrifices being offered on earth which take away sin after all, but Messiah's sacrifice which was/is being offered in Heaven.
The very name of the chief offering in the priestly service hints at this. Although G-d gave it the name "עולת תמיד -- olat tamid" (a single "continual burnt offering" - Exod.29:42), it is physically impossible for men to offer one "olah" continually; at best, it can only be repeated countless times, day and night. In Numbers 28:3, G-d repeats the ordinance for this sacrifice, specifying two lambs (morning and evening) and yet calling them one "olah tamid".
As Torah itself points out, the entire Tabernacle service and all its details were a replica of something that already existed with G-d:
ככל אשר אני מראה אותך את תבנית המשכן ואת תבנית כל-כליו וכן תעשו
According to what I show to you, the pattern of the Dwelling and the pattern of all its utensils, and thus you shall make [them]. - Exod. 25:9
The writer of the Zohar, while not portraying a heavenly Temple service from the foundation of the world, does describe the Messiah in heaven taking over the function of the atoning sacrifices once the destruction of the temple caused them to cease on earth:
The Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps over those sinful among them [Israel]. This is what is written: 'והוא מחלל מפשענו מדכא מעונתינו -- He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities.' (Isa. 53:5).... In the Garden of Eden there is a hall which is called the Hall of the Sons of Illness.The Messiah enters that hall and summons all the diseases and all the pains and all the sufferings of Israel that they should come upon him, and all of them come upon him.
And would he not thus bring ease to Israel and take their sufferings upon himself, no man could endure the sufferings Israel has to undergo because they neglected the Torah.... As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy Land, the rituals and the sacrifices they performed (in the Temple) removed all those diseases from the world; now (during the Exile) the Messiah removes them from the children of the world. - Zohar 2:212a (quoted in Patai, p.116)
In another story, the Patriarchs approach the Messiah after His suffering, wondering if perhaps He intends to punish His generation for their wickedness:
It is taught that the Fathers of the world (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) will in the future stand up in [the month of] Nisan and will say to him: 'Ephraim, Messiah our Righteousness! Even though we are your fathers, you are greater than we, for you suffered the iniquities of our children, and there passed upon you hard measures, which had not passed upon the first [generations] or on the last… All these because of the sins of our children! Do you desire that our children should enjoy this goodness that the Holy One, blessed be He, allotted to Israel? Or perhaps because of the great sufferings that you suffered on their account, ...your mind is not at rest about them?'
And he answers them: 'Fathers of the World! Everything I did, I did only for you and for your children, for your honor and theirs, so that they should enjoy this goodness which the Holy One, blessed be He, has allotted to Israel!'...
The Fathers of the world say to him: ‘Ephraim, Messiah our righteousness – let your mind be at rest, as you have put at ease the mind of your Maker and our minds!'
Said R. Shimon ben Pazi: In that hour, the Holy One, blessed be He, raises up the Messiah to the Heaven of Heavens, and spreads over him the splendor of His glory. - Pesiqta Rabbati 162-3
Midrash Konen describes Elijah, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon and the prophets joining the Patriarchs to comfort the suffering Messiah. Elijah speaks to him:
Elijah (of blessed memory) takes him [Messiah] by the head and lays him in his lap and holds him, saying, ‘Endure the sentence of your Master, who makes you suffer because of the sin of Israel, for it is written [Isaiah 53:5]: " מעונתינו והוא מחלל מפשענו מדכא - He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities," until the time when the end [of days] shall come.' Midrash Konen (“Mizrach Gan Eden”) 6
4C. The Messiah and the Binding of Isaac
Another rabbinic picture of redeeming atonement, which figures prominently at Rosh Hashana, is "the Binding of Isaac" (עקידת יצחק -- "Akedat Yizchak"), brought to remembrance by the blowing of the shofar (symbolizing the last-minute substitute of the ram for the son). The entire story (Genesis 22) is read on the second day of Rosh Hashana as the Torah portion, and later the following petition is made:
G-d and God of our fathers, remember us with a good remembrance before You, and visit us with a visitation of salvation, and mercies from the everlasting heaven of heavens. Remember for us, O L-rd our God, the love of the ancient ones [the forefathers], the covenant and the lovingkindness and the oath which You swore to Abraham our father on Mount Moriah, and let there appear before you the binding with which Abraham our father bound Isaac his son on top of the altar, and overcame his compassion in order to do Your will with a whole heart; so let Your compassion overcome Your anger over us...
And may the binding of Isaac for his seed today in compassion be remembered. Blessed are You, O L-rd, who remembers the covenant. - Tefillat Musaf for Rosh Hashana , Zichronot section (Sephardi prayerbook, translated from the literal Hebrew)
The rabbis teach that not only is Abraham to be commended for his obedience, but Isaac as well. The latter was by then a grown man (Jewish tradition puts his age at 37 - Gen. Rabba 56:11, Pirkei D'Rebbe Eliezer 31), and he could have easily resisted his aged father's attempts to bind him and offer him up. The apparent absence of any struggle spoke loudly (for those with ears to hear) that Isaac willingly offered up his life. A fragment of a Dead Sea manuscript in Hebrew (designated as 4Q225 and dated to the first years of CE) is cited by researcher Dr. Gary Gromacki as "the earliest (pre-Christian) evidence for the rabbinic story of Isaac's voluntary self-sacrifice."
The wording of the above prayer ("the binding of Isaac for his seed today in compassion") might even imply that Isaac knew his sacrifice was for the sake of his descendants (extending to this present time), and that he submitted to it out of compassion for them.
It is presumably Isaac's willingness to participate in the Akedah which the sages had in mind in this startling comparison with crucifixion:
“And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering” as one who loads his cross on his shoulder… “and they walked, the two of them, together” – one to bind, and the other to be bound; one to slaughter, and the other to be slaughtered. - Midrash Rabba, Parashat Vayira 56:3
There is also an opinion that Isaac actually died on that altar and was resurrected:
R. Judah says: 'When the sword touched his [Isaac's] throat, Isaac's soul flew and went out from him. And when He [G-d] made His voice to be heard from between the two cherubim [Gen.22], " אל תשלח ידך אל הנער - Do not lay your hand upon the lad," his soul returned to his body, and he [Abraham] freed him, and he stood on his feet. And Isaac knew that the Resurrection of the Dead is from the Torah, that all the dead would be raised to life in the future; in that same hour, he began to recite [the Amidah prayer], "Blessed art Thou, O L-rd, who revives the dead."' - Pirkei de-Rebbe Eliezer 31:52-59 (1852 Warsaw edition)
This tradition is referred to in Heb.11:19:
He [Abraham] considered that G-d is able to raise even from the dead; from which he also received him [Isaac] back as a type [Gr: in a parable].
Abraham showed that he understood the entire episode to be prophetic, in two ways. First is his declaration to Isaac:
ויאמר אברהם אלהים יראה-לו השה לעלה בני
And Abraham said, 'G-d will provide [or, see] for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son'... - Gen. 22:8
Then there is the name he gave to the place after the Akedah: ה' יראה -- not "G-d provided" but "G-d will provide..." (or "G-d will see", or even "G-d will be seen"). The prophetic nature of this name is strengthened by the comment of Moses, still putting it in the future tense:
אשר יאמר היום בהר ה' יראה
...as it will be said today, 'in the mountain G-d will provide' [or "will be seen"] [or, "in the mountain of G-d, it will be provided"] [or, "in the mountain, G-d will be seen"]. - Gen. 22:14
The rabbis understood the Akedah to be the "original" for the Temple sacrifice known as the " olat tamid" ; this is shown in the singular honor they give to it by reading Genesis 22 in the morning prayers each day before the section commemorating the daily sacrifice (Parashat Ha-Korbanot, i.e. "korban ha-tamid"). Moreover, the Akedah reading itself is preceded by a significant prayer (זכרון העקדה):
God, and God of our fathers, remember us with a memory for good before You, and visit us with a visitation of salvation and compassion from the heaven of the everlasting heavens [or, "the ancient heaven of heavens"] ... [remember] the covenant and the lovingkindness, and the oath which You swore to Abraham our father on Mount Moriah, and the Binding with which he bound Isaac his son on the altar; as it is written in Your Torah...
- Daily Prayers, Shachrit, before Parashat Ha-Akedah
This unusual description of "the heavens" (Heb: שְּׁמֵי שְׁמֵי קֶדֶם ) makes a connection between the Akedah and an inner "heaven of the heavens", which is "everlasting" (or, dates back to the beginning of time). We saw it also in the Rosh Hashanah prayer that referred to the Akedah (above). The use of "kedem", speaking of salvation that comes forth from this ancient place to visit us, is very much like Micah 5:1, discussed earlier, which describes the Messiah, whose "goings out" are also from "kedem".
The sages who petitioned G-d to "visit us with salvation" no doubt recognized from the words, "G-d will provide for Himself a lamb for an olah...", that Abraham prophesied of an Akedah performed by G-d, not man. While the literal Isaac was replaced by a ram, which was offered up by Abraham, the one whom he/it represented would be offered up by G-d Himself.
That Abraham was shown the future event is implied by the account in Torah:
:ביום השלישי וישא אברהם את-עיניו וירא את-המקום מרחק
On the third day, Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place from far away. - Gen.22:4
This presumably was what gave him the faith to tell his servants that they would both return:
ואני והנער נלכה עד-כה ונשתחוה ונשובה אליכם
I and the lad will go to there and we will worship and we will return to you." (v.5)
The idea is supported in Genesis Rabbah (Lech-Lecha 22), where Rabbi Akiva, in a debate with Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, insisted that Abraham had indeed been shown the future: not of this world only, but the world to come as well. If so, it means that he also saw the days of the Messiah, and this is confirmed by Yeshua's own words:
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw and was glad. - John 8:56
This brings us to the other party in the Akedah: the father (represented by Abraham), willing to offer up "your son, your only one, whom you have loved" -- את-בנך את-יחידך אשר-אהבת (Gen.22:2). And in the petition quoted above from the Musaf prayer, we actually plead with G-d to follow the example of Abraham.
What we have, then, is an earthly picture of the greater Akedah which "G-d will provide": an "only Son" like Isaac, who willingly lays down His life in submission to His Father and in compassion for His seed; and a Father like Abraham, who puts His compassion for us above even His love for His only Son. They are one in purpose and in love toward us. Somehow this is rabbinically understood to provide redemption of the kind sought after on Rosh Hashana, a "Binding" for the sake of which the Judge of all the earth forgives His sinful people.
To add further intrigue, the personal prayer following the first blowing of the shofar (second day of Rosh Hashanah) includes this appeal to G-d:
יהי רצון מלפניך שתקיעת תשר"ת שאנחנו תוקעין תהא מרוקמת ביריעה על ידי הממונה כשם שקבלת על ידי :אליהו ז"ל וישוע שר הפנים ושר מט"ט ותמלא עלינו ברחמים: ברוך אתה בעל הרחמים
May it be Your will that the sounding of the shofar [in its order] that we blow may be woven in a curtain by the designated person, just as You received [that offered] by Elijah of blessed memory, and Yeshua Sar HaPanim [Prince of the Face (of G-d) or, Minister of the Inner Sanctuary] and the Minister Metatron; and be filled with compassion over us. Blessed are You who has compassion. - Machzor for Rosh Ha-Shana, Sephardi Israeli version (Sinai Publishing, Tel Aviv, 1989 - translated from the Hebrew)
A similar prayer appears on the first day of Rosh Hashana, except that the name "Yeshua" is missing, and Elijah is followed only by "Metatron," who receives the title "Sar HaPanim".
The fact that an authorized Hebrew Machzor features the famed herald of the Messiah paired with a suspiciously familiar name, now carrying unknown yet clearly exalted titles, ought to raise a few eyebrows - and a lot of questions.
What did this individual do, that he should be able to provide such merit for us to call upon? If he is worthy of such a title as "Sar HaPanim", why do our teachers not speak of him and his role? How could someone who was charged with such an awesome office (either translation implies an intimate standing with G-d) be relegated to a single, obscure reference once a year, which is not even recited aloud but only whispered privately to G-d?
We ask G-d to accept our obedience as He did that of "Yeshua Sar HaPanim and Sar Metatron". Why does this "Yeshua" follow after "Eliyahu HaNavi", as is the custom for references to the Messiah? Why is his name coupled with the mysterious prince "Metatron", a heavenly "primordial being" portrayed in rabbinic literature as the Tenth and Last Emanation of G-d (the Divine Presence that appears to man), and bearing the shocking title of "the lesser G-d [ה' הקטן]"?
Last, but not least: Why does this unknown "Yeshua" surface while the shofar is being blown in memory of the "death" and "resurrection" of Abraham's son, performed so that the sins of Israel can be forgiven?
None of these questions are answered in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy (or anywhere else, to our knowledge). However, rabbinic history shows that the Akedah was not originally linked with Rosh Hashanah at all. The Mishna (Megilla 3:5) records that the Torah reading for Tishrei 1 related to Yom Tru'ah (the Feast of Trumpets - Lev.23), while the early 2nd-temple Book of Jubilees explicitly links the Akedah to Nisan 14, or Passover Eve (Jub.17:15 – 18:19). For a discussion on why the Akedah was moved to the opposite end of the Jewish year, see "Meditations for Nisan, No.5 " at the RZ site.
Meanwhile, we can acknowledge that the sages who formulated the above liturgy sought to preserve the links between the shofar, the Akedah and the Messiah.
4D. The Suffering Messiah - Ben Yosef / Ephraim, or Ben David?
These alternate names for the Messiah were eventually used by the rabbis to designate two Messiahs, in order to explain the two seemingly conflicting missions and fates which were foretold by the Prophets. In most cases, "ben Yosef" (freely interchanged with "ben Ephraim" or simply "Ephraim") was the one who would suffer and die for sin, and be rejected by His generation, as in the earlier quote; "ben David" (or just "David") was to rescue Israel from her enemies, be exalted with G-d's glory and sit on the throne of David forever.
However, there are interesting cross-overs. Some passages (such as Midrash Konen quoted above) identify the suffering One as "Moshiach ben David who loves Jerusalem." Others can be found which speak of "Ephraim" as "the" (only) name of G-d's Messiah (Pesiqta Rabbati 161a, see below). The writers of the Zohar (I, 25b) concur that Messiah ben Yosef will also be descended from David; this implies the right of one man to both titles.
Rabbinic literature documents the debate as the sages struggled to reconcile the glorious, unending kingdom of Messiah ben David with the suffering, rejection and death said to await Him. The conjectures about these missions and the timing of their appearances vary, but the teachings agree that Messiah ben Ephraim (the mission of suffering and death) must come first.
According to Israeli scholar Dr. Raphael Patai, the splitting of King Messiah into two persons did not take place until the Talmudic period, and it had another purpose besides resolving His two missions. It was also meant to address a teaching established by this time, that the Messiah was perfectly prefigured in Moses, and reconcile it with the fact that Moses died before finishing his mission of leading Israel into the Land (Messiah Texts, p. 166).
