Mashiach: Atonement

Hora’ah – הוראה – Teaching

Atonement, with regard to the Messiah, is one of the key, and most misunderstood concepts, as it relates to the New Testament. Focusing on principles related to the tzaddik, we find that there are several aspects to the relationship between the tzaddik and the people regarding impacting their atonement, as well as levels of efficacy:

“We have found that the first Mashiach will be from the tribe of Ephraim who will nevertheless die while revealing himself; he will be followed by the Mashiach descended from David. When the Torah speaks of G-d taking, “two birds which are pure,” these words are similes for the two kinds of Meshichim….the words “to slay the one bird” in this context are an allusion to the death of the first Mashiach… he will die as an atonement for the sins of the people.”
Rabbi Chayim ben Attar, Ohr HaChayim, translation by Eliyahu Munk – 5 vol. pg. 1107

“A rather curious development of the doctrine that the righteous are made to deliberately suffer in this world, is the suggestion that when G-d sends punishment for the sins of the wicked, it falls first upon the righteous. It signifies that when the effects of wrong-doing are felt, not only must the innocent be involved in the consequences, but they experience the attendant suffering even more than the guilty. Punishment does not come upon the world, unless there are wicked persons in existence, and it only makes a beginning with the righteous… Since permission had been granted to the angel of death to destroy, he does not discriminate between the righteous and the wicked. More than that, he begins with the righteous, as it is said, “I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.” (Ezekiel 21:3)  The righteous are mentioned first. Occasionally we find it stated that the good suffer on behalf of the bad. “When there are righteous in a generation, the righteous are punished for the sins of that generation. (Shabbat 33b) … Even the thought of vicarious atonement occurs, as in the question why the account of Miriam’s death, immediately follows the law of the red heifer. The answer given is, “As the red heifer brought atonement for sins, similarly does the death of the righteous bring atonement for sins.” (M.K. 28a) Other extracts which point in the same direction are; “Moses spoke before the Holy One Blessed be He, Will not a time come when Israel will have neither Tabernacle or Temple? What will happen to them (as regards atonement)?” He replied, “I will take a righteous man from among them, and make him a pledge on their account, and I will atone for their iniquities. (Exodus Rabbah 35:4)  When Moses said to God, in connection with the incident of the golden calf, ‘Blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book,’ (Ex. 32:32) he offered his life as an atonement for the sin of his people. (Sotah 14a)
Everyman’s Talmud, Abraham Cohen , pp. 117,118

“Rebbe Nachman teaches: People travel to the tzaddik for Rosh HaShanah. The reason is as follows: decrees pertaining to the entire year are issued on Rosh HaShanah. As such, this is the main time for mitigating and “sweetening” any decree. Now, sweetening must take place at its source, in Thought on High, and can only be accomplished when we purify our own thoughts. Yet, try as we might, the only way we can achieve this purity of thought is through the tzaddik. So, we travel to tzaddikim for Rosh HaShanah in order to purify our minds, and this about kindness and compassion for the entire year.”
From Likutey Moharan 1:211

“On Rosh HaShanah, all of creation comes before G-d to be judged (Rosh HaShanah 16a). We are judged for every act, every word, even every thought. If we truly believe this, we know that we have cause for concern. Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichov used to say, “When Elul comes around, I feel it [the fear] in my shoulders” (Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen). So what are we to do? Repent. But, if things are as bad as we think they are, what chance do we have? The charge sheet is a few pages long, maybe even a few reams long. The credit sheet is at best so-so. Is there really any hope of repenting for everything. Rebbe Nachman teaches: Each judgment, each decree, is a constriction, having its own precise and specific means by which it can be mitigated. This is because a decree can only be sweetened at its source, and the source of each judgment is limited to a specific part of Upper Wisdom. Someone who wishes to set aside each and every judgement and transform it into compassion and kindness must rise to each of these sources, individually. There is, however, a Seikhel HaKollel (an All Inclusive Wisdom) which surpasses all individual Wisdoms. Someone who attains this Seikhel HaKollel is capable of sweetening all decrees, because all individual judgments emanate from this Inclusive Wisdom. This is why people travel to the tzaddikim for Rosh HaShanah. Each person comes with his individual constriction, his own good and bad. Because the tzaddik can rise to the highest of sources, he is the embodiment the Seikhel HaKollel. He can take each constriction, each judgment and decree, and sweeten it.”
From Likutey Moharan 1:61:6,7

Know! genuine attachment to true tzaddikim is very, very beneficial. Through this we merit complete repentance and forgiveness for sin. Judgments are sweetened and eliminated entirely, and through this the Blessed Holy One is united with His Shekhinah.
From Likutey Moharan II:91:1

