For some 19 centuries, Jews and Christians have been arguing over a ‘straw man’ – an interpretation of the “New Testament” lacking any basis. This is especially true of the spiritual concepts found throughout its pages. Christians try to make their doctrines fit into the words of the Tenach, while Jews respond by saying the New Testament is faulty as it is not grounded in historic understanding of the Scriptures, especially Chazal.
This study compares writings of the oral Torah and more modern Rabbinic scholarship at a conceptual level, directly with similar ideas found in the pages of the “New Testament.” Each ‘topic’ presents views from traditional, accepted texts of Judaism, followed by verses from the New Testament that relate to the same concern.
A critical premise going forward, is that what is true of tzaddikim in general is true of the Messiah, even to a greater extent, he being the consummate tzaddik:
“One who attached himself to the true tzaddikim has true faith. Mashiach is the true tzaddik. One who accepts Mashiach will receive from him pure faith, and will not have misplaced his faith.”
Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?, Chaim Kramer, Breslov Resarch Institute, Jerusalem, p. 86.
Another difference between Christian and Jewish approaches to the subject of the messiah, is whereas the former focuses greatly on the ‘Who?’ (‘Jesus’), the latter is more concerned with the ‘What?,’ as the ‘who’ will be obvious when the time comes.
“Who? Who is but the form following the function of what … and what I am is a man in a mask.”
From the movie, “V for Vendetta”
The quote from the film raises the issue of understanding things ‘correctly.’ With regard to the subject of ‘the messiah,’ this would mean we should seek to more fully understand the ‘what’ – that being the ‘concept,’ before attempting to determine who ‘fits into it.’
When comparing Jewish and Christian literature on this subject, the difference in approach is sharp. Most discussion on the subject of Messiah from Christian sources focuses on the ‘person of Jesus’ and doctrines based on what he said and did on earth, what he is doing now in the heavens, and how this affects people – living and dead. New Testament citations of the Tenakh are taken out of context by people, without proper understanding, and their meaning ‘tweaked’ in accordance to personal/denominational interpretation.
In Judaism however, the subject of ‘the Messiah’ is historically far more than this. Torah literature speaks of messiah as ‘something’ existing from before the earth was created. In this Talmudic section, the messiah’s ‘name’ is said to pre-exist creation. The concept of ‘name’ in Torah literature having to do with themes of ‘authority, power and function.’
“Surely it was taught: Seven things were created before the world was created, and these are they: The Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah.”
Talmud, Pesachim 54a
The concept of “before the world was created,’ is also referred to as, ‘the foundation of the world.’ This is directly connected to the idea of the ‘tzaddik,’ the righteous person serving G-d, as well as to the Messiah:
“The wicked Bila’am “distances” the coming of the Mashiach when he says, “I behold it, but not in the near future.” In contrast, the prophet Isaiah draws the Mashiach nearer when he says, “for my salvation is near to come” (Isaiah 56:1). In his commentary on the Torah entitled ‘Heichal Ha’bracho,’ the Komarnar Rebbe explains Bila’am’s words as follows: ‘Nearness’ indicates a close neighbor who is the Tzaddik, the foundation of the world. Similarly, the holy prophet (Isaiah) said, ‘my salvation is near’ (Isaiah 56:1). But this wicked one said, ‘but not in the near future.’ In truth it is near; for the redemption is experienced every day and in each hour by one with a sensitive heart. Now, it is truly close; its ‘appointed time’ is here. Yet, this is not exact, since even the ‘appointed time’ will be ‘hastened’ (before its time; see commentaries on Isaiah 60:22). Our master, the holy Ari, noted that the ‘appointed time’ had actually started in his day: “I am certain of this every day that I yearn and wait for the final redemption.”… “Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, author of the commentary Or HaChaim, explains our verse as referring in its entirety to the Mashiach. He explains that the Mashiach’s coming will be hastened, if the Jewish People merit it, and if not, then he will come “in its appointed time.” This is the meaning of the quote “in its appointed time, I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22), as interpreted by our sages. In accordance with this understanding, the quote “I behold it, but not now” (not immediately now, but very soon) refers to a state in which the Jewish People are worthy, whereas “I behold it, but not in the near future” refers to a state in which they are not. So too, if the Jewish People are worthy, then the Mashiach will come in a manner from above to below as pictured in the phrase, “a star will go forth from Jacob” and as it is said “he will come via the clouds of the heavens”–in the merit of the service of the majority of the souls of Israel, the average ones amongst the Jewish People, the rank and file–who may be labeled “Jacobs.” Whereas, if they are not worthy, then the Mashiach will come in a manner from below to above, “and a staff shall arise in Israel” and as “a poor man, riding on a donkey”–in the merit of the service of the minority of the souls of Israel, the Tzaddikim of the generation, who are labeled “Israel.” We notice that the first Mashiach–King David–according to the Rambam’s interpretation, parallels the Mashiach at the level of “if they merit…’I will hasten it’” according to the Or Hachaim’s explanation. In addition, the final Mashiach, a descendent of King David (called by the Sages “Caesar” in contrast to King David who is called “half-Caesar,” according to the Rambam)–parallels the Mashiach at the level of “if they are not worthy–‘in its appointed time’” according to the Or Hachaim’s commentary.”