In spite of ben Yosef's role that clearly included being killed, there were some who asserted that He would not die (Sa'adia Gaon, Emunot veDe'ot; Ben Yehoyda on Sanh. 98; the Gra, Kol Hator). More often, however, the sages who taught about Messiah ben Yosef believed that He would be raised from the dead, in order to vindicate His undeserved suffering - called to life either by G-d Himself or by Messiah ben David. One Scriptural support for Messiah's resurrection is Psalm 16:9, as explained in the following Midrash:
' לכן שמח לבי -- Therefore my heart is glad' (Ps. 16:9): [glad] in the words of the Torah; ' ויגל כבודי -- and my glory rejoices': in King Messiah who will come out of him [David]. As it is written [Isa.4:5]: ' כי על-כל-כבוד חפה -- And over all glory is a canopy' . ' אף-בשרי ישכן לבטח -- My flesh also will dwell in safety': after its death. R. Isaac Melamed said that neither corruption nor worms had power over him [David].' - Mid. Tehilim 16
Explaining David's expectation of not seeing corruption as based on his rejoicing in King Messiah, it should be clear from the Midrash (as well as from logic, since David had long been dead) that the second "David" is the Messiah, who would be raised from the dead to show that "neither corruption nor worms had power over him". This was the apostle Peter's conclusion as well, based on the same Psalm and the same logic (Acts 2:24-32).
In the next verse we see clearly that David was also talking about his own future redemption from Sheol because of G-d's Holy One, who would not "see corruption":
כי לא-תעזב נפשי לשאול לא-תתן חסידך לראות שחת תודיעני ארח חיים
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol [the grave]; You will not give up your godly one [Heb: gracious or righteous one] to see corruption; you will announce to me the path of life. - Ps. 16:10
Amazingly, the above Midrash goes on to explain the above reference as not applying to only David and the Messiah, but to G-d Himself:
' לא תעזוב נפשי לשאול לא תתן חסידך - 'You will not leave my soul in Sheol; You will not give up Your Hasid [Godly One]': The Holy One, blessed be He, is called 'Hasid', as it is written [Jer.3:12]: ' כי חסיד אני נאם יי - For I am gracious [Hasid], says Hashem'. And David called himself 'Hasid', as it is written [Ps.86:2]: ' שמרה נפשי כי חסיד אני - Preserve my soul, for I am godly [Hasid].'
The Midrash omits the end of the verse because it's clear that G-d Himself cannot die or see corruption. But its message is that Messiah, who descends from both G-d and David, who is identified with them so closely as be called by their names, would "see corruption" if G-d did not rescue Him. This idea of Messiah being called "G-d" is uncomfortable only to rationalist Jews influenced by Rambam; we have already seen ample evidence that other rabbinic schools took it in stride.
Those who taught that it would be Messiah ben Yosef who would be raised from the grave, and not Messiah ben David, faced a problem in using this passage as support; both the Psalm and rabbinic comment link it to the son of David. And actually, the recognition that the Prophets and early sages spoke of only one Messiah caused at least one later Midrash (first published around 1740) to conclude that only one would appear after all:
If they [Israel] have not acquired [merits], Messiah ben Ephraim will come; and if they have acquired [merits], Messiah ben David will come. - Nistarot R. Shim'on ben Yohai, Beit HaMidrash 3:80
R. Shimon ben Yohai (a disciple of R. Akiva) presents the same "if" that was offered by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi to reconcile Messiah's coming gloriiously in the clouds (Dan.7:13-14) with His coming humbly on a donkey (Zech.9:9). (See BT Sanhedrin 98a, quoted earlier.) Yet the context for the above statement is the Last Days, and in the Nistarot story both of these Messiahs appear anyway, without connection to Israel's merits.
Mysteriously, their roles and Israel's responses to them are reversed. Messiah ben Ephraim performs the works popularly expected of Moshiach, and he is loved. Messiah ben David has only G-d's endorsement, and he is nearly stoned (examined later in more depth). Israel's reason for rejecting him is attributed to this confusion over one vs. two Messiahs:
And Messiah son of Ephraim will sprout for them and he will bring them up to Jerusalem, and will build the Temple and offer sacrifices; and fire will descend from heaven and consume their offerings.... And after this [ben Ephraim's death] the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal to them Messiah son of David. And Israel will want to stone him and will say to him, 'You spoke a lie, for Messiah was already killed and there is no other Messiah still to arise,'... - Nistarot
The mystery deepens as both Messiahs fail in their missions. It is ben Ephraim who gathers the exiles to Jerusalem and builds the Temple; yet he dies without establishing the kingdom, and (as the Midrash tells it) Israel is scattered into the desert. Meanwhile, ben David's name implies that the throne of David should be his, yet he does not reign either, due to Israel's rejection. But the suffering described in Isaiah 53 is applied only to ben David, not to ben Ephraim. The Son of David is then "hidden", but it isn't explained where or how. And not only does the Midrash fail to explain these riddles; it goes on to describe yet another appearance of Messiah:
And in the trouble caused to them, to Israel, they return and cry out from hunger and thirst; and immediately the Holy One, blessed be He, is revealed to them in His glory; as it is said [Isa.40:5]: ' וראו כל בשר יחדו - and all flesh shall see [G-d's glory] together.' And King Messiah will sprout there [quoting Dan.7:13-14], and he will puff at that wicked Armilus and slay him; as it is written [Isa.11:4] ] וברוח שפתיו ימית רשע - And with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.' - Nistarot
This is the Messiah who finally slays Israel's enemies, after which G-d regathers Israel and brings down the heavenly Jerusalem. Thus we are left with more questions than answers. Is this the first Messiah who "sprouted" but died, or the second Messiah who was "revealed" by G-d Himself but was rejected? How do two failed Messiahs morph into one "King Messiah"? And what does it mean that Messiah "will sprout" (a second time) only when and where G-d reveals Himself?
The only solution that makes sense of the puzzle is that one Messiah does it all: first coming to Israel, gathering her lost ones and building a spiritual house for G-d; then dying and being resurrected to appear again, only to be rejected as a false pretender; then being hidden; and finally returning in the clouds to slay Israel's enemies, clothed in G-d's glory and openly bearing His Name. When does He finally become "King" Messiah? When Israel realizes that they had wrongly sent Him away as a liar, and they "cry out from hunger and thirst" for a revelation of G-d.
5. The Messiah will crush Satan, redeem us from spiritual slavery, and preserve us for G-d.
One source which identifies the Messiah as Redeemer is the well-known hymn composed by R. Solomon Halevy Alkabetz in the 16th century, sung every Friday evening when receiving the Sabbath in the synagogue. One verse addresses the following prayer to G-d:
התנערי מעפר, קומי, לבשי בגדי תפארתך, עמי, על יד בן ישי בית הלחמי, קרבה אל נפשי גאלה
Shake yourself from the dust, put on garments of your glory, my people; By the hand of the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, draw near to my soul - redeem it. - "Lecha Dodi"
This is a reference to Messiah (cf. The Complete Artscroll Siddur), who will usher in a Sabbath of redemption for every Jewish soul. The Hertz Daily Prayer Book also notes this verse as referring to the Messiah, but the English translation ("Nigh draws the hour of the Bethlehemite's birth, freedom who bringeth, and glorious days.") obscures His role of redeeming souls which is found in the original.
From what do souls need to be redeemed? The Messianic redemption as taught by rabbinic authorities today usually focuses on political and physical victory over earthly adversaries. To this is sometimes added a comment that the notion of bondage to satanic powers and deliverance from them through Messiah - or even the existence of Satan as a hateful enemy of man - are Christian (or pagan) inventions. However, following is an example of rabbinic tradition (9th cent. CE) which expects the Messiah to provide spiritual redemption by crushing the power of Satan:
It is taught that the Holy One, blessed be He, gazed upon the Messiah and his deeds before He created the world, and He hid it [this Light] for the Messiah and his generation under His Throne of glory.
Satan said before the Holy One, blessed be He: 'Master of the world! The Light that is concealed under Your Throne of glory - for whom is it?' He said to him: 'For him who in the future will turn you back and cause you to fail with a shamed face.' He said to Him: 'Master of the world, show him to me.' He said to him: 'Come and see him.'
And when he [Satan] saw him, he trembled and fell on his face and said, 'Certainly this is the Messiah, and he in the future will cause me to fall, with all the princes of the nations of the world, into Gehenna.' As it is written [Isa.25:8], 'בלע המות לנצח ומחה אדני ה' דמעה מעל כל-פנים - And death will be swallowed up forever, and my Lord G-d will erase tears from every face.'
In that hour, the nations made an uproar, and they said before Him, 'Master of the world, who is this into whose hands we are falling? What is his name? What is his goodness?' The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, 'He is the Messiah, and his name is Ephraim, My righteousness.' - Pesiqta Rabbati 161a (1880 Vienna edition)
The sages had quite a bit to say about Genesis 3:15, the promise that a future "seed" of the woman would "bruise the head" of the serpent who had deceived her. Like the author of the above, they took for granted that the serpent, or Satan, was the sworn enemy of the righteous; and that the promised seed was the Messiah, the "seed that came from another place" (Genesis Raba 23:5). The comment of Targum Yonatan on Gen.3:15 says that these bruises will be either given or received by men based on whether or not they keep G-d's commandments. There will be no healing for the serpent's head-wounds; but there will be healing for the heel-wounds suffered by the woman's law-breaking sons, provided in the days of the Messiah.
Note how closely the above rabbis harmonized with the teaching of the New Testament:
For He delivered us from the authority of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption.... - Col. 1:13-14
When He [Messiah] had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him [G-d]. - Col.2:15
And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. - Rev.21:4
...a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. - Rev.22:1-2
The apostles, however, traced the results of this deliverance by Messiah farther than the rabbis dared. First, the redeemed ones inherit Messiah's own ability to overpower the serpent and cause him to fall (Luke 10:18-19). Second, the bondage from which He delivered us was not the oppression of our enemies, or our servitude in exile, but the tyranny of our own flesh - our inclination to sin, or in rabbinic terms, hayetzer harah (see Rom. 7:22-24 for example, and below for a rabbinic example). Third, our release from that bondage opens the way for us to receive G-d's own Spirit, and truly keep Torah for the first time (Rom. 7:11-8:15, compare with Ezek.36:27). This cycle of growing freedom, purity and obedience has the effect of "crushing Satan" under our feet (Rom.16:19-20).
As we saw earlier, the idea of righteousness acquired through atonement by the Messiah is echoed in rabbinic literature. Release from bondage in order to serve G-d in purity is a hope expressed in many Jewish prayers. Another hope is to inherit an eternal form of the Shabbat, the weekly symbol of freedom from Egypt ("the house of bondage"). This hope is explicitly linked to Messiah in the Shabbat addition to Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals):
הרחמן, הוא ינחילנו יום שכלו שבת ומנוחה לחיי העולמים. הרחמן, הוא יזכנו לימות המשיח .ולחיי העולם הבא
The Compassionate One, He will cause us to inherit a day that is totally Shabbat and a rest [leading] to eternal life. The Compassionate One, He will cause us to merit the days of the Messiah and life in the World to Come.
This idea of a future, deeper Shabbat is also highlighted in the Amidah prayer for Shabbat (קדושת היום - Kedushat HaYom), and to it is added a future, purer service to G-d:
אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו, רצה נא במנוחתנו, קדשנו במצותיך, ותן חלקנו בתורתך, שבענו מטובך, ושמח נפשנו בישועתך, וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת, והנחילנו, ה' אלהינו, באהבה וברצון שבת קדשך, וינוחו בו כל ישראל מקדשי שמך. ברוך אתה ה' מקדש השבת
Our God and God of our fathers, please accept our rest, sanctify us with Your commandments, and give [us] our portion in Your Torah, satisfy us from Your goodness, make our soul joyful in Your salvation, and purify our heart to serve You in truth, and cause us to inherit, L-rd our God, in love and favor Your holy Shabbat, and may all Israel who sanctify Your Name rest in it. Blessed are You, O L-rd, who sanctifies the Shabbat.
The order of requests in this prayer acknowledges the need for a purified heart in order to serve G-d "in truth", beyond the way we are able to serve Him through keeping the mitzvot (which is mentioned earlier). Likewise acknowledged is that although Israel has already inherited the physical Shabbat, there is a deeper "holy Shabbat" that we must seek to inherit. Both of these blessings become ours only through G-d's favor, after our soul embraces His "salvation".
It is noteworthy that the Hebrew of the Amidah prayer ("שבת קדשך") can be read as "the Shabbat of Your Holy One" - a hint that this future Shabbat rest is in the Holy One of G-d (strengthened by "וינוחו בו", which is literally "may they rest in Him", even though "Shabbat" is feminine and is personified as a Bride). The same is taught in Hebrews 3 and 4, a New Testament passage that not only compares these two Shabbats, but also quotes Psalm 95 for support - the very Psalm that opens the traditional Jewish prayers to "receive" the Shabbat:
:היום אם בקלו תשמעו: אל תקשו לבבכם ...אשר נשבעתי באפי, אם יבאון אל מנוחתי
Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts... for [or, about which] I swore in My wrath, that they will not come to My rest. - Ps. 95:11
Therefore, the redemption of our souls from the dominion of our spiritual enemy Satan is as much a Jewish hope as national redemption from our earthly oppressors. The greater Redemption also includes spiritual deliverance from our evil inclination which enslaves us to sin and corrupts our service to G-d. The Redemption we await is to come through the suffering Messiah ben David, "son of Jesse the Bethlehemite". It is the spiritual Shabbat that leads to eternal life and rest, not the physical Shabbat; and the true service to G-d that sanctifies His Name goes beyond keeping the mitzvot to require a purified heart.
Most importantly, the Jewish prayers, the Psalm and the New Testament all agree that entry to the eternal Shabbat is dependent upon hearing G-d's voice, and not hardening our hearts against what we are hearing.
But who can keep his own heart from hardening to G-d's voice? Who can even know when he is doing it? Even the righteous King David was in despair about the faithlessness of his own heart:
:כי אפפו-עלי רעות עד-אין מספר השיגוני עונתו ולא-יכלתי לראות עצמו משערות ראשי ולבי עזבני
For evils have surrounded me until [they are] without number; my iniquities have overtaken me and I could not see; they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart has abandoned me. - Ps. 40:13 (Heb)
At the same time, he saw the solution:
:אתה ה' לא-תכלא רחמיך ממני חסדך ואמתך תמיד יצרוני
You, L-rd, will not restrain Your mercies from me; Your grace and Your truth will preserve me. - Ps. 40:12 (Heb)
The word rendered here as "preserve" is a future form of the root word נצר - "Netzer". As we already saw, the rabbis knew that one of Messiah's names would be נצר, based on Isaiah's prophecy:
'ויצא חטר הגזע ישי ונצר משרשיו יפרה: ונחה עליו רוח ה
And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots, and the Spirit of G-d will rest on him... - Isaiah 11:1-2
Besides "twig", the name can also be read (and is indeed rendered elsewhere through Masoretic vowel-pointing) as "Notzer" - "Preserver" or "Keeper". This Messianic name was the reason for Matthew's word-play with Yeshua's hometown:
...and came and resided in a city called Nazareth [Heb. נצרת - "Natzrat"], that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, 'He shall be called a Nazarene' [Heb. נצרי - "Notzri"]. - Matt. 2:23
Matthew's reference to multiple "prophets" who called Messiah "Netzer/Notzer" was likely based on alternate readings of verses in addition to Isaiah 11:1, like Exod. 34:7 (where נצר חסד - "Notzer Hesed" is one of G-d's "Midot" or Attributes), Prov. 16:17 and others. Matthew's specific use of "Notzri" (besides the obvious meaning, "resident of Natzrat") was probably an alternate reading of Ps. 25:10:
כל ארחות ה' חסד ואמת לנצרי בריתו ועדתיו
Instead of a plural "those who keep", the word can also be rendered as singular ("My one who keeps"). This verse could just as easily be read as:
All the ways of G-d, grace and truth, belong to the Notzri [or, to My Preserver], His covenant and His testimonies.