“In the beginning, two thousand years before the heaven and the earth, seven things were created: the Torah written with black fire on white fire, and lying in the lap of God; the Divine Throne, erected in the heaven which later was over the heads of the Hayyot; Paradise on the right side of God, Hell on the left side; the Celestial Sanctuary directly in front of God, having a jewel on its altar graven with the Name of the Messiah, and a Voice that cries aloud, “Return, ye children of men.” When God resolved upon the creation of the world, He took counsel with the Torah. Her advice was this: “O Lord, a king without an army and without courtiers and attendants hardly deserves the name of king, for none is nigh to express the homage due to him.” The answer pleased God exceedingly. Thus did He teach all earthly kings, by His Divine example, to undertake naught without first consulting advisers. The advice of the Torah was given with some reservations. She was skeptical about the value of an earthly world, on account of the sinfulness of men, who would be sure to disregard her precepts. But God dispelled her doubts. He told her, that repentance had been created long before, and sinners would have the opportunity of mending their ways. Besides, the Temple service would be invested with atoning power, and Paradise and hell were intended to do duty as reward and punishment. Finally, the Messiah was appointed to bring salvation, which would put an end to all sinfulness.”
From Legends of the Jews 1:1

Even more specific is the Ramchal, who not only establishes the idea of a tzaddik’s suffering affecting the atonement of other Jews of his generation, but amplifies this regarding the highest category of tzaddikim who are able impact the ‘chain of events’ that takes us to the time of the “New Covenant.”

“Suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik (righteous person) as an atonement for his entire generation. This tzaddik must then accept this suffering with love for the benefit of his generation, just as he accepts the suffering imposed upon him for his own sake. In doing so, he benefits his generation by atoning for it, and at the same time is himself elevated to a very great degree. …  Such suffering also includes cases where a tzaddik suffers because his entire generation deserves great punishments, bordering on annihilation, but is spared via the tzaddik’s suffering. In atoning for his generation through his suffering, this tzaddik saves these people in this world and also greatly benefits them in the World-to-Come. … In addition, there is a special higher type of suffering that comes to a tzaddik who is even greater and more highly perfected than the ones discussed above. This suffering comes to provide the help necessary to bring about the chain of events leading to the ultimate perfection of mankind as a whole. … Beyond that, the merit and power of these tzaddikim is also increased because of such suffering, and this gives them even greater ability to rectify the damage of others. They can therefore not only rectify their own generation, but can also correct all the spiritual damage done from the beginning, from the time of the very first sinners
“Derech Hashem” (The Way of G-d), Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122-125)

“RaDaK on verse 4 comments that the concept that anyone could gain atonement through the suffering of another appears to contradict the principle that “a son shall not bear the sin of the father and a father shall not bear the sin of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20). If so, how can one person gain atonement through another or one nation through another? In the course of his lengthy discussion, RaDaK explains that when the nations come realize that they believed in falsehood all along while Israel alone adhered to the true faith, the nations themselves will reason that if Israel suffered during their exile, it must have been to protect and atone for the nations. The entire passage may also be read as an expression of wonderment and retroactive understanding by the Israelite BEINONIM (intermediate, ordinary people) and RESHAIM (the wicked) when they see the future vindication of the Tzaddikim who remained loyal to God’s Torah. The simple meaning of this passage proves that the concept that a righteous Tzaddik has the power to atone for others in his lifetime and through his death is soundly based in Torah prophecy.”
From: “Know Your Bible, Isaiah 53, The Suffering Servant,” at

The Talmud and Midrash offer interesting insight into the ability of righteous individuals to cause such a shift in status:

“Hezekiah further stated in the name of R. Jeremiah who said it in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, I am able to exempt the whole world from judgment from the day that I was born until now, and were Eliezer, my son, to be with me [we could exempt it] from the day of the creation of the world to the present time, and were Jotham the son of Uzziah with us, [we could exempt it] from the creation of the world to its final end.”
Talmud. Sukkah 45b

“Moses said to G-d: Will not the time come when Israel shall have neither Tabernacle nor Temple? What will happen with them then? The divine reply was: I will then take one of their tzaddikim and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins.”
Exodus Rabbah 35:4

We find a similar reference in Midrash, only this time bar Yohai’s partners in redemption are Abraham and one Ahiyah the Shilonite:

“AND GOD SAID: THIS IS THE TOKEN OF THE COVENANT… FOR PERPETUAL GENERATIONS- LEDOROTH (IX, 12). R. Judan said: This is written le-dorath, which thus excludes two generations, the generation of Hezekiah and that of the Great Synagogue. R. Hezekiah omitted the generation of the Men of the Great Synagogue and substituted that of R. Simeon b. Yohai. Elijah of blessed memory and R. Joshua b. Levi were sitting and studying together, when they came to a ruling of R. Simeon b. Yohai. Said one: ‘ Here is the author of the ruling: let us go and question him about it.’ So Elijah of blessed memory went to him, ‘ Who is with you? ‘ he asked. ‘ The greatest of his generation, R. Joshua b. Levi,’ he answered. ‘ Has the rainbow appeared in his days?’ he inquired; ‘ if it has, he is not worthy of being received by me. ‘R. Hezekiah related in R. Jeremiah’s name: R. Simeon b. Yohai had but to say, ‘ O field, O field, be filled with gold dinars,’ and it was filled. R. Hezekiah related in R. Jeremiah’s name: Thus did R. Simeon b. Yohai say: If Abraham is willing, he can effectively intercede for [all generations] from his days until mine, while I can intercede for [all generations] from my time until the advent of Messiah. While if he is not willing, let Ahijah the Shilonite unite with me, and we can intercede for all from the days of Abraham until those of Messiah. R. Hezekiah said in R. Jeremiah’s name: Thus did R. Simeon b. Yohai say: The world possesses not less than thirty men as righteous as Abraham. If there are thirty, my son and I are two of them; if ten, my son and I are two of them; if five, my son and I are two of them; if two, they are my son and I; if there is but one, it is I.”
Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 35:2