Kabbalah and Modern Life – Living with the Times: A Torah Message for the Month of Shevat; And a Staff Shall Arise in Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
We find this idea reflected in the New Testament, which associates the messiah (‘the lamb’) with the idea of ‘foundation’:
“Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another— He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.”
Mention of Messiah as a ‘force’ of creation is found in other places.
“AND THE SPIRIT OF G-D HOVERED (Genesis 1:2): this alludes to the spirit of Messiah, as you read, And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him (Isaiah 11:2). In the merit of what will [this spirit] eventually come? [For the sake of that which] HOVERED OVER THE FACE OF THE WATERS, i.e. in the merit of repentance which is likened to water, as it is written, Pour out thy heart like water (Lamentations 2:19).”
Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 2:4
Another key text is the 13th century work, “Sha’are Orah” (“Gates of Light”), where we find the power of the soul of messiah energizing all living creatures:
“Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature.”(Gen. 1:24). For this verse, by virtue of the upper wisdom, includes the soul of all that moves and crawls on the earth, the life-force of all species of fish, fowl, beasts and domesticated animals as well as the animal soul that dwells within man. One must also include the upper soul that dwells within man which is called the Neshamah. … The verse is referring to the soul of the Messiah.”
“Sha’are Orah,” Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla, translated by Avi Weinstein, Altimira Press, London, 1994, p. 55.
This ‘power of messiah’ is further shown to be unique in that it extends beyond all worlds of existence and pre-existence, back to the source of all things.
For instance, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the ‘soul of Mashiach’ originates from the level of Keter (Atik), the loftiest point of existence:
“The Keter (Crown – here referring to Arikh Anpin, “The infinitely Patient One”) is the loftiest Parfutz (personification). But the ARI writes, Keter actually has two levels, a lower level corresponding to Arikh Anpin and an upper level, the intellect of Arikh Anpin, which corresponds to Atik. Atik is referred to in the holy writings by several names: Atik (“The Ancient One”), Atik Yomin (“The Ancient of Days”), Atika Kadisha (“The Holy Ancient One”). … The connection between Mashiach and Atik is learned from Daniel’s vision: “A man came and he approached (the level of) the Ancient of Days …” Rashi explains that this refers to Mashiach, who will minister justice to the entire world. … Atik thus transcends anything that we can conceive — giving and receiving, right and left, reward and punishment, and so on. At this level there is neither past or future. Everything is in the present. And, as we have seen, every part of Creation, from the first constriction, until the lowest level of the world of Asiyah, is contained within Keter. Thus Atik includes all time and space — yet transcends it all. The soul of Mashiach “resides” within Atik, and it is from this level that all his powers will be drawn. And, since he transcends time and space, Mashiach can transcend every transgression ever committed and rectify it — for since he can transcend everything ever done, he can bring each person to a state prior to his having sinned. … With this power inherent in this exalted level, Mashiach will be able to bring the world to a state of perfection. … “This is absolutely necessary, for Mashiach must be able to transcend anything and everything in the world – even and especially all evil that was ever perpetrated – to rectify and perfect all mankind.”
“Mashiach – Who? What? Why? How? Where? When?,” Chaim Kramer, Breslov Resarch Institute, Jerusalem, pp. 18, 208,209.
We see in Sha’are Orah that the power of the letter ‘vav’ (which is directly associated with the messiah) extends all the way to Ain Sof, the concept of G-d prior to Creation.
“The essence of the third letter is the essence of the letter vav, and it includes the six Spheres which are the numerical equivalent of the letter vav [six], three above, which is half of vav and three of its other half below. The three of the upper half are Gedulah (also called Hesed), Gevurah and Tiferet and the three Spheres on the lower half are Netzach, Hod and Yesod. All these Spheres are included in the letter vav. Behold, the letter vav of the special Name (YHVH) stands in place of the complete Name. … This letter contains the secret of tying all the upper and lower Spheres. It ascends to Keter and descends to Malchut and it suits all the Spheres., for all are united in it whether they be above or below, to the right or to the left, and it is called the center line. … Know that this great Name YHVH is the attribute the Kabbalists call the Middle Line. … The meaning of the term “the Middle Line” is the essence of the letter vav that is found in the Name YHVH, for it stands in the place where the Name is. It is like an intermediary line, thus this name ascends ever upward until AYN SOF (the infinte), which is the essence of Keter and unites with the name EHYE, which is the essence of the Heavenly Line and then returns to unite below with the Name Adonay. After this He returns and extends to the sides, and all sides from every direction hold fast to Him. One finds that the letter vav of the Name YHVH, may He be blessed, stands in the place of the whole Name, and to it all the other Names hold fast.”
“Sha’are Orah,” excerpts from pp.147-246
The hope for this study is to remove ‘bias’ and educate people with regard to the claims of the New Testament, before drawing conclusions. Maintaining inaccurate perspectives prevents a person from being a ‘pure vessel,’ able to formulate correct Torah views on this or any issue.
This is especially true in the days we live in:
“To merit spirituality in the days of Mashiach, a person must be considered a proper receptacle. This is what the Chofetz Chaim would say: ‘Mashiach must come very soon, because soon there won’t be anybody for whom to come.’… He can’t come to everyone – one has to be fitting and prepared to merit greeting him.”
“Redemption Unfolding,” Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum, Feldheim Publishers p. 92
“… when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”