Regarding the question of whose "covenant" is featured here, we will see later that the rabbis expected Messiah to bring a new Covenant.
6. Waiting for the Messiah: Where and When?
Every Jew is required by rabbinic decree to believe in the coming of King Messiah, the son of David; it is one of the thirteen articles of the Jewish faith (Shlosha Asar Ikarim), recited in the Shaharit (morning) service:
:אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח. ואף על פי שיתמהמה עם כל-זה אחכה-לו בכל-יום שיבא
I believe with perfect [or, complete] faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though He should delay, nevertheless I will wait every day for Him to come. (Article 12)
The declaration is derived directly from Habakkuk 2:3:
כי עוד חזון למועד ויפח לקץ ולא יכזב אם-יתמהמה חכה לו כי-בא יבא לא יאחר
For there is yet a vision [or, another vision] for an appointed time, and it speaks to the end and will not lie. If it [or, He] delays, wait for it [or, Him]; for it [or, He] will surely come and will not be late.
The rabbinic use of this verse implies that they understood the "vision" as speaking of the coming of Messiah, and that what "delays" is not an "it" but a "He".
Jews who do not await a personal Messiah are violating Torah and all the Prophets, according to Rambam (Maimonides):
He who does not believe in Him [Messiah] or he who does not await His coming, not only denies the rest of the prophets, but also the Torah and Moses our Master. For, behold, the Torah testifies about Him [Messiah], as it is written [Deut. 30:3-5]: ושב ה' אלוהיך את שבותך, וריחמך; ושב, וקיבצך מכל העמים . . . אם ...יהיה נידחך, בקצה השמיים--משם, יקבצך ה' אלוהיך, ומשם, ייקחך. והביאך ה' אלוהיך
'And the L-rd your God will return your captivity and will have compassion on you; and will return and gather you from all the peoples... If your outcasts are at the end of the heavens - from there the L-rd your God will gather you, and from there He will take you. And the L-rd your God shall bring you....' And these are the plain words in the Torah; they include all the things that were said by all the prophets. - Mishne Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Hilkhot Melakhim v'Milhamot 11:2
We note in passing that Rambam seemed unaware that his choice of Torah support identifies "the L-rd your God" as the One performing all the actions he attributed to Messiah; this lines up with the many sages who equated Messiah with G-d, but it actually refutes Rambam's own contention that G-d "has no body, is free from all the properties of matter, and that there can be no (physical) comparison to Him whatsoever." (Principles of Faith, Article 3) Regardless of this error, Rambam's categorical statement that the Torah "testifies about Messiah" agrees with Yeshua Himself:
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. - John 5:46
Granted then, that the Torah, the Prophets and the sages require us to believe that the Messiah is coming. But are we given to know when?
During the first two centuries C.E., the Tannaim made various predictions about the time that King Messiah was to come, based on verses in the Bible or on other authoritative sources. For example, Daniel 7:25 was used by the sages, Psalm 80:6 was used by R. Simlai, and Haggai 2:6 was used by R. Akiva, to arrive at definite dates for the coming of Messiah (Sanh. 97b). But according to Rashi's explanation of this Talmudic passage, the three verses did not refer to the coming of King Messiah as those rabbis had thought, but to the Hasmonean (143-67 BCE), Herodian (47 BCE-6 CE), and Bar Koziva (132-135 CE) kingdoms. Therefore in Rashi's view, these were verses which predicted the times of independent Jewish kingdoms, whose kings were "anointed ones", but who were not the King Messiah we are still waiting for (see footnote 17 in the Soncino translation of Sanhedrin 97b).
Another prediction, made in the Tanna debe Eliyyahu (a 3rd-century CE collection of earlier sayings) and quoted in the Talmud (Sanh. 97a), was that the Messianic era would begin 4000 years after the Creation (242 CE according to the dating of the Talmud), and would last 2000 years. Much discussion was devoted to calculating the first 4000 years (Avodah Zarah 9a-9b, esp. footnote 10 for 9a in the Soncino translation). But the delay of the Messiah's arrival until the time of the Talmud (about 500 CE) was attributed to Israel's many sins (Av. Zar. 9a). All such calculated dates passed without the appearance of King Messiah, until at last Rav (Abba b. Aivu) said: "All the predestined dates (for redemption) have passed, and the matter (now) depends only on repentance and good deeds." (Sanh. 97b)
Since Rav is thought to have lived from 175-247 (go here for background), we must conclude that he said this before the end of the third century, and therefore that all the dates that he knew about fell prior to 300 CE. Since he had studied with the greatest of the Tannaim in Palestine, and was the founder of the Academy at Sura, one of the two great schools in Babylon, we can assume that he knew about all the commonly accepted calculations.
R. Jonathan, a contemporary of Rav who lived in Palestine, went even further and interpreted Habakkuk 2:3 as a curse on anyone who calculated the time of Messiah's arrival (i.e., who was not content to merely "wait for Him"). The reason given for this curse in the Talmud is that when someone calculated, and saw that the time had already passed, and that the Messiah had not come when he should have, he would conclude that he would never come (Sanh. 97b).
Rabbi Yehuda Hehasid (1150-1217) denounced Messianic calculations in even stronger terms, calling it witchcraft, and concluding, "...for no man knows about the coming of the Messiah." (Sefer Hasidim, pp. 76-77)
Nevertheless, Jewish scholars continued to calculate new dates after this, and the dates continued to pass without the Messiah having arrived (Enc. Jud. Vol.11, p.1412 ff.). Rashi (1040-1105) calculated that the Messiah would come in 1352 or in 1478. Maimonides (1135-1204) made a prediction for 1210, but later he discouraged preoccupation with calculating the date of His coming, on the grounds that such efforts "lead neither to fear nor to love (of G-d)." (Mishne Torah, Shoftim, Hilkhot Melakhim 12:5). Nachmanides (1194-1268) expected Him in 1403; Rabbi Moses de Leon (1240-1305), author of the Zohar, gave a whole list of favorable dates: 1300, 1306, 1324, 1334, 1340, 1608 and 1648. As recent a date as 1913 was put forth by the Chief Rabbi of Romania, Meir Loeb ben Yehiel Malbim, who lived from 1809 to 1879 (Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts, pp. 55-56).
This disregard for earlier prohibitions was rationalized in a Hassidic tale in which the Rabbi of Sadagora, a tsaddik ("righteous one"), explains that every calculated date which passes without the Redemption serves to bring it one step closer (Martin Buber, Tales II:72).
As an alternative to calculating the Messiah's advent, a teaching arose that if two or three saintly men were to join spiritual forces, they could actually bring the Messiah (Patai, p. 66). This idea was derived from a Talmudic passage (Bab. Metz. 85b) hinting that if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were to unite in prayer, they would "bring Messiah before his time." This was denounced by many sages as an attempt to manipulate G-d; yet stories circulated about attempts made by different rabbis to force the coming of the Messiah.
The various strategies usually involved men held to be exceptionally righteous, who harnessed power from the Kabbalah. Their failures were attributed to interference from either Satan or the heavenly residents, or (as often actually happened) their untimely deaths. These initiatives were opposed by other respected rabbis, including the Ba'al Shem Tov, who insisted that only wholesale repentance would bring the Messiah.
6A. "And even though He should delay..."
Those who recognize Yeshua as the Messiah are not distressed by the long wait for the Messianic kingdom, since He explicitly warned that He would certainly delay His return (Matt. 24:42-50; 25:5). For the rest of the Jewish community, the waiting has caused problems.
Faced with the continuing delay of the Messiah, the Reform segments of Jewish leadership simply abandoned the idea of awaiting a person, and adopted a "messianic age" of brotherhood, justice and peace on earth to be brought about by enlightened humanists. This was a very late (20th century) development, however, and it already appears to be waning as Jewish teachers increasingly return to the expectation of a personal Messiah (Enc. Jud., vol. 11, p. 1415).
Meanwhile, on the Orthodox side of the community, Messiah's delay was no less disturbing, but dispensing with a personal King was out of the question. Most took refuge in a rationalization commonly taught in Chasidic circles today: some righteous person in every generation is actually the Messiah with the pre-existent heavenly "Messiah soul" infused into him. Whenever such a man fails to establish the expected kingdom, for whatever reason, it does not mean that he was never Messiah to begin with; rather he had been blocked from revealing himself as King Messiah by the shortcomings of his generation.
No rabbinic support is offered for this widely repeated belief, other than medieval teachings borrowed from Hinduism. Rank-and-file Jews usually assume that it was derived from Rambam (Maimonides); but the latter only said (Hilkhot Melachim 11:9) that someone presumed to be the Messiah must accomplish certain tasks to prove that he is indeed the Messiah; "if he does not succeed completely, or is killed, then it is known that he was not the one the Torah promised," but merely a righteous king from the house of David. The idea of "Messiah" as a role that can transfer from one individual to another in every generation was a loophole never endorsed by either Rambam or earlier Talmudic authorities. If it had been, the following commentary would have been unnecessary.
R. Joshua b. Levi (in the same story mentioned earlier, after hearing from Elijah that the Messiah was a leper outside the gates) went and found the leper Messiah, and asked him when he was coming; to which the Messiah replied, "Today." When R. Joshua returned to Elijah, he complained to him that the leper Messiah had spoken falsely, since he had not come that day. Elijah answered him that what had been said was the beginning of the verse, "Today, if you will hear his voice," (Ps. 95:7) and that he was making his coming conditional on the obedience of Israel.
The implication here is that the continued miserable condition of the Messiah, as well as His delay in coming, was indeed due to circumstances (Israel's continued disobedience). However, there was clearly only one individual who was designated as "the" Messiah, and his mission did not pass to another individual with the passing generations.
But if this is so, what kind of a lifespan could the rabbis have attributed to such a person? Nothing was said in the previous passage about when the leper Messiah had been born. However, in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 2:4), a story described the Messiah as having been an unfortunate child who was born at the time of the destruction of the second Temple. The young child was carried away by a whirlwind (as Elijah had been - II Kings 2:11), to the great distress of his mother, and discouraging the Jew who had come looking for him. This Midrash (repeated in Lamentations Rabba) was denigrated by R. Avun because the advice concerning Messiah's arrival had come from an Arab; the rabbi retorted that the Jews can learn the same thing from their own Prophet:
והלבנון באדיר יפול: ויצא חטר הגזע ישי ונצר משרשיו יפרה
And Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one. And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig [Netzer] shall grow forth out of his roots. - Isaiah 10:34-11:1
The first verse was applied to the destruction of the Temple, which had been built with cedars from Lebanon, thus making a connection between the destruction of the Temple and the birth of the Messiah. (Midrash Lam. Rabbah tav-63)
This connection may have been why the Vilna Gaon added that the leper Messiah was still (in his day) waiting outside the gate of Rome (Soncino edition footnote 41 on Sanh. 98a). He was implying that the Messiah was suffering in captivity along with the rest of the Jewish people, and that he had either been taken to Rome, or possibly that he had been dropped at Rome by the whirlwind, after the destruction of the Temple (70 CE). In either case, the revered sage was implying a supernatural lifetime for the waiting leper Messiah (the Vilna Gaon lived from 1720 to 1797 CE).
The place where the Messiah would be born figures in with the time He would appear. This was agreed to be Bethlehem, included in the above Midrash that says Messiah was born in Bethlehem at the time of the destruction of the second Temple:
[The Arab advised:] 'Unharness your ox and untie your plough [as a mark of mourning].' 'Why?' he [the Jew] asked. 'Because the Temple of the Jews is destroyed.' ...'Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the deliverer of the Jews is born.' 'What is his name?' he asked; and he [the Arab] answered, 'His name is Menachem' ["Comforter", from Lam. 1:16]. 'What is his father's name?' He answered, 'Hezekiah.' [cf. Sanh. 98b] 'Where do they live?' He answered, 'In the royal capital of Bethlehem of Judah.' - Lamentations R. tav-51ff
This refers in part to Micah 5:1-2 (quoted earlier) which names Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah, even though King Hezekiah never lived there and Scripture does not record any son of Hezekiah named Menachem.
One tradition holds that the Messiah, although born in Bethlehem, will reveal Himself in Galilee (for example, Midrash 'Aseret haSh'vatim, Otsar Midrashim, ed. J.D. Eisenstein, p. 466). This is probably based on the prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2:
כי לא מועף לאשר מוצק לה כעת הראשון הקל ארצה זבלון וארצה נפתלי והאחרון הכביד דרך הים עבר הירדן גליל הגוים: העם ההלכים בחשך ראו אור גדול ישבי בארץ צלמות אור נגה עליהם
For He is not wearied for that which He was afflicted for her [Israel]; the first time He made light of her land of Zevulon and her land of Naftali, yet the last [time] He made glorious the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, the Galilee of the Gentiles: the people walking in darkness saw a great Light; those sitting in the land of the shadow of death, a Light has gleamed over them. - Isaiah 8:23-9:2
Part of this is also quoted with regard to Yeshua by Matthew, noting the locations of His ministry:
And leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet saying: 'The land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali, toward the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: the people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.' - Matt. 4:15-16
But why did all these rabbinic commentators insist on retroactively timing the Messiah's birth at Bethlehem with the destruction of the second Temple - even those teachers living hundreds of years later?
The reason for this is due to early widespread agreement that the calculated times for the Messiah were limited by a definitive passage in Daniel:
ותדע ותשכל מן-מצא דבר להשיב ולבנות ירושלם עד-משיח נגיד שבעים שבעה ושבעים ששים ושנים תשוב ונבנתה רחוב וחרוץ ובצוק העתים: ואחרי השבעים ששים ושנים יכרת משיח ואין לו :והעיר והקדש ישחית עם נגיד הבא
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks [i.e., 69 weeks]; you will return and road and trench will be built [or, a road will be built, widened and deepened], and in distressed times. Then after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off and have nothing [or, none will be for him], and the people of the prince to come will destroy the city and the holy place. - Dan. 9:25-26
Bypassing the debates on the exact calculation of the 69 "weeks", we note that all rabbinic authorities agreed that the Messiah would be "cut off" (either killed or otherwise removed from the scene) after Jerusalem and the Temple were rebuilt from the Babylonian destruction, and before they were destroyed a second time. Therefore, the latest possible date for Messiah's appearance would have to be the 9th of Av in the year 70 CE, the very day in which the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.