The Zohar elaborates on this subject and connects the suffering of the tzaddik to the suffering servant of Isaiah:

“Why is it that whenever sinners multiply in the world and punishment impends over the world, the virtuous among them are smitten for them, as we have learnt, that for the guilt of the generation the holy and righteous are seized upon? Why should this be? If because they do not reprove mankind for their evil deeds, how many are there who do reprove but are not listened to (though the righteous do humble themselves before them)? If it is in order that there may be no one to shield them, let them not die and let them not be seized for their sins, since it is a satisfaction to the righteous to see their destruction. He replied: It is true that for the guilt of the generation the righteous are seized upon, but we may explain this on the analogy of the limbs of the body. When all the limbs are in pain and suffering from sickness one limb has to be smitten in order that all may be healed. Which is the one? The arm. The arm is smitten and blood is drawn from it, and this is healing for all the limbs of the body. So men are like limbs of one body. When G-d desires to give healing to the world He smites one righteous man (tzaddik) among them with disease and suffering, and through him gives healing to all, as it is written, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities… and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). A righteous man is never afflicted save to bring healing to his generation and to make atonement for it, for the “other side” prefers that punishment should light upon the virtuous man rather than on any other, for then it cares not for the whole world on account of the joy it finds in having power over him.”
Zohar, Bemidbar 218a

“AND MOSES SAID UNTO AARON, TAKE THY CENSER, ETC. R. Hiya adduced here the verse: “The wrath of the king is as messengers of death, but a wise man will pacify it” (Proverbs 16:14). ‘How careful men should be’, he said, ‘to abstain from sin and to watch their actions, for at many periods the world is judged and every day deeds are placed in the balance and examined on high and recorded before the Almighty; and when the deeds of men are not approved before the King, wrath arises and judgement is awakened. But if when the executioners of judgement are ready to strike and wrath impends, there is found in the generation a righteous man who is inscribed above, then God looks upon him and His wrath is mollified. He is like a king who is angry with his servants and sends for the executioner to punish them, but meanwhile the king’s friend enters and stands before him, and when the king sees him his face lights up, and when he begins to speak he is glad. So when the executioner comes and sees the king all smiling, he goes away and does not execute judgement, and then the king’s friend intercedes for his servants and procures forgiveness for them.”
Zohar, Bemidbar, 177a 

The benefit of associating with a tzaddik extends past the death to the extent of extracting the person from gehennom:

“Reb Noson writes: What is the meaning of the verses (Psalms 16:10): “You will not abandon me to the abyss (Gehennom), for You will not allow Your chassid to see the pit (Genehhom)”? If one is a pious chassid, why should he descend to Gehennom? And if both parts of the verse refer to the same person, why the redundancy? Reb Noson answers: Someone who is attached to the True Tzaddik will not stay in Gehennom. If he must suffer punishment, it will not last forever, for the Tzaddik will take him out. Why? Because, “You, G-d will not allow Your chassid – the Tzaddik – to suffer Gehennom.” Since I am attached to the Tzaddik, the Tzaddik must come to take me out. He cannot remain, “for You do not wish him to see Gehennom.” Thus my attachment to the Tzaddik is my after-life insurance policy against Gehennom (Likutey Halakhot, Hashkamat HaBoker 4:4).
Crossing The Narrow Bridge, Chaim Kramer, pp. 342,343.

There is also the concept that the ultimately this level of atonement comes solely via the Messiah:

“The rectification will be by Mashiach son of David who will raise the yoke of repentance (as was said in Moed Katan 16b) and Mashiach will be the only one who, through his repentance, the entire world is forgiven (as was said in Yoma 86b).  That is, he will cause all of Israel to have thoughts of repentance.”
Pri Tzaddik, Shlach Lecha 12

New Testament

“Whom G-d displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of G-d He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Yeshua.”
Romans 3:25,26

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to G-d through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in G-d through our Lord Yeshua the messiah, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
Romans 5:10,11

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?  Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Messiah Yeshua were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
Romans 6:1-5

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Messiah Yeshua who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua  has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, G-d did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against G-d; for it is not subject to the Torah of G-d, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please G-d.”
Romans 8:1-8

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures.  … He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf … Now all these things are from G-d, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” … For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of G-d.
1 Corinthians 15:3,15,16,21

“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed”
1 Peter 2:24

“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
1 John 2:2