The Death of the Tzaddik

Torah at SinaiRav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, taught the extent of the oneness of the actions of all Jews from the prohibition of slaughtering a mother animal and her calf on the same day. “The verse states, ‘It and its progeny you shall not slaughter on the same day.’ The word for ‘slaughter’ is plural to teach that if one Jew slaughters the mother and a second Jew slaughters the child, this violates the prohibition. He explained, “We can learn a very important lesson from this.

We see that there is a very special connection between the actions of one Jew and the actions of his fellow. Our mission as a nation is to be a light unto the nations and we can only do this if we are united. Whether we know it or not, every Jew is part of one collective Jewish soul. This explains the unreasonable tendency of the non-Jewish nations to blame all Jews for heinous acts done by unworthy individuals. It is surely strange that they do not judge other nations this way. But when we consider that every Jew is part of a single whole, this begins to make a strange kind of sense, at least on a cosmic level…”

When Rav Chaim Vital, zt”l, noticed the Arizal saying a tearful heartfelt vidui during davening he wondered about this. “Why are you saying vidui? Surely you have never violated any of the heinous sins mentioned.”

The Arizal admitted that he had not violated the sins listed. He said, “Nevertheless, I must at least repent for all of them. Although I have never transgressed, what about my fellow Jews who have?

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Parts of a Whole”
Chullin 81

I sometimes despair over the lack of unity in the body of Christ or in the larger collection of people of faith. We seem so fragmented and disorganized for a group of human beings who supposedly all worship the same God and who all long for the coming of the Messiah (for Christians that’s “second coming”). Despite the lesson we see off the Daf, it seems as if even the Jewish people are not unified in their approach to and understanding of God, the Torah, and even whether or not a Jew must believe in God to be a Jew.

Yet if we look at the Sinai event, the Torah wasn’t given to each Israelite individually but to Israel as a single body.

Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of the Lord and all the rules; and all the people answered as one man with one heart, saying, “All the things that the Lord has commanded we will do!” –Exodus 24:3

Rashi comments that the Egyptians were pursuing the Jews “With one heart, like one person.” This comment is interesting because Rashi makes almost the same exact comment in next week’s parsha, when the Torah describes the Jewish people camping at the foot of Mt Sinai. There too, the Torah used the singular tense to describe the Jewish people, “and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). On that verse, Rashi describes the powerful unity the Jews felt as they were about to receive the Torah, that they were “Like one person with one heart.”

-Rabbi Leiby Burnham
Parasha Perspectives
Torah Portion Beshalach – 5769
Partners in Torah

While modern Judaism may not function “like one person with one heart”, at least on the surface, we see that when the nation of Israel was formed and the Torah was given at Sinai, Israel accepted the Law of God “with one heart”. That was God’s intent and I believe that the Jewish people will return to complete unity under God in the days of the Messiah.

But what about Christians? We are sometimes called “the body of Christ”, implying that we are a unified group or collective, but is that really true and was it true from the beginning? Particularly in Western culture, the value of the individual is considered paramount and we tend not to respond well to being treated as a group under the authority of a Pastor, Rabbi, or other governing body. We each demand the right to determine what the Bible says for ourselves, which often results in the Bible saying many different things to many different people.

I won’t quote the various New Testament examples because there are far too many, but Paul’s mission to the Gentiles to preach the Good News of Christ was carried, by necessity, to individual Gentiles, families, or small groups. It would have been impossible to deliver the Gospel message to “the nations” as a unified whole, if only because the world is so big and Gentiles, even in the Second Temple era, were so numerous. There could be no “Sinai event” for us the way there was for the Children of Israel, and maybe that represents a fundamental difference between Jews and Christians.

Even though the various branches of religious Judaism (as well as secular Jews) don’t see eye to eye, when you take away the differences and distill the Jewish people down to their very essence, there is a very basic “Jewishness” that cannot be removed, erased, or diminished beyond a certain point. A Jew will always be a Jew. When push comes to shove, the Jews are a people as established by the will of God.

Not so a Christian.

We are not born, we are made. More accurately, we make a decision; becoming a Christian is a choice. Becoming not a Christian is also a choice. There really is no such thing as an “ex-Jew”. Even for Jews who convert to Christianity, the Jewishness is still there. That isn’t true for Gentile believers. There is a point where you can reduce the Jews down to a common denominator where they are all one (as God is One), but Christians are not “one”, we are many.