Rather than deny the validity of Daniel's prophecy, the rabbis preferred to teach that the Messiah did indeed come within the allotted time, endeavoring to place His birth at the absolutely last minute. They then had to wrestle with new questions: why Israel failed to see Him, what has become of Him since His appearance until now, and what will finally cause Him to be revealed.
But before we examine these dilemmas created by the rabbis' faithfulness to the prophet Daniel, let us take a look at the timing of Yeshua's death. Not only did it take place within the time constraints of Daniel 9, but the Talmud records some remarkable events which took place at that same time. Of course the sages did not suggest any connection between Yeshua's crucifixion (circa 30 CE - Enc. Judaica, Vol.10, p.11), and the strange changes noticed in the Temple; they simply recorded them as happening "forty years before the Destruction [in 70 CE]". But it is precisely their ignorance of the possible implications that supports the objectivity of their witness.
6B. Events mentioned in the Talmud that coincide with Yeshua's death.
Our Rabbis taught: 'During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the lot [the one designated "for the L-rd"] did not come up in the right hand, nor did the crimson-colored strap [on the bullock] become white, nor did the westernmost light [in the Sanctuary] shine, and the doors of the Sanctuary would open by themselves, until R. Yochanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: "Sanctuary, Sanctuary, why will you sound the alarm yourself? I know about you that you will be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Iddo has already prophesied (Zech.11) about you: פתח לבנון דלתיך ותאכל אש בארזיך - 'Open your doors, O Lebanon, that fire may devour your cedars.'"' - Yoma 39b
The lot referred to here is the lot that was cast on the Day of Atonement to decide which of the two goats would be for the L-rd and which one for Azazel (Lev. 16:8); it was considered a favorable sign if the lot "for the L-rd" came up in the right hand of the high priest. The crimson strap was tied between the horns of the bullock which was also offered on the Day of Atonement; if it turned white, it signified that G-d had forgiven Israel's sin according to the words of Isaiah 1:18, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." The westernmost of the seven lights on the Temple menorah, the one closest to the Holy of Holies, was provided with as much oil as the other six, and it was lighted first. If it continued to burn after the others had used up their oil and gone out, it was a sign that the Shekhinah (the cloud of the glory of G-d's presence, which visibly inhabited the first Temple) was with Israel (see Soncino footnotes 6,12,13 in Yoma 39a).
When the doors of the Sanctuary (Heichal) opened by themselves, R. Yochanan b. Zakkai understood it to be a sign of the Temple's impending destruction. This was based on a midrashic interpretation of Zech. 11:1, in which he understood "Lebanon" as a symbol of the Temple, which was built from Lebanon's cedars.
The Talmud (Yoma 39a-b) refers to three periods of time with regard to these signs. During the 40 years that Simeon the Righteous ministered as high priest (about 200 BCE; see Enc. Jud. Vol.14, p.1566), the lot ("for the L-rd") always came up in the right hand, the crimson-colored strap always turned white, and the westernmost light always shone. After his death, and until 40 years before the destruction of the Temple, a period of about 200 years, these signs sometimes happened, and sometimes did not. During the last 40 years before the destruction, they did not happen at all.
6C. The Significance of 40-Year Periods.
The theme of 40 years as a period of testing and judgment for rebellious Israel is familiar in Jewish tradition. Every Friday evening in the synagogue, the following verses are read from Psalm 95:
כי הוא אלהינו ואנחנו עם מרעיתו וצאן ידו היום אם-בקלו תשמעו: אל-תקשו לבבכם כמריבה כיום מסה במדבר: אשר נסוני אבותיכם בחנוני גם-ראו פעלי: ארבעים שנה אקוט בדור ואמר עם :תעי לבב הם והם לא-ידעו דרכי: אשר-נשבעתי באפי אם-יבאון אל-מנוחתי
The Hebrew can be translated thus:
For He is our G-d, and we are a people He pastures, and sheep of His hand - today, if you will listen to His voice. Do not harden your hearts like Meribah, like the day of trial in the wilderness, in which your fathers tried Me; they tested Me and also saw My works. Forty years I will be disgusted with a generation; and I said, 'They are an errant-hearted people, and they did not know My ways;' concerning whom I swore in My wrath, 'They shall never come to My rest.' - Ps. 95:7-11
G-d is admonishing His people born after the rebellious generation who wandered in the wilderness. Everyone knows that the rebels' judgment was for 40 years; thus most translators render this passage, "For forty years I loathed [that] generation," making His action past tense and inserting "that" to specify the wilderness wanderers referred to earlier in the passage. In Hebrew, however, G-d could just as easily be speaking in future tense: "For forty years I will be disgusted with a generation." He was not speaking only about the generation that wandered in the wilderness, He was making a statement of principle.
The 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was initiated by the refusal of Israel to obey G-d by entering the land which He had promised them:
:ולא אביתם לעלת ותמרו את-פי ה' אלהיכם
However you would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your G-d. - Deut. 1:26
The rebellion against G-d found expression in the decisions to reject Moses and Aaron whom G-d had chosen, choose for themselves a leader who would lead them contrary to the way G-d had commanded them to go, and stone Joshua and Caleb who called them to repent. All of these proposals were supported by the entire congregation (Num.14:2-10). It was at this point that G-d stepped in and pronounced judgment: 40 years during which they "will know My opposition" (Num. 14:34). His opposition was proven to be justified as the children of Israel continued to reject Moses.
We already saw that Moses himself is named "the first Messiah" by the rabbis. In light of this, we should not be surprised if the prophet like Moses whom G-d promised to send (Deut. 18:18) would experience the same rejection that Moses did.
And what became of that generation at the end of the 40 years of G-d's disgust? Their judgement was complete:
:'ויחר-אף ה' בישראל וינעם במדבר ארבעים שנה עד-תם כל-הדור העשה הרע בעיני ה
And the wrath of G-d burned against [or, in] Israel, and He made them wander in the desert forty years until all the generation that had done evil in the eyes of G-d was fully ended. - Num. 32:13
We are told that the signs of G-d's favor exhibited in the second Temple failed completely for the last 40 years of its existence. The Talmudic passage itself does not say why, but rabbis through the ages have sought to answer the hugely important question: What did that last generation do that so deeply offended G-d?
7. Why the Destruction in 70 CE? Rabbinic answers for Churban Ha-Bayit.
The Talmud clearly states that the Second Temple was destroyed because of groundless hatred (שנאת חינם - literally, "hatred for nothing"):
But the second Sanctuary, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, precepts and the practice of charity - why was it destroyed? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of equal gravity with the three sins [which destroyed the first Sanctuary] of idolatry, immorality and bloodshed together. - Yoma 9b
Shortly before His crucifixion (and at least 40 years before the above ruling), Yeshua said (referring to Ps. 35:19, 69:4-5):
If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated me and my Father as well. But this is in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, 'They hated me without a cause.' - John 15:24-25
The "word written in the Law" that Yeshua saw as being fulfilled here included verses such as:
שנאי חנם יקרצו-עין
They who hate me without cause will blink the eye [ie, will break eye contact]. - Ps. 35:19
רבו משערות ראשי שנאי חנם
Greater [in number] than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause. - Ps. 69:5
In both cases, David was speaking of (or as) a righteous man oppressed by איבי שקר (literally "false" or "lying" enemies) appealing to G-d for vindication.
But the Torah community has long argued that there was ample cause for the rejection, conviction and execution of Yeshua. One version in the Talmud states that the Jewish authorities pronounced Him guilty, based on the following charges:
It was taught: On the eve of the Passover Yesh"u (the Nazarene) was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favor, he was hanged on the eve of the Passover. - Sanh. 43a (censored for a time due to Church pressure)
There has been lively dispute about whether this passage actually refers to Yeshua of Nazareth, but the likelihood of another man by this name being put to death on a Passover eve for the same crimes blamed on Yeshua is extremely low. Moreover, the name is spelled in the Talmud not as ישו but as the acronym יש"ו - "may his name and memory be erased" (a word-play on "Yeshua" that endures to this day). Moreover, the New Testament agrees that Yeshua's miracles were attributed by the Pharisees to demons (Matt.9:34, 12:23-24, Mark 3:22, Luke 11:14-15), that He was branded as a "deceiver" and "enticer" (Matt.27:63, Jn.7:12,47).
We are told that Yeshua's claims to be the Son of G-d resulted in several attempts to stone Him (Jn.8:59, 10:31-39, 11:8). This allows for the possibility that the Sanhedrin might have actually issued a sentence of stoning against Him which some attempted to carry out unsuccessfully. Interestingly, the Talmudic passage begins by explaining that halachah requires that "a herald goes forth" immediately before such an execution, but then finds it necessary to make excuses for the 40-day delay between this man's sentencing (death by stoning) and His actual death (by hanging):
Said Ulla: Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not an enticer, about whom the Merciful One says (Deut.13:9), ולא-תחמל ולא-תכסה עליו - 'Neither shall you spare, neither shall you conceal him'? But Yesh"u was different, for he was connected with the kingdom [קרוב למלכות].
This may have been a veiled reference to the Jewish people's acceptance of Yeshua as a herald of the "Kingdom of Heaven" and/or His royal status as "son of David", which made it difficult to carry out the sentence. The New Testament records the Sanhedrin trying unsuccessfully to arrest Him, and both Yeshua and the people being aware of a death sentence against Him (John 7). A special Council was convened to discuss the dilemma of His popularity, specifically mentioning His potential to set up a kingdom (Jn.11:47-53), resulting in a proclamation going out that He was to be arrested and put to death (vv.53-57).
Why were they so determined? It would seem His Messianic claims, backed by miracles, were causing people to turn away from G-d; therefore Yeshua ha-Notzri merited death by stoning (Deut.13:10). This implies that the Sanhedrin had applied the tests given in Torah to expose such false prophets and miracle-workers:
כי-יקום בקרבך נביא או חלם חלום ונתן אליך אות או מופת: ובא האות והמופת אשר-דבר אליך לאמר נלכה אחרי אלהים אחרים אשר לא-ידעתם ונעבדם: לא תשמע אל-דברי הנביא ההוא או אל-חולם החלום ההוא כי מנסה ה' אלהיכם אתכם לדעת הישכם אהבים את-ה' אלהיכם בכל-לבבכם ובכל-נפשכם: אחרי ה' אלהיכם תלכו ואתו תיראו ואת-מצותיו תשמרו ובקלו תשמעו ואתו תעבדו ובו תדבקון: והנביא ההוא או חלם החלום ההוא יומת כי דבר-סרה על-ה' אלהיכם... ובערת הרע מקרבך
When there arises among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams and he gives to you a sign or a wonder, and the sign and the wonder come [to pass], which he spoke to you saying, 'Come, let us go after other gods which you did not know and let us serve them'; you shall not hear the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the L-rd your God is testing you, to know if you love the L-rd your God with all your hearts and with all your souls. You shall go after the L-rd your God, and [only] Him shall you fear, and His commandments you shall keep, and His voice you shall hear, and you shall serve Him and you shall cling to Him. And that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, for he has spoken of turning away from the L-rd your God... and you shall burn the evil from among you. - Deut. 13:1-5 (2-6 in Heb)
The Talmud is curiously mute, however, about anyone whom Yeshua had "enticed" away from G-d. Nor is it stated which foreign god was Yeshua trying to promote through His signs. Which of G-d's laws was He accused of transgressing? Yeshua asked the same of His critics (John 8:46; 10:32). Since the Talmud fails to elaborate, we have only the New Testament as a possible source for detecting sin on His part against the Torah.
Jewish scholars who have studied Yeshua's life from the gospel records (the first four books of the New Testament) have concluded that he was an observant Jew by the rabbinic standards of his day:
The first three Gospels, however, portray Yeshua as a Jew who was faithful to the current practice of the Law. ...The Gospels provide sufficient evidence to the effect that Yeshua did not oppose any prescription of the Written or Oral Mosaic Law, and that he even performed Jewish religious commandments. - Enc. Jud. Vol. 10, p.13
If Yeshua was not guilty of embracing other gods, then perhaps did the "apostasy" consist in trying to convince the people to see Himself as a new deity? We have already seen that someone calling himself "the Son of G-d," or even calling himself by G-d's holy Name, was not considered a blasphemer by the Jewish sages -- provided he was worthy of the title.
Then maybe Yeshua's "apostasy" was in trying to usurp the role of the Sanhedrin as a ruler of the people, in violation of G-d's commandment? On the contrary, the New Testament writings show that Yeshua and His disciples submitted to the Jewish authorities in every area delegated to them by Torah, adhering to every ruling which did not transgress G-d's laws. Moreover, Yeshua actively resisted attempts by others to proclaim Him as any kind of earthly leader (Luke 12:13-14; Jn. 6:15; 18:33-36). He even commented on the irony that in seeking glory for G-d and not for Himself, He was being rejected, while others who were clearly working to create a kingdom for themselves (and for that reason ought to be suspect), had no trouble being accepted:
I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him. - John 5:43
If Yeshua had been calling the people to seek the G-d of Israel and keep His laws, and if He Himself was obedient to G-d's commandments and to the Torah-ordained authorities, then His condemnation as someone "enticing Israel to apostasy" was groundless. It also means, according to the Torah, that the miracles He performed were not "sorcery" but represented G-d's approval of Him.
A claim to be the ultimate Prophet - the Anointed One sent from G-d - could not be viewed as false simply because the one claiming it was not a likely-looking candidate. It was a claim to be tested by faithfulness to G-d and faithfulness in delivering G-d's words in G-d's Name. If the test were to be positive, this One would have be heeded, on pain of Divine judgment.
נביא מקרבך מאחיך כמני יקים לך ה' אלהיך אליו תשמעון: ככל אשר-שאלת מעם ה' אלהיך בחרב ביום הקהל לאמר לא אסף לשמע את-קול ה' אלהי ואת-האש הגדלה הזאת לא-אראה עוד ולא אמות: ויאמר ה' אלי היטיבו אשר דברו: נביא אקים להם מקרב אחיהם כמוך ונתתי דברי בפיו ודבר אליהם את כל-אשר אצונו: והיה האיש אשר לא-ישמע אל-דברי אשר ידבר בשמי אנכי :אדרש מעמו
A prophet from among you, from your brethren, like me, the L-rd your God will raise up for you; to him you will listen. According to all that you asked from the L-rd your God at Horev in the day of the assembly, saying, 'I will not listen more to the voice of the L-rd my God, and this great fire I will not see further, and I will not die.' And G-d said to me, 'They have done well in what they said; a prophet I will raise up for them from among their brethren, like you, and I will give My words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I will command him. And it shall be, the man who does not listen to the words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it from him.' - Deut. 18:15-19
To utterly reject such an individual, despite His faithfulness, could only be motivated by a groundless hatred of that One, which implies a hatred of G-d Himself.
And yet this groundless hatred toward Yeshua was acknowledged by Him and His apostles to have been a sin of ignorance:
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. - Luke 23:34
But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life... And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. - Acts 3:14, 17
The rabbis, noting that the purpose for the daily sacrifice known as the "Olat Tamid" was never explained in Torah, have concluded that it was to atone for the sins of Jerusalem committed in ignorance, both day and night, in order to validate the description of Jerusalem in Isaiah 1:21: "קריה נאמנה מלאתי משפט צדק ילין בה - The faithful city full of justice, righteousness will lodge in her" (see Midrash B'Midbar Rabba, Parashat Pinchas:21).
