Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Members of the Great Assembly (Avot 1:1). The entire body of Judaic Law, written and oral, came through Moshe, who received it directly from God. God did not give it directly to the Jews. Why not?
The Talmud relates: The Emperor told Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya that he wanted to see God. Rabbi Yehoshua took him outside and told him to look at the sun. “This is not possible!” exclaimed the Emperor, to which Rabbi Yehoshua answered: “If you cannot even look upon the servant of God, how can you expect to look at God Himself?!” (Chullin 59b).
-Rabbi Chaim Kramer
“Tzaddik: Leader, Teacher, Intermediary?”
He who is to be a good ruler must have first been ruled. -Aristotle
Several days ago, I compared the crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Romans to the murder of Rabbi Abuhatzeira in the morning meditation, The Death of the Tzaddik. I was trying to re-cast Jesus in the role of tzaddik and thus into a proper Jewish context, as well as communicating that, through the lens of Jewish mysticism, how both of these deaths can be considered to atone for “evil burdens”. After reading Rabbi Kramer’s commentary on tzaddikim, this “extra” meditation pretty much created itself.
But that’s not all:
Every time you people talk about the messianic era, and “the Moshiach” (which I assume equates with “messiah”), you insist on talking about him as a king. Well, we started guillotining kings over two hundred years ago, and they haven’t really been in fashion since then. We have found liberal democracies much more adept at protecting the rights of the individuals, and working for the maximum benefit of the maximum number of people. Kings, as a whole, were pretty lousy at all that.
So how about we just call him (or her) an “enlightened spiritual leader”? The “king” title seems such an anachronism.
Question written to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
quoted in “Who Needs a King?”
The different roles that Jesus plays can be really confusing. Servant, King, Tzaddik, Savior, Messiah. Just who is Jesus and what is the relationship between who he was, who he is, and who he will become? Also, since Judaism en masse rejects the possibility of Jesus actually fulfilling the role of the Moshiach (Messiah), is there any way we can look to Jewish sources (as opposed to Christian scholarship and commentary which, after all, is biased in a certain direction) and possibly see where Jesus might actually fit in?
I believe there is.
No, my case won’t be iron clad and I can’t present it all in a simple blog. Also, I lack the educational and scholarly “chops” to be able to prove anything to anyone. Still, I see patterns in some of what I read. I saw a pattern and wrote about it in my previous blog post and I see one today.
To continue reading from Rabbi Kramer:
With this in mind, we can attempt to examine the role of the Tzaddik. In Judaism, the Tzaddik is a leader, a guiding light to his followers. In general, people have a need for leadership. The average person is for the most part unsure of his responsibility in life and how to go about fulfilling it. He must learn this from the Tzaddik. Therefore, what is needed is true leadership; truly knowledgeable people with an understanding of what someone else’s capabilities are and what is demanded and required of that individual.
Let’s compare this to what Rabbi Freeman has to say about the role of the Moshiach in the Messianic age:
If so, in such a state, who needs a king? Who needs any government at all? Let the people, so fully enlightened and aware of their Creator and their responsibility to His creation, self-organize and work things out between one another. I mean, do you really expect enlightened beings to hurt, steal, extort, or otherwise cause bodily or monetary harm to one another? So who needs government in such a world, never mind a king?
Okay, to get to that point, we may well need an outstanding individual, a great leader who could deal with the oppressors and dictators and other powerful shmendriks of the world. As Maimonides puts it, someone who will strengthen the Torah and “fight the wars of G-d” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4..) — not necessarily military wars, but actions that have very powerful political and social ramifications.
But once that mission is complete and the world is at peace, buzzing with wisdom until even the leopards and wolves are behaving and the very earth itself is full of knowledge, then everything changes. What would be crucial at such a point would be not a king, but a teacher. Yes, the world is enlightened, but it is still a world emerging into enlightenment. The Moshiach, as a teacher, would guide people to see and to understand this new world into which they had entered.
Now remember the quote from Aristotle?
He who is to be a good ruler must have first been ruled.
