As much as a Jew may wrestle to separate himself from his G‑d and his people, the undercurrent of indignation remains endemic to his Jewish psyche, a gnawing conviction that the world is not the way it should be. The Jew aches with expectation, and blatantly demands that the world act according to the beauty it inherently contains.
Yes, there is a way the world is supposed to be. Inherently beautiful, it feigns ugliness; fathomless in wisdom, it acts stupid; like the creation of a master craftsmen brutally dismantled, its parts scattered across a dirt floor; as a philharmonic orchestra tuning up, fragmented into a nightmare of chaos and discord, holding its audience in tortured anticipation.
But we are not the audience; we are the musicians. The instruments are in our hands, such devices to unite humankind as we have never held before; tools to obsolesce ignorance, hunger and need, to plunge the depths of our universe’s wisdom, to know its oneness, the oneness of its Creator.
Do we await a human messiah?
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Do the Jewish People Still Expect a Messiah?”
from the “Chassidic Thought” series
It’s no secret that Christians and Jews have radically different perceptions of the Messiah. For a Jew, the Messiah is a King, fully human, someone born of human (Jewish) parents, a latter-day Moses. For Christians, the Messiah is the Son of God, supernatural, both man and God. Ultimately Divine.
It doesn’t sound like we’re talking about the same guy, does it?
Actually, a recent book written by noted Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin, describes how it is possible for the Jesus of the New Testament to have been perceived by his Jewish contemporaries as both Messiah King and Son of God, though from Boyarin’s point of view, their understanding of his identity was fatally flawed (some have said the same thing about Boyarin’s “The Jewish Gospels”).
If it were just a matter of the difference between how the church and the synagogue viewed the identity the Messiah, I suppose the distinctions would be clear and the conclusion would be that Christians and Jews will never agree on who the Messiah is or his role in the redemption of both Israel and the world.
But then there are Jews who accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah King, but with an ”appearance,” if you will, that is distinctly more “Jewish” than most Christians would feel comfortable with. It is in “Messianic Judaism” that we see the intersection between the New Testament Jesus and the Jewish Moshiach. It’s not easy making these two guys live together. Heck. It’s not easy even getting them to sit down together in the same room for ten minutes at a time.
Why is that?
A lot of how we understand Jesus/Messiah has been crafted post-Second Temple period and probably the picture we have today has been painted a lot more recently than that. I’m neither a Bible scholar nor a historian, so I can’t comment on any of those details, but it occurs to me (and I’m sure it has occurred to many others) that the Jesus who walked and talked with Peter, Matthew, and John looked, sounded, and acted quite a bit differently than most people in the church would imagine. He also didn’t really fit the mold of how the Messiah is conceived of among Jewish people today (hence the dissonance). He certainly didn’t (at that time) fulfill all of the Messianic prophecies that should have resulted in him restoring self-rule to Israel rather than letting the Romans virtually level Jerusalem some forty years after his death and resurrection.
So where do we go to get a picture of the “objective Jesus;” the person of Jesus as he really was when he walked among his people, as he taught by the lakes, and as he related parables in the Temple courts?
I’m tempted to say, “the Gospels,” but obviously it’s not that easy, otherwise we’d all have the same, identical image of Jesus and it would be the image John, Peter and the others had of him, too.
This is hardly the first time I’ve written on such a topic. Consider In Search of the Jewish Voice of Jesus, A Christian Seeking Messiah ben David, and The Sacrifice at Golgotha as just a few examples of my previous missives.
That’s a tough one. He isn’t as clearly defined as we’d like to believe, especially in terms of his expectations for his Jewish and Gentile disciples. Did he expect us to all conform to a ”One Torah” model, or were there distinctions between groups relative to the mitzvot? There’s no consensus. The debate rages on.
I suppose commentaries like this don’t really help…or do they?