As seen earlier, the rabbis have also recognized that the Tamid is somehow connected to the Akedah sacrifice. Messiah was the One hinted at by both sacrifices; and as confirmation, His death on the cross took place at the time of day for the evening Tamid, and also on the date that Jewish tradition originally placed the Akedah: Nisan 14 (Go to the RZ article on Rosh Ha-Hodeshim entitled, "Messiah, Our Passover," for the documentation from Jewish sources.) This is just one more way in which the suffering Messiah established His mission and His authority from G-d to secure forgiveness for Jerusalem's sins.
Nevertheless, both the Jewish Scriptures and rabbinic commentaries acknowledge that there is fallout from sins of ignorance, especially when they are committed by leaders.
7A. Rabbinic Errors Concerning the Messiah, and Their Consequences
This idea of connecting hatred of Yeshua with the Churban gives rise (or should give rise) to two urgent protests:
How could the great rabbis of that day, including the Sanhedrin (the only court with rabbinic authority to pass a death sentence), be ignorant in so important a matter as the identification of King Messiah? And would a mistake in identifying the Messiah really merit such a harsh punishment from G-d as the destruction of 70 CE? The second question is especially difficult, in light of the way the historical Church has used this issue to justify their abuse of the Jewish people.
Regarding the first question, the Talmud and Rambam (Maimonides) testify that the rabbis had indeed erred in the case of Simeon Bar Kochba a hundred years after Yeshua (135 CE). No less a sage than Rabbi Akiva believed Bar Kochba to be the Messiah. Furthermore, the Talmud states that there was a Sanhedrin at Betar, Bar Kochba's capital (Sanh. 17b), indicating that such a court willingly participated in Bar Kochba's rule.
And yet Rambam wrote that Bar Kochba was not simply a messiah who failed in his mission (as is taught today), but a deceiver whose sins brought about his death:
Even Rabbi Akiva, who was the greatest of the sages of the Mishnah, was a supporter [armor-bearer] of King Ben Kozivah, saying of him that he was the King Messiah. He and all the sages of his generation imagined that he was the King Messiah until he was killed for sins [which he had committed]." - Maim. Hilkhot Melachim 11:6
Rambam used a derogatory name here ["son of a lie"], a Hebrew pun on the man's real name, Bar Koseva, which Rabbi Akiva had changed to Bar Kochba ["son of a star"]. As for "the sages of his generation", other sources reported that not all them had agreed with Akiva either:
Said Rabbi Yochanan, R. Hiyya would demand: ' דרך כוכב מיעקב - A star rose from Jacob' (Num 24): Do not read 'a star' but 'a liar'. Rabbi Akiva, when he saw Bar Kozeva, said: 'This is the King Messiah!' Rabbi Johanan ben Torta said to him: 'Akiva! Grass will grow in your cheeks and still He [the son of David] does not come!' - Mid. Lamentations Rabba 2:2, no.4 (also found in Jerusalem Talmud, Ta'anit 4:5)
Lamentations Rabba records some of the sins referred to by Rambam. Bar Kochba required his soldiers to amputate a finger (to prove either bravery or loyalty), causing the Sages to protest, "How long will you continue to make the men of Israel blemished?" The Midrash goes on to say that while trapped in Betar by the Romans, Bar Kochba suspected Rabbi Eleazer of Mode'in of betraying him and killed the revered sage in a fit of temper, upon which a heavenly Voice pronounced him a "worthless shepherd".
Bar Kochba's conduct reportedly caused Rabbi Akiva and others to finally withdraw their support, but they stopped short of declaring him worthy of death. Instead, the murderer of Rabbi Eleazer inexplicably became a hero to the Torah community, and his memory is honored every year in the Israeli holiday of Lag Ba'Omer. Apparently Bar Kochba's military success allowed generations of rabbinic leadership to overlook his blatant sins against the Torah.
Remembering the charges against Yeshua as recorded in the Talmud, let us examine how the rabbis responded to a later messiah who clearly led the people into outright apostasy: Sabbatai (or Shabbatai) Zevi.
Shabbatai Zevi was a Jew from Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire, born in 1626 on the 9th of Av, the traditional date set by the rabbis for the Messiah's birth. Through Zevi's study of Lurianic Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism as formulated by Rabbi Isaac Luria, the "Ari") he became convinced that he was the Messiah. He proclaimed himself as such in 1648, a year predicted in the Zohar for the arrival of the Messiah. Shabbatai Zevi deliberately broke Torah and rabbinic commands, eating nonkosher food and pronouncing the Tetragrammaton aloud. He married and divorced twice in quick succession, and took a Jewish nun-turned-prostitute for his third wife. He sang Psalms and "course Spanish love songs" with equal piety (see Wikipedia for documentation).
Nevertheless, after he rescued the Jews of Jerusalem from Turkish threats by raising a large sum of money, Zevi's influence spread across Europe and captivated the Jewish community:
Shabbatai Zevi's antinomian [anti-Torah] acts, but even more so his personal beauty and extraordinary charm, made people accept his Messianic pretensions unquestioningly, and the popular enthusiasm he evoked was unprecedented. By 1665, the whole Diaspora was under his spell. From Poland emissaries were sent to pay him homage, and in Holland entire Jewish communities liquidated their positions and waited for his word in the harbors to set sail for the Holy Land. - Patai, The Messiah Texts, p. xlv
Zevi's prophet, Nathan of Gaza, predicted that the Turkish Sultan would voluntarily hand over the Empire to Shabbatai Zevi. In 1666, Zevi proclaimed "the year of redemption" and sailed to Constantinople to receive his kingdom. Instead, he converted to Islam in order to save his life, and lived on a comfortable stipend with the title of "Effendi" for the next 10 years in the Sultan's court. Accepting these acts as part of his messianic mission, a great number of Jews followed Zevi into apostasy, founding a pseudo-Muslim, pseudo-Christian, anti-Torah sect which has survived until today (the "Donmeh", heirs to the Sabbateans and Frankists).
Here is how historians record the rabbinic response to their huge error:
For the rest of the Jewish world the shock of Shabbatai Zevi's apostasy was profound. Little is known about what the common people felt, but the rabbis in their wisdom decided on a course which, they thought, was most likely to heal the wounds in the nation's psyche: the course of minimizing what had happened, and of covering it with the veils of silence and disregard. - Patai, p. xlvi
Pockets of believers remained in the Turkish Empire, the Balkans, Italy and even in Lithuania. Southern Poland too remained for a long time under Shabbatian influence. But the balance of world Jewry, disappointed now beyond illusion, recoiled... into an exhausted and wary silence. - Abba Eban, My People, p. 237
There is no evidence that the rabbinic community ever declared Shabbatai Zevi worthy of death, in spite of his open apostasy and his profound influence in leading others to do the same. It was the Turkish sultan who finally banished Zevi to Montenegro, where he died in solitude in 1676. Yet Yeshua the faithful Jew was denounced as worthy of death, and His sentence was considered appropriate by numerous rabbinic leaders, from Talmudic times until today.
As if the spiritual disaster of having hailed imposters as the Anointed One were not enough, historians write that physical disasters of a notable magnitude befell the Jewish community after the demise of both Bar Kochba and Shabbatai Zevi:
In Jewish tradition, the fall of Bethar (Bar Kochba's last stronghold) was a disaster equal to the destruction of the First and Second Temples. The Jewish population of Judea was largely exterminated in the period of repression which followed the fall of Bethar. The subjugation was associated with massacres and religious persecution, the sale of Jews into slavery, and uprooting of the people from the soil. - Enc. Judaica Vol.4, p.236
The inglorious end of the Frankist movement [led by Jacob Frank, 1726-1791] coincided with the beginning of the darkest period ever visited upon the Jews of Poland. - Abba Eban, My People, p. 238
The troubles of Polish Jewry referred to by Eban were brought on by apostasy with an ironic twist.
The Frankists were a Shabbatean offshoot that surfaced around 1750; Jacob Frank's own father was a Sabbatean. They were declared heretics in 1756 by the rabbinic leaders of Poland, who were belatedly trying to stamp out the heritage of Shabbatai Zevi due to public scandals. (They took a public stand against the "Shabbatean heresy" only in 1722, a full generation after Zevi's death, and by then the movement was too popular to stop.)
The Frankists retaliated against the Jewish community by seeking refuge in the Catholic church, posing as a quasi-Christian faith. They misled Catholic leaders, claiming to believe in the Trinity and "redemption through the Messiah", but neglecting to explain that their "messiah" was the Islamic convert Shabbatai Zevi reincarnated as Jacob Frank, and that their "redemption" was achieved by sinning as much as possible, especially sexual immorality. (Their duplicity was later discovered, but after receiving baptism they were absorbed into Catholic society and Polish nobility.) The Catholic authorities embraced the Frankists and persecuted the rabbinic community on their behalf, including fines and an order to burn copies of the Talmud.
The irony here is that Jacob Frank's heresy was built exclusively on Shabbatean teaching, made possible by the earlier rabbinic leniency toward the false messiah Shabbatai Zevi. If they had been as quick to condemn Zevi as Torah demands, and "purge the evil from among you" (Deut.13:6), the Frankist movement might never have happened at all, nor their role in fueling persecution of Jews by the Catholic Church.
Besides the community crisis, these mistakes were believed by Jewish sages to also have spiritual repercussions for later generations. A teaching attributed to Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (who lived 1772-1811, and probably experienced the disaster caused by the Frankists) warns that each false messiah who is mistakenly accepted makes it that much harder to recognize the true Messiah:
...And the storm wind spread and became strong and caused such confusion that he (the Messiah) lost all the signs which were given to him from the roots of the souls of Israel, until it was totally impossible for them [Israel] to recognize him. For as a result of the many tribulations that have come over him from being oppressed under their hands... some of the mysteries... were given over to them as well. Until there were found also among them some who imitated (the Messiah) like an ape before a man, calling themselves by the name Messiah.
For this is the whole issue of the false Messiahs who were in the world. And thereafter, once their lies and wantonness were known, it had become very difficult to believe in the light of the truth of his (the real Messiah's) own selfness when it was revealed to them. - R. Nahman of Tcherin in R. Nachman of Bratzlav, Sippure Ma'asiyyot, quoted in Patai, p.108-109
(Even though the Bratslav Rebbe himself was eventually proclaimed Messiah by his followers, in the context of the above quotation he is only called a great Tsaddik, or righteous one, equal to the Ba'al Shem Tov.)
The implied spiritual damage done by the false messiahs is the disillusionment and abandonment of belief in a true Messiah to come. And indeed, Jewish history records the secularization of large segments of European Jewry following Shabbatai Zevi.
But the most remarkable thing about R. Nachman's story is that the true Messiah is described as having come, and having lost His identifying marks as it were, before the pretenders arrived on the scene. We have here a veiled admission that the Jewish community has failed in identifying both the true Messiah and false messiahs - and due to these failures, might also miss later opportunities to recognize Him "when it was revealed to them".
Yeshua accurately prophesied both the removal of G-d's favor from the Temple (Matt. 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35) and Jerusalem's destruction (Luke 19:41-44), explicitly linking both disasters to Jerusalem's (i.e. the leaders') rejection of Him. He also warned of imposters who would arise after Him (Matt. 24:5) and who would precede His return as well (verse 23-25).
8. Messiah brought forth, hidden and returned.
The rabbinically endorsed Passover ritual of the Afikoman is as peculiar as it is well-known.
Jews the world over are familiar with the breaking and covering of the middle matzah early in the Seder, setting it aside, then returning it to the place of honor after the meal, whereupon all must partake of it. The sequence seems to be trying to tell us something in pantomime form. The message must be crucial, for the sages made it the climax of the Seder, with participation required by halacha for adults and children alike.
Yet, while all other elements of the Seder are thoroughly explored, these elements (known as "Yahatz" and "Tsafun") are acted out without a blessing or a word of explanation in the Haggada (the formal recitation). The only comment to be found anywhere is that "the wise son" should be taught about the Afikoman, quoting Mishnah (Pesachim 10:8) and Talmud (Pesachim 119b), אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן - "We do not conclude [the meal] after the Pesach [with] Afikoman." The term itself is Greek and is not translated to Hebrew or Aramaic - an oddity that resulted in a debate in Gemara about its meaning.
Besides the silent ritual of eating it, a tradition not found in the Mishnah is also performed without explanation. This is the custom of hiding the Afikoman, sending the children to seek it, and rewarding the finder with "redemption" money in order to return it to its place before eating it as the final taste of the feast. Attempts to dismiss this as merely a diversion to entertain the children fail to take into account the purpose of the Seder (teaching, not entertaining). In Pesachim 109a are various explanations on how to keep the children awake for the Seder, leading Rambam to conclude that this is the reason for "stealing" the Afikoman and hiding it. However, if this is the goal, it results in losing the children's attention for the second half of the Seder, because the drama ends in the middle. And neither of these explanations address the halachic requirement that the Afikoman must be broken, hidden from sight and later returned, regardless of whether or not children are present.
There are distinct Afikoman traditions among Sephardi Jews which are equally interesting: carrying pieces in their pockets all year to protect from evil, to heal, to give long life, to calm stormy seas; part of it being held by mothers while giving birth; fathers binding a piece onto the arms of their sons with a marriage blessing; and binding a piece onto the shoulder of one who travels around predicting the coming of the Messiah. (Encyclopedia Judaica)
In spite of this universal practice dating back to antiquity, the modern rabbinic community seems uninterested in its origin. The term "Afikoman" is most often understood as "dessert", based on a corruption of two Greek words, epi - komios. The resulting translation ("One does not conclude [the meal] after the Pesach [with] dessert") has caused quite a few rabbis to teach that the matzah substitute for the Pesach sacrifice was "mistakenly" named the "Afikoman". However, the Afikoman was already accepted as the name for the final matzah by Rashi's time, based on a literal reading of the Mishnaic passage as "after the Pesach-Afikoman". Alternately, some earlier sages interpreted the command as, "We do not go out [because] after the Pesach [is] Afikoman." (Prof. Yosef Tabory, Bar Ilan University)
The fact that the Talmudic sages could not with any certainty explain what "Afikoman" meant hints that it originated before their time and/or outside the boundaries of R. Akiva's school (the compilers of the Talmud). A few scholars have traced "Afikoman" to a more phonetically faithful and meaningful Greek word, afikomenos : "he who comes [after]". The late Professor David Daube, a world-recognized authority on Talmud and legal history and an orthodox Jew, presented documentation ("He That Cometh," a 1966 lecture) that the Afikoman predated the first century and represented the Jewish longing for "the coming one" who was "hidden" (hence the name "Tsafun" for the tradition of hiding it). He also speculated that R. Hillel's comment recorded in Sanh.99a could have referred to an Afikoman-Messiah tradition that predated even the second Temple. Hillel had argued that there would be no future Messiah for Israel, "since they already enjoyed him [ שכבר אכלוהו - literally, "already they ate him"] in the days of Hezekiah."