I wonder if that’s our problem?

Mount SinaiI can only imagine that, in the end, God will gather the faithful together and we will all be “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15) as, in theory, we are supposed to be right now, but we’re not there yet. In my own little corner of the world, exploring a path rarely traveled by any other Christian, I feel very much alone most of the time. That’s probably by choice as well, although I feel like there’s a bit of wiring and programming inside of me that will not let me seek a different road and will not let me blend in with the masses of the Messiah’s sheep in their Christian sheepfold.

I wonder if that’s my problem?

(Actually, I don’t feel that odd anymore. I just read an article about how Koreans, both in their native country and in the U.S., are fascinated with Talmud and its wisdom. Korean translations of Talmud and books about Talmud are common in Korean bookstores.)

Can we be one? Is Christian unity an illusion? How are we to gather together under the One God and be a unique body, set apart in holiness?

…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. –Hebrews 9:28

The murder of Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, the “Baba Elazar,” on Thursday night saved the people of Israel from other tragedies, leading rabbis said Friday.

“Harsh punishments were decreed on the people of Israel, and he wanted to nullify them,” said the slain rabbi’s brother, Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira, also known as the Baba Baruch, speaking at Rabbi Abuhatzeira’s funeral.

by Maayana Miskin
“Rabbi Abuhatzeira Bore the Burden of Evil Decrees”

God is One and His Name is One. As Christians, we believe that the Son of Man came to die for the sins of many. Although Judaism traditionally does not believe that one person can die for the sins of another, the Kabbalistic perspective states otherwise:

The Bible is clear, and it is consistent. One person cannot die for the sins of another. This means that the guilt from the sins committed by one person cannot be wiped out by the punishment given to another person. First, in Exodus 32:30-35, Moses asks God to punish him for the sin of the Golden Calf, committed by the people. God tells Moses that the person who committed the sin is the person who must receive the punishment. Then, in Deuteronomy 24:16, God simply states this as a basic principle, “Every man shall be put to death for his own sins.” This concept is repeated in the Prophets, in Ezekiel 18 “The soul that sinneth, it shall die… the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”

-Rabbi Stuart Federow
“Jews believe that one person cannot die for the sins of another person”
What Jews Believe

“… suffering and pain may be imposed on a tzaddik 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 … 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.”

Derech Hashem (The Way of God)
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
As translated and annotated by Aryeh Kaplan
Feldheim Publishers
Jerusalem, 1997, p. 122.
Quoted from

It’s with a certain amount of irony that I find the only “reasonable” explanation for how a person, a tzaddik, can give his life to avert the “evil decrees” of an entire people (without admitting that God accepts human sacrifice), is within the confines of Jewish mysticism (you’ll find Judah Himango struggling with the issue of Leviticus 27 and human sacrifice at Kineti L’Tziyon).

If Christianity can be said to have a “Sinai event” it is the crucifixion (or can we also include the resurrection?). Not that we were all there. In fact, the vast majority of people who were in the general vicinity were Jews, who came from every corner of Israel and the diaspora for the festival of Passover.

On the other hand, every Jew, even today, is to consider himself or herself as having stood personally at the foot of Sinai to receive the Torah. Why not (and this is just my imagination speaking) consider every Christian and every disciple of the “great Rebbe of Nazaret”, the most righteous tzaddik of all generations; why not consider us all as having stood at the foot of his execution stake personally, each of us as a witness to his bloody, sacrificial death on our behalf?

The Death of the MasterWe sometimes call Jesus our “living Torah” since he embodied the lifestyle of one who was fully human yet fully obedient to God and without sin. If the giving of the Torah at Sinai to the Jewish people unites them as one, does not the giving of the blood of the living Torah at Golgotha, the place of the skull, unite the disciples of Christ?

There’s a problem of two separate people groups under God and two separate events. Do the Jews have Moses and the Gentiles have Jesus? Are there two “Messiahs”? Not ultimately, for we all spring from a single root (Romans 11) and we are all branches on the same tree. More than that, Jesus came for the lost sheep of Israel and Paul went first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. The Jewish Moshiach came for the Jews and also came to unite all of humanity under God.

But every year, when they sound the shofar at Rosh HaShana it is revealed, a new revelation of infinite life is drawn to the world, beginning with the Land of Israel (see Tanya, pg. 239).