The Nesivos, in the introduction to his Sefer Nachalas Yaakov, asks how we can say in Birchos HaTorah that Hashem chose us from all the nations, when we know that God went to each nation and offered them the Torah? It was only after the other nations refused the offer did God approach Klal Yisroel to offer us the Torah, and even then it was given to us only because of our declaration, .נעשה ונשמעWhy, then, in the brocha do we say that God chose us?
The Nesivos answers by pointing out that there are three differences between the mitzvos given to Klal Yisroel and the seven mitzvos given to the other nations. The first difference is that we fulfill a mitzvah when we study the Torah as opposed to the other nations who do not fulfill a mitzvah when they study the seven Noahide laws. Secondly, we were given the inner dimensions of the Torah and the non-Jews were not. Lastly, we were given the authority to decide halachah according to our understanding, and that becomes binding halachah even in shamayim. Non-Jews do not have that authority even for the mitzvos they keep.
The three Birchos HaTorah correspond to these three features. The first brochah, “”אשר קדשנו…לעסוק בדברי תורה emphasizes that we were given the Torah to study. The second brochah refers to the inner dimensions of Torah which can not be understood by man without a spirit from Above. The last brochah, “”אשר בחר בנו highlights the fact that only Klal Yisroel was given the Torah to decide issues according to our understanding and even had the other nations agreed to accept the Torah they would not have been granted that authority. It is with this idea in mind that we say, “God chose us from all the nations.”
Commentary on Berachos 11b
I asked my friend Gene the following question on his blog:
Obviously, this viewpoint doesn’t take the validity of Jewish and Gentile faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as Messiah into account. I have two questions that are related to the “three differences.” First, if we believe that Jews, according to midrash, fulfill a mitzvah when they study Torah, is this not true when Christians (non-Jews who are disciples of the Jewish Messiah King) study the Bible (New Testament and/or full Bible)? Second, if Jews were given the authority to decide halachah as it applies to them, do not Christians have the same sort of autonomy in deciding whatever “halachah” applies to us based on our understanding of the teachings of Jesus?
You can go to his blog to read the entire transaction between us, but basically he said, “That’s a tough one.” Remember though, that our belief in Jesus as the one, true Messiah and the authority he was given by the Father makes all the difference in the world.
But how was all this supposed to work originally and what does it mean to us now? My best guess is, in the days of Paul, the non-Jewish disciples had a much closer image and conceptualization of the Jewish Messiah as transmitted to them by the Apostle to the Gentiles. Their “observance” of the mitzvot may have more closely approximated what was halachah for the normative Judaism of the day because new disciples tend to imitate their mentors and teachers. They just don’t know any better way of learning than to do what their shepherds and guides are doing.
But all that was lost in the ensuing split between Christianity and Judaism and our mission today is one of rediscovery. Publications such as the DHE Gospels and particularly Tsvi Sadan’s landmark The Concealed Light peer into the shadows of antiquity and illuminate the man who both Jewish and Gentile disciples called “Master” and “King”.
But if we can’t even agree among the Jewish and non-Jewish body of believers who Jesus was and is and what he expects us all to do, how can we unite as brothers and sisters in the faith and do the will of our Master? If it were just a matter of bearing good fruit and choosing to love, there wouldn’t be much of a problem.
What have we forgotten about what Jesus taught? What were his most important lessons? How to tie tzitzit and lay tefillin? The proper order of service in the synagogue?
His most important Torah mitzvot were these:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” -Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. -John 13:34 (ESV)
Why do I continually repeat these specific teachings of the Master? Because these are the Torah commandments of the Messiah we consistently fail to obey.
I know, it’s shocking. We can spend all day every day at our computer keyboards ripping apart the minutiae of specific Bible verses down to the level of Greek and Hebrew translations and citing the experts and authorities who we believe support our various theories, but how many of us actually step away from our PCs and Macs long enough to donate even a single can of soup to our local foodbank or to mow the lawn of the aged couple who live across the street?
Who is the true Jewish Jesus and what does he want of us? He wants us to stop blogging long enough to actually do good and to show love to the least of his little ones. We know that Christians and Jews are waiting for the Messiah. But is he also waiting for us?