Prof. Daube's theory was apparently so unwelcome to some Torah Jews that at least one rabbi felt compelled to portray the eminent Oxford scholar as an amateur who made a historical mistake even worse:
Why did Jewish usage transfer the name afikoman to a final taste of matzah and turn it into a positive requirement despite the Mishnah rule? The wish was to end the Seder with a Pesach taste, using a hidden or stored (tzafun) piece of matzah, to which the name afikoman was carelessly applied. Hastening to the (wrongly named) afikoman was given [sic] a messianic interpretation by some scholars; e.g., David Daube, who says that "tzafun, which may denote both 'that which is preserved' and 'that which is hidden' (is) a suitable designation for the Messiah, waiting in the wings to be summoned to his task." - "Seder and the Five Senses", Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple
The rabbi's rebuttal ended without explaining why Prof. Daube's interpretation was problematic from a Jewish standpoint, and without offering an alternate interpretation for the silent tradition of the hidden-revealed matzah (whatever it should have been named).
The fact that the Afikoman was associated with the Passover lamb during 2nd Temple times, and became its memorial symbol after the Temple's destruction, explains why this item is the last thing eaten at the Seder. But some of the things done to the Afikoman were never done to the Passover sacrifice. It was forbidden to break the lamb's bones, while it is required to break the middle matzah: first into two pieces ("Yahatz" means "it/he will split in half"), and then the recovered half into small pieces for everyone to eat. The requirement to hide, find and redeem the Afikoman was likewise never done to the Pesach lamb. We must assume that this piece of matzah stood for more than just the remembered Temple sacrifice. From Prof. Daube's research, we might suppose that its independent symbolism was handed down alongside its later substitution for the Pesach itself.
But all of this discussion and knowledge is withheld from the Passover table. Every element of the Seder receives detailed explanations in the Haggadah, from the dipped herbs to the spilled drops of wine, whereas this unique broken matzah - the centerpiece - is greeted with total silence. The mystery deepens as we are commanded to instruct the "wise son" about the Afikoman... implying that this term embodies a treasure reserved only for Jews who are serious about knowing G-d.
And so it does.
Since we are dealing with something symbolizing a sacrifice of redemption, with Messianic overtones added from various sources, and since we have seen that redemption is agreed to be provided on several levels by the Messiah, it is reasonable to suppose that this riddle has something to do with Him. What were the sages trying to tell us about Him? Why is He broken into two, with one half hidden (lost), revealed (recovered), and shared as the final "taste" of redemption?
If the Afikoman were the only basis for such an assumption, it might be considered farfetched. But we find this message elsewhere in rabbinic teaching. Other sources hint that the Messiah will come twice, as in this Jewish work dated to the 1st cent. CE):
And it shall come to pass... when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, that he shall return in glory. Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him shall rise again. - 2 (Syraic Apocalypse of) Baruch 30:1-2 (emphasis ours)
A prayer in the Musaf service of Yom Kippur more clearly refers to a hidden or lost Messiah. Besides the acknowledgment of His role in removing sin, which we saw earlier, there is a hint here of Israel being aware that the Messiah had been revealed and proclaimed redemption once already:
צומתנו בבצענו עד עתה. צורנו עלינו לא נעתה. פנה מנו משיח צדקנו. פולצנו ואין מי לצדקנו: עונותינו ועול פשענו. עומס והוא החולל מפשעינו: סובל על שכם חטאתינו. סליחה מצא לעונותינו: נרפא לנו בחבורתו. נצח בריה חדשה עת לבראתו: מהוג העלהו משעיר הדלהו להשמיענו בהר הלבנון. שנית ביד ינון
We are afflicted with our deeds until now. Our Rock has not moved on our account. Messiah our Righteousness has departed from us. We are horror-stricken and there is no one to justify us. Our iniquities and the yoke of our transgressions He bears, and He is pierced from our transgressions. He carries our sins on the shoulder; we find forgiveness for our iniquities. We are healed with His wounds. Forever a new creation, it is time for its creation. From the circle (of the earth) raise Him up; from Seir draw Him out to make us hear in Mount Lebanon, a second time by the hand of Yinnon.
- Oz Melifnei Beresheet prayer (found in 19th-century prayer books - go here to see a PDF image)
It is not explained here why He departed from Israel, but the distressed response indicates either great dependence on Him for justification, or guilt for causing His departure which "none can justify" (or possibly both). There are many striking images here: a prayer that G-d will draw Messiah out of "Seir", the mountain of Edom, which brings to mind a longstanding rabbinic tradition of using Edom as a symbol of Rome (the Church); the reference to "Lebanon", a symbol of the Temple (make us hear "a second time"?); and Yinnon, a recognized name for the Messiah. We also see direct quotes from Isaiah 53, and the declaration that Yom Kippur is the time for G-d to create "forever a new creation" (compare Paul's teaching in 2 Cor.5:17, Gal.6:15).
These prayers were removed at some point from the standard Yom Kippur liturgy, but they did not cause a stir in earlier generations, because they were built on much older references to the Messiah being revealed and then hidden:
R. Berekiah said in the name of R. Levi: 'The future Redeemer will be like the former Redeemer (Moses). Just as the former Redeemer revealed himself and later was hidden from them... [and how long was he hidden?] Three months, as it is said: ויפגעו את-משה ואת-אהרן - "And they met Moses and Aaron" [Ex. 5:20], so the future Redeemer will be revealed to them, and then be hidden from them.' - Ruth Rabbah 5:6
דומה דודי לצבי - 'My beloved is like a gazelle… [ הנה-זה עומד אחר כתלנו משגיח מן-החלנות מציץ מן-החרכים - Behold, he is standing behind our wall, watching from the windows, peeking from the lattices.]’ (Song 2:9) [Israel asks G-d:] What is this gazelle that is revealed and goes back and is hidden? Thus the first redeemer was revealed and then hidden. R. Berachiya in the name of R. Levi said: As the first redeemer, so the last Redeemer. The first redeemer was Moses; he was revealed to them and then he went back and was hidden from them. How long was he hidden from them? R. Tanchuma said: three months; as it is written (Exod.5:20), ויפגעו את-משה ואת-אהרן – ‘And they met Moses and Aaron’. Also the last Redeemer is revealed to them and goes back and is hidden from them. - Bemidbar Rabba, Parashat Naso 11:3
Both midrashim speak of a rather short period of concealment for Moses; "three months" reflects a rabbininc teaching that Moses retreated to Midian for this time period after his first confrontation with Pharoah (probably based on Ex.5:22: "And Moses returned..."). Regarding the future Redeemer, both mention a 45-day period (based on Daniel 7:11-12). However, we know that Moses was hidden from Israel previously for a much longer time (40 years), and Bemidbar R. goes on to apply Daniel 12:11 to the Messiah's concealment (mentioning 1,290 days, or 3-1/2 years).
9. The Messiah will be rejected before being hidden.
We are not told in the above passages why the Messiah would be hidden after being revealed. From the Torah we know that Moses was hidden partly because of Israel's refusal to acknowledge him as their redeemer. Moreover, the rabbis quoted above in Ruth Rabbah (without explicitly mentioning it) connected the Messiah's experience to that of Moses when the Israelites attacked him for his apparent failure to deliver them (see Exod.5:21-23). The Midrash doesn't take into account the first rejection (Ex.2:11-14).
In this subtle way they were supporting the teaching that the Messiah, like Moses, would be hidden because of rejection, and that His mission would seem to be interrupted by a time of apparent failure. This is confirmed by the order of events prophesied in Daniel 9:26. Although Daniel did not say who would cut off the Messiah, he did say that He would "have nothing [or, no one]". At the time of His death, the Anointed One of G-d would either have nothing to show for his efforts (appear to have failed) or would be left completely alone (rejected)... or most likely, both.
Israel's initial rejection of their Final Redeemer was portrayed in detail by those who foreshadowed His mission of redemption. Moses, even after G-d brought redemption through him, was rejected repeatedly by the generation who saw it all (for example, Num.16:28-41). And King David, both ancestor and prototype of the Messiah, was first rejected when he had to flee from the jealousy of King Saul (I Sam.23:14). In spite of being anointed by Samuel, he hid himself in the wilderness (I Sam.21) and among the Gentile Philistines (I Sam.27) until Saul's death.
In fact, this pattern of rejection, hiding and reappearing is seen regularly in the experiences of those chosen by G-d. The patriarch Jacob hid himself after his father blessed him and his jealous brother Esau swore to kill him (Gen.27:41); he returned to his brother and father only at G-d's command (Gen.31:13). Joseph's brothers did not believe his dreams, and cast him into a pit (Gen.37:24). Joseph was then hidden from his brothers until the time when he began to provide them with food, and even then his identity was hidden at first (Gen.42:8). Joshua Ben Nun, the heir to Moses' authority, was at first rejected when he exhorted Israel to enter the Promised Land by faith; he was nearly stoned (Num.14:6-10), and from then on he stayed out of sight in the Tent of Meeting (Ex.33:11), until he was commissioned by Moses.
Elijah was told by the Word of the L-rd to hide himself after prophesying to Ahab and being rejected; he reappeared at His command to perform the signs which brought Israel to repentance (I Kings 17-18). King Josiah was hidden as a baby in G-d's Temple when he and his father's house (the house of David) were rejected by Ataliah as rightful rulers of Judah; he was revealed and reinstated when he came of age (II Kings 11). Jeremiah was hidden in a well after his prophecy was rejected by the leaders of Jerusalem; he was brought out again by a foreigner (Jer.38:7-11).
The Scriptures are filled with pictures of revealed vessels of G-d hidden because of rejection by those to whom they were sent; more often than not, they found refuge with foreigners who feared G-d and recognized His authority in them. We might say this condition was more the rule than the exception! How could it be any different for the Messiah?
Indeed, Yeshua mourned over this track record:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. - Matt. 23:37
9A. Messiah seated at the Right Hand of G-d.
Where is the Messiah being hidden during this time of rejection by Israel, according to rabbinic opinion? Besides the various theories which place Him outside Rome, another opinion is that He is in heaven. A key source used is from Psalms 110:
לדוד מזמור נאם ה' לאדני שב לימיני עד-אשית איביך הדם לרגליך
Of David, a Psalm: The L-rd [Tetragrammaton] said to my Lord [Adoni]: 'Sit to My right, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.' - Ps. 110:1, literal Hebrew
This verse, which Yeshua quoted to the Pharisees (Matt. 23:41-46), was probably already accepted in rabbinic circles as describing the Messiah; otherwise they would have had a ready answer for His riddle (how the Messiah could be David's Lord when He is his Son). This acceptance is confirmed in later Midrashim on the Psalms (already known and quoted in Rashi's day):
And who waged all the battles [for Abraham]? The Holy One, blessed be He; as He said to him [Ps.110:1] לימיני שב – ‘Sit at My right hand’, and I will wage war for you. And although it is not written [in the story of Abraham’s war with the four kings], here David interpreted it, as it is written: שב לימיני נאם יי לאדוני – ‘G-d said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand,’ and likewise He said to the Messiah; and in mercy there was prepared a throne, and he sat on it; and the Holy One, blessed be He, said: ‘He shall sit, and I shall wage war.’ - Midrash Tehillim, Mizmor 110 (47a)
We note several vital points here. First, the rabbis had no trouble viewing multiple fulfillments of this prophecy - although it was applied to Abraham, it could also apply in the future to Messiah. Second, the reference to Abraham is relatively weak (Abraham sitting at G-d's right hand could only be taken as a metaphor), which makes the Messianic fulfillment of David's "Lord" the main focus of the prophecy. And third, there is no hint here of the interpretation insisted upon in today's rabbinic tradition, that Psalm 110 was addressed to King David only.
Other sages also assumed "my Lord" here to be Messiah, such as R. Sa'adia Gaon (commenting on Daniel 7:13), as well as the writer of the following Midrash:
R. Yoden in the name of R. Khama said that in the future to come, in the days of the Messiah, the Holy One, blessed be He, will make the Messiah to sit at His right hand, as it is said, נאם ה' לאדני שב לימיני - 'The L-rd said to my Lord, "Sit on My right hand..."' (Ps. 110:1) - Midrash Tehillim, Mizmor 18 (17b)
Based on comments such as this one, the days of the Messiah can be considered to have begun while He is hidden away in heaven; that is, not only before He receives the throne of David, but also after He had been seen once by Israel. Actually, Rashi's comment on Song of Songs 2:9 (applied to the Messiah as the "gazelle" that is revealed and hidden, mentioned above) equates this Gazelle with G-d Himself:
...behold, He informed me that He was standing and peering from the windows of Heaven at what was being done to me, as it is written (Exod. 3:7): ראה ראיתי את עני עמי - 'I have indeed seen the affliction of My people,' etc.
Rashi applies this part of the Song to the Exodus from Egypt. But when had the heavenly Gazelle already been revealed to Israel (v.8) "skipping over the mountains and jumping over the hills"? If He is watching His beloved Israel "from the windows of Heaven", this means that He had come from Heaven and had "returned" there.
For those who accept the Talmudic calculations (Sanh. 97a) that the Messianic era should have begun by 242 CE, this should be both comforting and thought-provoking. It is comforting, because there was one whom Jewish witnesses testified was seated at the right hand of G-d by the time the crucial date arrived (Mark 16:19; Acts 7:56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Pet. 3:22). It is thought-provoking, because many of Israel's teachers are so ignorant of the chain of rabbinic tradition that they have rejected this interpretation of Psalm 110 as a "Christian" teaching.
9B. Messiah revealed - when and how?
The Midrash described earlier, which identified the Messiah hidden among the lepers outside the city, spoke of an extremely long concealment of the future Redeemer, dating from the destruction of the second Temple and continuing until today. All that time, it is taught, Messiah is in plain sight, but Israel is simply unable to recognize Him. And the implied reason the Messiah remains hidden from their eyes is that Israel is not yet willing to "hear His [G-d's] voice". The conclusion is that "seeing" the Messiah comes only after "hearing" G-d's voice.
We saw the same message in the Bratslav teaching above, but with a curious twist: the Messiah's hiddenness is attributed to Him losing the signs of His kinship with Israel. It becomes "impossible" for Israel to recognize Him because He has lost His "Jewish soul" so to speak; He no longer looks like the Redeemer of Israel.
This is foreshadowed in the life of Joseph, who is called Ha-Tsaddik (the Righteous One) by the sages. His brothers bowed to him without recognizing him, thinking him to be an Egyptian. For his part, he deliberately hid his identity from them (Gen.42:6-8) - he "made himself foreign to them" (ויתנכר אליהם) for a further time in order to test them. This element must be taken into account with the fact that the sages have called Messiah "ben Yosef".
If the Jewish people cannot tell who Messiah is by looking at Him, we must assume that the only way they will ever know Him is by "hearing G-d's voice" identifying Him - or conversely, hearing the Messiah speaking with "G-d's voice" (ie, speaking the words of G-d in the Name of G-d).