That is why the Torah says G-d’s eyes are on the Land of Israel from the beginning of the year to the end; it is referring to this new flow of life begun each Rosh HaShana.

And why will the Patriarchs be revived in Israel? Because as the ultimate Jews they will link and reveal the holiness of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel.

But this will only happen through our efforts to transform the entire world into holiness NOW — that is, to make Israel everywhere and prepare the world for Moshiach.

Because ONLY Moshiach will bring the Jews to Israel when the Great Shofar will be sounded by HaShem Himself.

We just have to do all we can in thought, speech, and action to bring . . .

Moshiach NOW!

-Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
Commentary on Parashat Eikev (5766)
Ohr Tmimim

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. –Revelation 22:1-5

11 thoughts on “The Death of the Tzaddik”

  1. You’ve put your finger on what ails us. Here’s the irony: individualism is not so much a choice we’ve made as it is characteristic of the Western mind we’re born into and are saturated with every day. To live and breathe as part of a greater whole, we first need to be cleansed from the way of thinking and feeling that pervades the whole.

  2. That won’t happen without a great deal of resistance. Individualism in all areas of our life is considered a virtue and while in theory, there is value in thinking of ourselves as part of the “body of Messiah”, in truth, each individual sees himself or herself as the whole body, in spite of 1 Corinthians 12. As proof, just look at the various debates in the Messianic blogosphere for and against the oral traditions and the authority of the Rabbis to issue authoritative rulings.

    You know better than most, that it’s one thing to say you value Judaism and Israel and another thing entirely to actually understand, to think, to live, and to be part of Judaism. And even here, the Lev Echad blog illustrates the difficulties in uniting the Jewish people, even though there is a core connection between all Jews as I explained in my blog post. Imagine how difficult it would be to accomplish the same task with all of Christianity unless the crucifixion of the Master can serve the same function to the church as the Sinai event serves for Judaism.

  3. The majority of Jews today do not believe in a personal God. Most Jews do not know tefilin from their elbows. The assimilation is beyond dismal. When Christians in America today doubt the chosenness of Jews, I think it has less to do with inherited antisemitism and more to do with the fact that love or fear of God simply is not found in the Jews they have met. Think about it: if the Temple were ever rebuilt, there’d be no way that all the seculars and Reform Jews would suddenly consent to that degree of teshuvah, not even gradually. Israel is gradually getting more religious, but that’s mostly because the Orthodox have more babies. Not to mention all the gentile anti-semites or (far more prominent today) those totally ignorant or indifferent to Jews or Judaism. I just don’t see a sudden redemption with everyone suddenly loving God and lauding Jewish chosenness working out in the real world. Call me doubting Thomas.

  4. I just don’t see a sudden redemption with everyone suddenly loving God..

    I don’t think we’re all that sure about how God will bring about the redemption of Israel as a people (who says it will be sudden), but we do know that it will happen (Romans 11:26). You seem to take a dim view of Jews and Judaism, Andrew. Do you know that many Jews? Do you worship with that many Jews? Are Gentile Christians so superior in your opinion?

    I’ve worshipped with Jewish people who are very devoted to God and who long for the Messiah to come. Of course, not all Jews has the same perspective on religion or are even religious, but in the end, they are Jews and they are His people. There are plenty of secular Gentiles who are completely indifferent to God, and even in the church, many are rather lukewarm to the requirements of their faith. If Jesus were to come tomorrow, how many of them would “suddenly consent to that degree of teshuvah” or otherwise repent and turn their hearts to the Master?

    I often doubt my fellow human being, but where would my faith be if I also doubted God and His ability to carry out what He started with the Children of Israel and with the rest of us?

  5. James,

    You have me all wrong, I assure you. I take a VERY positive view of Judaism (and I do mean rabbinic) and have eagerly learned about it for years. No, gentile Christians are not at all superior. You will never see me say such a thing anywhere.

    On the other hand, I have met few Jews in my life, whereas you are married to one and are actively engaged in the Jewish way. Operating on the sidelines like I do can be dangerous, I admit.

    Israel’s future has always been remarkable, if never certain. What a miracle that it’s come this far. I struggle continually between extremes of faith and skepticism, but in the end it is better to acknowledge how little I know and that God will turn it all around.

  6. OK. Like I said in my comment on Derek’s blog, it’s hard to get a person’s full intent in a text-only environment. I can also relate to struggles of faith, as I’m sure you realize if you’ve read my blog posts this week.

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