But hearing G-d's Voice has been categorically set aside ever since the rabbinic decision known as "the oven of Akhnai". In this landmark case, R. Joshua handed down a ruling to disregard the Bat Kol (Heavenly Voice), which had sided with R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus in a dispute over the uncleanness of an oven. The opinion was supported by quoting, “It [the Torah] is not in heaven!” (a reference to Deut. 30:12-14). R. Jeremiah explained his meaning as follows:
That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai. We pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because You [G-d] have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, ‘After the majority one must incline.’ - Baba Mezi'a 59b
There is no command "written in the Torah" to "incline after the majority"; this was a negative deduction from the Torah of Ex. 23:2, which commands us to "not follow the majority to pervert justice". It was taught that since you shouldn't follow a majority to pervert justice, you should follow a majority to perform justice (BT Sanh. 2a).
Obviously, no rabbi in his right mind would have accused the Bat Kol of "perverting justice". But that is the unfortunate implication, since the rabbinic ruling required the majority to "perform justice" by excommunicating the one who persisted in listening to the Heavenly Voice (R. Eliezer).
This ruling against Heaven is presented in today's rabbinic community as a stroke of wisdom which resolved an intractible argument, and justified rabbinic group authority for future generations. But such a message is possible only when the passage is heavily censored.
"The Oven of Akhnai" lesson is usually taught only up to the point where G-d hears the ruling and reportedly says, "My children have defeated Me," and laughs. The Talmudic word is חייך (literally "smiled"), which appears nowhere in Tanach as a verb; thus it is translated as "He laughed". However, we see in Tanach that when G-d laughs, it's not a sign of His pleasure!
יושב בשמים ישחק אדני ילעג-למו אז ידבר אלימו באפו ובחרונו יבהלמו
He who sits in Heaven will laugh; my Lord will express derision toward them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and in His wrath He will alarm them. - Ps.2:4-5
זמם רשע לצדיק וחרק עליו שניו אדני ישחק-לו כי-ראה כי-יבא יומו
The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes his teeth over him. My Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming. - Ps.37:12-13
ואתה ה' תשחק-למו תלעג לכל-גוים
But You, O L-rd, laugh at them; You scoff at all the nations. - Ps.59:8 (v.9 in Heb.)
Sure enough, the Talmudic passage goes on to record Divine judgment on those who had rebelled against the Heavenly Voice and voted to excommunicate R. Eliezer. "A Tanna taught: Great was the calamity that befell that day..." which included crop failures and other distress. R. Gamliel confesses that he was nearly drowned at sea because of his leading role in banning R. Eliezer, and Gamliel's untimely death shortly afterward is attributed to the same dispute. On the other hand, R. Eliezer's rulings continued to be accorded respect after his excommunication, with the same passage referring to this rejected rabbi as "R. Eliezer the Great".
Despite these signs (all of them identified in Torah as punishments for abandoning G-d), and despite the failure of R. Eliezer's excommuniication to bring peace as R. Gamliel claimed, it became a rabbinic obligation to obey a majority ruling of rabbinic peers, and to "pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice".
So now we face new dilemmas:
Who in the rabbinic community defied the majority, and condemned the ruling of Rabban Gamliel, by including in the Shabbat prayers the Psalm that urges us to "hear His voice, do not harden your hearts...."?
If paying no attention to His Voice is indicative of a hardened heart, then following the majority in not hearing Him will surely result in justice being perverted. And indeed, over the centuries this obligation to follow the majority of rabbis has led to the acceptance of false messiahs and community apostasy.
If we call on one another to hear the Heavenly Voice while honoring a rabbinic obligation to disregard that Voice, are we not offering a vain prayer each and every Shabbat? Should we be surprised that the Messiah remains hidden from us as long as "the Oven of Akhnai" ruling is not repealed?
A commentary from the 12th century predicts that Messiah ben David will be revealed while Israel is being oppressed by the Antichrist (known as "Armilus, son of a stone" in Jewish tradition). But the Messiah who came to rescue them will be forced to hide because of Israel's rejection of Him:
And Israel will want to stone him and will say to him, 'You spoke a lie, for Messiah was already killed and there is no other Messiah still to arise,' and they will despise him; as it is said [Isaiah 53:3]: ' נבזה וחדל אישים - He was despised and rejected of men'. And he will return and be covered [ie, hidden] from them; as it is said [same verse]: ' וכנסתר פנים ממנו - And as one who hides the face from them'. - Nistarot R. Shim'on b. Yohai, Beit haMidrash 3:80
As we saw earlier, this rejected one is not ben Yosef, but the son of David. The same passage goes on to say that Messiah ben David will return at a later time. This is not surprising, since all sages agree that He must eventually occupy the throne of David. But what will Israel's response be when He is revealed the second time?
Most rabbinic answers are based on prophecies such as Zechariah 12:10:
ושפכתי על-בית דויד ועל יושב ירושלם רוח חן ותחנונים והביטו אלי את אשר-דקרו וספדו עליו כמספד על-היחיד והמר עליו כהמר על-הבכור
And I will pour on the house of David and on the dweller of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplications, and they will look to Me whom they pierced, and they will mourn over Him, as one mourns over the only one, and the bitter weeping over Him is like the bitter weeping over the firstborn. (the literal Hebrew)
This passage has an unusual wording in Hebrew which seemingly presents G-d as the pierced one, and the pierced one as an unidentified third person, in the same breath.
The standard rabbinic position on this verse today denies that this passage is referring to Messiah (the pierced one) being G-d; the claim is that the Hebrew should not have been translated, "look to Me whom they have pierced." A reasonable alternate might be to render את as "with": "look to Me with [the one] who was pierced", but this is not suggested either (In terms of modern Jewish objections, the idea of Jerusalem offering supplications to G-d plus Someone Else standing with Him is no better than G-d being pierced.)
Jewish translations into English are varied in the extent they were willing to bend or break with the Hebrew. One motivation for these changes was undoubtedly the disturbing idea that the mourning over "him" (presumably because he dies from the piercing) cannot be "Me" (G-d). Hence the need to identify the pierced one as another person. However, the efforts to tweak the Hebrew away from Israel's guilt in this matter have less to do with the Hebrew difficulties and more to do with potential damage to rabbinic teachings about Israel's inherent righteousness.
The Koren Jerusalem Bible has, "they will look towards Me, regarding those whom the nations have thrust through, and they shall mourn for him (that is slain);" the words "regarding those" are not acknowledged as an insertion, there is nothing in the Hebrew to justify plural victims of the piercing, and "they" who did the piercing are changed to "the nations" (based on Targum Yonatan which inserted these words, but not found in the Hebrew context). The Judaica Press Bible has, "they shall look to me because of those who have been thrust through [with swords], and they shall mourn over it;" this changes the "pierced" to a passive form (not supported by the Hebrew), and makes the mourning over "it" - the event - because a plural of "pierced ones" does not appear in the Hebrew.
The original JPS is somewhat closer with: "they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him;" only translating "et asher" somewhat arbitrarily as "because". The revised JPS (Harkavy, 1951) comes the closest with, "they shall look unto Me [for every one] whom they pierced, and they shall mourn for him;" the extra words shown as inserted.
In contrast, the early sages were more honest about the message of the verse, and also agreed that this third person is the Messiah. Even more, they apparently did not avoid the idea of the Messiah being pierced by Israel:
It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse [Zech. 12:10], והביטו אלי את אשר-דקרו - 'And they shall look upon Me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son.' - Sukkah 52a (translated in the Soncino Talmud according to the original JPS)
I [G-d] will do yet a third thing, and that is that והביטו אלי - 'they shall look unto Me' (Zech. 12:10), for they shall lift their eyes to Me in perfect repentance when they see him whom they pierced, that is Messiah, the son of Yosef; for our rabbis of blessed memory have said that he will take upon himself all the guilt of Israel... it will be considered as though Israel pierced him, for on account of their sin he has died; and therefore, in order that it may be reckoned to them as a perfect atonement, they will repent and look to Him, the Blessed One, etc. - R. Moses Alshech, Mar’ot HaTzov’ot, Zech.12:10
וספדה הארץ משפחות משפחות לבד - 'And the land shall mourn, every family apart' (Zech. 12:12). Two have interpreted this verse. One said: 'This is the mourning over the Messiah...' - Talmud Yerushalmi, Sukkah 23b (see also BT Sukkah 52a)
By the same token, these teachers of Israel did not see the need to insert words to separate the Pierced One from the person of G-d, as modern Jewish translators have done. As we saw earlier, this is because they had no trouble applying the nature and the Name of G-d [the Tetragrammaton] to the Messiah.
10. The Days of the Messiah - New Covenant, New Priest, New Torah.
According to Beit HaMidrash, a work dating from the 7-10th century CE, one of the tasks of Elijah will be to perform certain signs to prove that he is introducing the true Messiah.
On the 45th day [of Messiah’s concealment], Elijah of blessed memory will sprout upon them and the King Messiah with him, and there they will announce good tidings… He [Elijah] says to them, ‘Arise! For I am Elijah and [this is] King Messiah,’ and they do not believe him. So he says to them a third time, ‘Do you desire me to do signs as Moses did?’…
Elijah of blessed memory does seven signs in that hour… the seventh sign [is] he reveals the secret that is written: זאת הברית אכרות את בית ישראל - ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel’ etc (Jer.31:32). - Beit HaMidrash 6 (p.115)
The last and greatest of these is that he will reveal to Israel the meaning of Jeremiah's "new covenant" prophecy:
כי זאת הברית אשר אכרת את-בית ישראל אחרי הימים ההם נאם-ה' נתתי את-תורתי בקרבם ועל-לבם אכתבנה והייתי להם לאלהים והמה יהיו-לי לעם
'This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,' declares the L-rd, 'I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people.'
This teaching clearly links the New Covenant with the Messiah's Kingdom. The "secret" in this passage was of such depth and import that nothing less than a miracle from Elijah would unlock it at the beginning of the Messianic kingdom.
Included also in the Musaf prayers for Yom Kippur is a plea to "provide righteousness for her [Jerusalem's] congregation, woo Your wife, make for her a new covenant..." as part of Israel's restoration in the last days. All of these are mentioned in the immediate context of Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer. 31: 3-4, 23, 31-33, 34) and therefore are presumably the Messiah's duties.
The Messiah would also be given a priesthood in the world to come - one which would have no end, no precedent and no equal:
Then shall the L-rd raise up a new priest, to whom all the words of the L-rd shall be revealed; and he shall execute true judgment... And there shall be peace in all the earth. The heavens shall exalt in his days... The heavens shall be opened, and from the temple of glory shall come upon him holiness... For he shall give the majesty of the L-rd to His sons in truth for ever, and none shall succeed him for all generations....
And in his priesthood shall sin come to an end, and the lawless shall cease to do evil, and the just shall rest in him. And he shall open the gates of paradise... and give to the saints to eat from the Tree of Life, and the spirit of holiness shall be upon them. And he shall bind Belial (Satan), and give strength to his children to tread upon evil spirits." - Testament of Levi, 18 (quoted in Patai, p.190-1)
The late Israeli scholar Patai comments that this work from the 1st-to-2nd century CE undoubtedly identified this new priest as the Messiah, although He is not explicitly named (Messiah Texts, p. 189). Several concepts found in the New Testament (especially the book of Hebrews) are also seen here, such as the Temple in heaven (Heb. 9:11, 23-24), the priestly Messiah making an end of sin (Heb. 9:26), His priesthood being eternal (Heb. 7:23ff), His ability to share His holiness (Heb. 12:10) and share His power over Satan with His disciples (Luke 10:18-19), and His giving the holy ones access to the Tree of Life (Rev. 2:7; 22:14).
Regarding the priestly role to stand between G-d and men, prominent sages such as R. Joseph Albo (a rabbi in 14th c. Spain) took for granted that Messiah was the necessary Agent for bringing G-d's righteousness to Israel:
The scriptures call the name of the Messiah: ה' צדקנו - 'G-d our Righteousness' (Jer.23), for he is the Mediator of God [ אמצעי אל ] by whom we will acquire righteousness from G-d; and because of this he is called by the Name of G-d. - Sefer Ha-Ikarim, Part 2, Chap.28
This Priest's service will be so effective in eliminating sin that sacrifices for those purposes will no longer be needed:
R. Pinhas and R. Levi and R. Yohanan in the name of R. Menahem of Galya [said]: 'In the Future to Come all the sacrifices will be abolished, but the thanks offerings will not be abolished.' - Lev. Rabba 9:7
This too is an echo of New Testament teaching:
For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also... Now when there is forgiveness of these things [sins], there is no longer any offering for sin. - Heb. 7:12; 10:18
Most curious are the Midrashim that go so far as to say that the Messiah will bring a new Torah! Though not changed, it will be new in the sense of being more fully revealed, more truly understood, and having all its mysteries explained. One aspect of its newness will be empowerment by the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant to remember and keep it:
And the Messiah will sit in the future in the Yeshiva, and those who walk on earth will come and sit before him to hear his new Tora and new commandments, and the deep wisdom which he will teach Israel. ...In that hour (all the generations) rise from their graves in the Holy Spirit and come and sit before the Messiah to hear Midrashim and Halakhot (rulings) from his mouth.
...And he who hears a Midrash from the mouth of the Messiah never forgets it, because the Holy One, blessed be He, reveals Himself in the House of Study of the Messiah and pours out His Holy Spirit upon all those who walk in the world..." (Yemenite Midrash, Raphael Patai, Messiah Texts, p.141)
R. Hezkiya in the name of R. Simon bar Zebdi said: The whole Torah which you learn in this world is vanity in the face of the Torah that is in the World to Come. For in this world a man learns Torah and forgets, but in the Future to come what is written will come true (Jer.31:33): נתתי את תורתי בקרבם - I will put My Torah in their inward parts;’ and the Rabbis say further that the evil inclination will cut off in the face of the inclination to do good, and [that man] will see the absolute goodness of the World to Come. – Eccl. Rabba 11:1
Other passages that describe this Heavenly Yeshiva identify the Supreme Torah Teacher as "Metatron", a Heavenly Being to whom the rabbis ascribed things appropriate only for G-d.
Another well-known source is Leviticus Rabba, quoting a third generation Amora of the Land of Israel:
Rabbi Avin [Abba] Bar Kahane said: The Holy One, blessed be He, said - ‘A new Torah will go forth from Me; [that is,] a renewal of Torah will go forth from Me. - Lev. Rabba 13:3
The verse being quoted (Isaiah 51:4) doesn't actually say anything about a "new" Torah, but only תורה מאתי תצא - 'Torah will go forth from Me.' What made the sages interpret it as something new was likely the words that follow:
קרוב צדקי יצא ישעי וזרעי עמים ישפטו אלי איים יקוו ואל-זרעי ייחלון
My Righteousness will soon come forth; My salvation and My Arm will judge the peoples; the islands will hope for Me and they will wait expectantly for My Arm. - Isa.51:5
As we saw elsewhere, the rabbis often portrayed G-d calling Messiah "My Righteousness". He will bring this Torah with Him, and in the process will bring the nations into obedience to it. This would in effect establish G-d's kingdom on earth.
There was another rabbinic view, which argued that "there is no difference between the Torah of premessianic days and that of messianic days. The Torah is complete as we have it, and just as a prophet may not any longer innovate [referring to BT Shabbat 104a], so the Son of David has no power to add or detract from the Torah." (Heavenly Torah by Abraham Joshua Heschel, p.682)
Both of these views are supported - and reconciled - in the New Testament, by distinguishing between the earthly Torah and the Heavenly one. The former was given in completeness at Sinai and is honored to the last letter by the Messiah (Matt.5:17-18). The heavenly Torah is in fact a Person, "the Word of G-d", who came forth from G-d as Isaiah prophesied above, and lived among us (John 1:1-18).
A work added to the Zohar around the 14th century connects the New Covenant with this heavenly Torah, and also with the manna in the desert:
My son, there is a deep secret here. If Israel were meritorious, then the Torah would descend for them from Heaven with no difficulty, and one would not need to teach the other [referring to Jer.31:33]; and this is what is written (Exod.16:4): הנני ממטיר לכם לחם מן-השמים - 'Behold, I rain bread from heaven for you'; for there is no bread except the Torah. - Tikkunei Zohar , Tikkuna Talitha’a, 109b
The context for this comment is a warning about the "Erev Rav" (the mixed multitude), who are a snare to the righteous because of their fleshly appetites and their disinterest in Torah. But it's noteworthy that this teaching opposes the accepted rabbinic decree in the "Oven of Akhnai" decision: "It [the Torah] is not in heaven." Instead, we have here the "deep secret" that the Torah WILL come from heaven when Israel merits it.
The equation of the manna with the Torah is justified, based on the Hebrew of the Exodus verse, which equates a portion of bread with a "word" for each day:
ויאמר ה' אל-משה הנני ממטיר לכם לחם מן-השמים ויצא העם ולקטו דבר-יום ביומו
And G-d said to Moses, "Behold I am raining down for you bread from the heavens, and the people will go out and they will gather a day's portion [literally, a day's word] in its day..." - Exod.16:4
Yeshua made a similar correction to Israel's understanding about the real Manna from Heaven:
So they [the Jews] said to Him, "What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'"
Yeshua then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of G-d is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." - John 6:30-33
Then He added what seemed a radical claim: that He Himself was that Heavenly Bread, the "day's Word in its/His day":
Then they said to Him, "Lord, always give us this bread."
Yeshua said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe." - John 6:34-36
Yeshua's testimony of their refusal, as well as the "deep secret" of the preceding commentary about Israel's lack of merit, was possibly based on Psalm 78:24.
וינסו-אל בלבבם לשאל-אכל לנפשם...כי לא האמינו באלהים ולא בטחו בישועתו ויצו שחקים ממעל ודלתי שמים פתח וימטר עליהם מן לאכל
And they tested God in their hearts, to ask food for their souls [or, according to their desire]... because they did not believe in God and they did not trust in His salvation; yet He commanded clouds above, and doors of heaven He opened, and He rained down upon them manna to eat..." - Ps. 78:18, 22-24
Ironically, this is what the people had quoted to Yeshua (see John 6:30 above) when demanding a sign that would convince them to believe. They showed that they were "erev rav" by testing G-d in the same way.
In the last part of the Exodus verse (16:4, partially quoted above), G-d warns that the day He sends His Heavenly Bread is actually a day of testing:
ויצא העם ולקטו דבר-יום ביומו למען אנסנו הילך בתורתי אם-לא
...and the people will go out and they will gather a day's portion [literally, a day's word] in its day [or, in his day], in order that I may test them; will they walk in my Torah or not?"
A refusal to receive that day's "Word in His day" would be a refusal to walk in G-d's Torah.
10A. The Days of the Messiah - Resurrection, Judgment, the Unity of G-d.
Prominent in the Messianic Kingdom is the resurrection of the dead, which takes place (according to some) at the command of the Messiah Himself or (say others) by G-d's command from heaven, in some versions calling them to life with a heavenly shofar (compare I Cor. 15:52; I Thess. 4:16). All would be brought from their graves to stand before the Holy One for judgment, which would result in being received into Eden or being cast into Gehenna.
There is strong rabbinic agreement that a verse from Hosea predicts the resurrection:
יחינו מימים ביום השלישי יקמנו ונחיה לפניו
He will revive us [literally, make us live] after [or, from] two days; on the third day He will raise us up [literally, make us rise], and we will live before Him. - Hosea 6:2
Many today follow Rashi's lead in interpreting these "days" as eras, which is reasonable: among other parallels, there have been two exiles (as Metzudat David pointed out), two destroyed Temples (Rashi's contribution), and two thousand years since Israel paid attention to the Heavenly Voice. However, many other sages took the three days literally (R. Moses Haddarshan, R. Abaye, Targum Yonatan). The "third day" figures prominently in the story of the Akedah, which prompted the rabbis to relate Isaac's experience to death and resurrection:
ביום השלישי וישא אברהם את-עיניו וירא את-המקום מרחק
On the third day, Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the Place [or, G-d - "HaMakom"] from afar. - Gen.22:4
It can also be seen hinted in the words of Joseph, before his brothers knew who he was:
ויאמר אלהם יוסף ביום השלישי זאת עשו וחיו
Now Joseph said to them on the third day, “Do this and live... - Gen.42:18
Likewise Hezekiah was saved from his deathly illness on the third day:
'שמעתי את-תפלתך ראיתי את-דמעתך הנני רפא לך ביום השלישי תעלה בית ה
I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the L-RD. - 2 Kings 20:5
No sage has tried to interpret the three days in Hosea as a promise to the righteous who have died, since countless tsaddikim have been awaiting resurrection for far longer than that. We can, however, relate it to the Messiah's resurrection, and ours through Him (just as the sages teach that our righteousness will come through Him).
This harmonizes well with Yeshua's testimony about Himself, which even His enemies remembered:
The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised again on the third day. - Matt.17:22-23 (see also Matt. 12:39-40; 16:21; 20:19; Luke 9:22; 18:33)
The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together with Pilate, and said, 'Sir, we remember that when He was still alive that deceiver said, "After three days I am to rise again." Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day...' - Matt.27:62-64
Notice also Paul's conclusions about Messiah's resurrection being linked with ours:
But now Messiah has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep; for since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah all shall be made alive. But each in his own order: Messiah the first fruits, after that those who are Messiah's at His coming [the resurrection of the dead]. - I Cor. 15:20-23
One aspect of judgment in the Messianic Kingdom is a judgment of those among Israel who are still alive at His coming. During a "tribulation" period of 3-1/2 years, the Clouds of Glory will protect those Jews who followed G-d and reject those who were Jews in a physical sense only:
In the septenary [literally, week] in which the Son of David comes... Israel is exiled to the desert of [salt] marshes... And Clouds of Glory surround them, and there Israel will be hidden. And anyone who has evil pondering in his heart about the Holy One, blessed be He, the Clouds eject him, and the nations of the world slay him. And many from Israel went out to the nations of the world, and they will have no share with Israel in the World to Come.... And Israel [the remnant, after being purged] will seek their G-d and David their king, and immediately King Messiah is revealed upon them." - Aggadat Mashiah, BhM Chadash 3:141-43
Interestingly, the Midrash ends with a plea for G-d to "fulfill this verse: ‘And He will lift up a standard to the nations and gather the outcasts of Israel.’" This acknowledges that just as many from Israel will be rejected, also many Gentiles will be accepted to participate in G-d's work of gathering Israel back to the Land.
More widely known is the statement, "All Israel have a share in the World to Come," (M. Sanh. 10:1), which is accepted as a dogma assuring salvation for all Jews. Yet that passage of Mishnah goes on to name those of Israel who do NOT merit the resurrection. The only disagreement was on which categories of Jews might be cast out of the Kingdom (with R. Akiva giving a stricter opinion than R. Eliezer). The sinners of Israel will be treated like the idolatrous nations at the Last Judgment. This is more in agreement with the New Testament warning of judgment.
So, unlike most assumptions, Paul's declaration that in the end "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26) validated an early rabbinic view, as also did his declaration that not all of "Israel" would automatically retain their standing:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly... but he is a Jew who is one inwardly... For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, neither are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants.... - Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-7
By the same token, the sages agree that there will be righteous individuals from the nations who will be counted worthy to participate in the Resurrection. R. Abbahu expressed a particularly liberal view on worthy Gentiles (B. Ket.111a). Sa'adia Gaon wrote of a significant number of Gentiles who will repent because of the Messiah, and who will serve Israel and return Jews to the Land after the manner of Isaiah 49 and 60 (Emunot v'Deot, ch. 8). R. Shem Tov of the 14th century quoted Isaiah 2:4 to show that the Messiah would be sent to the Gentiles, who would receive His judgments (R. Patai, Messiah Texts, p. 335, author's note).
There are many Tanach passages to support such a view; for example:
והיה ביום ההוא שרש ישי אשר עמד לנס עמים אליו גוים ידרשו
And there will be in that day a root of Jesse that will stand as a standard of the peoples; to him the nations will seek. - Isaiah 11:10
In short, quite a few rabbis commented on the Resurrection and the Last Judgment, portraying individuals being received or condemned based on their object of worship and resulting deeds, without referring to their nationality.
But, as we have already seen, there was agreement that no man could call himself righteous based on his own deeds, and that the Messiah would be "the L-rd our righteousness." Therefore, all those (either Jews or Gentiles) who could be called righteous at the Judgment would have to have received their righteousness from the Messiah, with cleansing from their sins.
The scholar Dr. Raphael Patai, who endeavored to catalog as many Jewish comments on the Messiah as possible, remarked on the sudden decrease of rabbinic references to the Messiah's activities following His victory over the nations, Satan and death. Patai saw this as evidence that "the era of Messianic rule was conceived [by the rabbis] as a rule of G-d," and that once G-d's sovereignty was established in the earth, "the Messiah, the human agent whose heroic valor brought it about, becomes almost superfluous." (Messiah Texts, p.190)
Paul confirms this in a more rabbinic fashion, commenting on several verses in Psalms:
Then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the G-d and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He [Messiah] must reign until He [G-d] has put all His enemies under His feet... For 'He has put all things in subjection under His feet.' [referring to Ps. 8:6; 110:1-2]
But... it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that G-d may be all in all. - I Cor. 15:24-28
This reminds us of the familiar closing of the Aleinu prayer:
והיה ה' למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה ה' אחד ושמו אחד
And the L-rd will be King over all the earth; in that day the L-rd will be One and His Name one.
This is a direct quote of Zechariah 14:9. But why does it say that G-d "WILL BE" One? Isn't He already One? Clearly He is, and always was. There must be something about the nature of "that Day", however, which will cause His Oneness (already complete) to become somehow even more pronounced.
We see a hint in the context of this mysterious prophecy about the Day of the L-rd:
ויצא ה' ונלחם בגוים ההם כיום הלחמו ביום קרב ועמדו רגליו ביום-ההוא על-הר הזתים אשר על-פני ירושלם מקדם ונבקע הר הזיתים מחציו
And the L-rd will go out and will fight against those nations [who attack Jerusalem], as the day of His fight in a day of battle, and His feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives which is facing Jerusalem from the East, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half... - Zech 14:3-4
It is none other than the One and Only G-d going out to fight for Israel, and yet He has a body? The fact that the mountain reacts violently to His touch does not make up for the uncomfortable fact that He comes in a form physical enough to make contact with the earth. And if that is not perplexing enough, the passage goes on to say:
ובא ה' אלהי כל-קדשים עמך
And the L-rd my God comes, all His holy ones with You. - Zech 14:5
English translators, Jewish and Christian alike, struggle in rendering the literal Hebrew, and no wonder! G-d is seen coming with Himself, descending from Heaven after He is already standing on the earth, greeted in third person and second person in the same breath. Meanwhile (verses 6-8), there is the same confusion of boundaries between light and darkness, day and night, summer and winter. The "living water" that emerges from the holy city goes in opposite directions - described in terms of time rather than geography (חצים אל-הים הקדמוני וחצים אל-הים האחרון - not the expected "half to the east and half to the west" but literally "crossing to the primordial sea and crossing to the last sea"). It would seem that the very bonds of physical and spiritual time and space are bent, broken and remade by His appearing.
When the disorientation subsides, we see that G-d is seated as King. He rejoins Himself as it were, and "becomes" One, along with His Name.
Again, Paul conveys the ultimate unity of everything Messiah has accomplished, which is collected, sealed and sustained in G-d alone:
There is one body [of holy ones] and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one mikveh, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Eph.4:4-6
It cannot be said that everything the sages taught about the Messiah was correct. There is the occasional story which seeks to make the Messiah subservient to a certain rabbi (such as in Zohar 1:4b, which has the Messiah trembling at the wisdom of R. Shimon ben Yochai). But the more selfless attempts to deal with Messiah in the Torah and Prophets, which characterize the majority of rabbinic comments, come together to form a rabbinic picture of a Messiah which bears a quite uncanny resemblance to the record of the New Testament describing the life, teaching, achievements and promises of Yeshua of Nazareth.
We see the rabbis describing a Messiah who enjoys a close identity with the Holy One Himself, who deserves and accepts worship, exercises Divine authority and carries the title "begotten Son of G-d". He existed and accepted His roles from the days of creation. He had already been born in the city of David by the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, but most of the Jewish people did not recognize Him. He was then caught away into the heavens to be hidden at the right hand of Glory.
He suffered outside the city gate as an outcast, because of the rejection of Israel. He suffered at the hands of the Romans, but also carried wounds because of Israel's sins; and by doing so, removed all sin for all time. This suffering Messiah, who came on a donkey, is waiting for Israel to repent, so that he can return as King Messiah, coming in the clouds of Heaven to rule the nations and bring eternal peace.
He brings into reality the promise of the New Covenant and the Holy Spirit, He brings "new" Torah which is new only in its accessibility to us. He has done G-d's good pleasure at all times, from creation until today. In the last days He is expected to return, fight for His people (the redeemed of Israel and of the nations); and in the end He steps back and turns over the Kingdom to His Father.
Yet it was ordained by the Holy One that, with all these hints, the Messiah's name and identity would remain hidden from many of those who await Him in obedience to Halachah. Like Joseph's brothers, they bow to Him without recognizing Him, while He knows very well who they are - and, like Joseph, He bears them no grudge for their rejection, but rather loves them so deeply He can barely restrain His feelings until the day He is to be revealed to them the second time.
Maybe this is the concealed discernment of the sages spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:
ויאמר אדני יען כי נגש העם הזה בפיו ובשפתיו כבדוני ולבו רחק ממני ותהי יראתם אתי מצות אנשים מלמדה לכן הנני יוסף להפליא את-העם-הזה הפלא ופלא ואבדה חכמת חכמיו ובינת נבניו תסתתר
And my Lord said, 'Because this people approach Me with their mouth and with their lips they honor Me, but their heart is far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned [by rote], therefore behold, I again [or, behold, I, Yosef] will do wondrously with this people - wonder upon wonder - and the wisdom of their wise men will be lost, and the discernment of their discerning men will hide itself.' - Isa. 29:13-14
"This people" is clearly Israel, so the wise men whose wisdom is lost or hidden are the sages of Israel. Even though each of the teachings listed in this article applies to Yeshua better than to anyone else, that rabbinic discernment is hidden from those who study it.
Or is it?
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