OK, I’m probably not playing fair bringing Aristotle into the argument, so I’ll let the Master speak for himself:
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” –Luke 9:46-48
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. –John 13:12-17
The Master himself set the prerequisite for being a leader and a tzaddik as being first a servant to others. Rabbi Kramer teaches that a tzaddik must be a leader and Rabbi Kramer and Rabbi Freeman tell us that a tzaddik and the Moshiach (respectively) must also be a teacher:
Torah is the instrument which conveys God’s Infinite Wisdom to man. Who among us can honestly say that he is wise enough to look at that medium and grasp what is required of him? The Talmud, Midrash and Shulchan Arukh stress the importance of receiving from a teacher, so that one’s understanding of Torah be clear. Thus, a teacher or rabbi has to have received from his teacher, and so on, back to Moshe Rabeinu. To look directly into the Torah and say “I know and understand,” is to say “I don’t know and never will, because I consider myself capable enough to glance at God by myself.” As the Talmud teaches: Even one who has studied, as long as he has not received from a Talmid Chakham, a qualified teacher, is still considered an ignoramus (Berakhot 47a). And: How foolish are those who stand up for the Torah Scroll, but do not stand up for the Sage (Makot 22b). The Torah can actually mislead a person who follows it, without the benefits of true guidance and leadership.
Using Moshe (Moses) as an example and a starting point, Rabbi Kramer shows us that one of the main functions of a tzaddik is to present the correct and proper interpretation of the Bible to his disciples (for Christians, substitute “Bible” for “Torah”). Jesus did this continually in the Gospels, with one noteworthy example being the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5). This also goes back to a point I have been trying to make in various blog posts. We cannot simply read the Bible in English with our own understanding, without any training or scholarly background, and expect to always understand what God is trying to say to us. Rabbi Kramer makes this clear when he says, “Even one who has studied, as long as he has not received from a..qualified teacher, is still considered an ignoramus” (quoting Berakhot 47a). Christianity dispenses with the roles of Rebbi and tzaddik as authoritative teachers at our own peril. This model of learning is one of the reasons I am attached to Judaism as a teaching platform.
But why will King Moshiach also need to be a teacher? Here’s Rabbi Freeman’s response:
This will also be the character of the Moshiach. Yes, he will be a teacher—because that’s what those times will be all about: learning, knowing, gaining divine wisdom. But a teacher—a good teacher—limits his lesson to that for which the student is ready and can handle. The Moshiach will be a teacher, but one with a kingly character: as enlightened as they may be, he will see far beyond. And yet, as a teacher-king, he will be capable of transmitting that transcendental knowledge to all of us as well. Perhaps not cognitively, but in some form in which it can be shared.
This teacher, then, is the ultimate of teachers. For he will show us the very core essence of our souls, and how they are rooted in the Core Essence of All Being.
So from Christianity’s point of view, we see that Jesus was required to teach the “lost sheep of Israel” and, through the Gospels, teach all of the subsequent generations of Jewish and Gentile disciples throughout the ages up to the current day, and then beyond. We also see that in the Messianic Age, he will still continue to teach and be the authority for our understanding of the Word of God and how that lamp will completely illuminate our souls.
Even in the beginning, the way Christ taught was considered astonishing:
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. –Matthew 7:28-29
Typically, no Rabbi taught in his own name. He taught in the name of his Master; his Rebbe, who also taught in the name of his Master, and so on. Not that there couldn’t be exceptions:
This does not mean that there are no exceptions to the rule. The Talmud speaks of those unique individuals who did succeed in Torah study, though they did not follow the prescribed approach to study outlined by our Sages (see Avodah Zarah 19a). But these singular human beings are very few and far between. One must receive at least the basics of learning from a rabbi, whose task it is to see that the material taught conveys its true meaning (Bava Batra 21a,b).
With apologies to Rabbi Kramer, Jesus would have been even more unique in having “learned” the Torah from his Father, the One God of Heaven. On the other hand, when Rabbi Kramer says, “One must receive at least the basics of learning from a rabbi”, is it such a stretch to consider Christ’s teacher and Rabbi to also be his Father?
The Tzaddik is also an intermediary. He is an agent between God and ourselves. Yet, he is not an intermediary at all. God forbid that anyone should think he needs a medium between the Almighty and himself; not from his side, and certainly not from God’s. Rather, because the Tzaddik is one who has conquered the physicality of this world and entered the spiritual realm, he serves as an agent and a catalyst for bringing spirituality to this world. Having attained the wisdom and understanding necessary for serving God in a true and proper manner, the Tzaddik serves Him by bringing His will to mankind and by getting people to recognize God in all aspects of their lives. The average person cannot perceive God’s will, and therefore has to turn to someone who can. Thus, in this sense, the Tzaddik is an intermediary.
And so, though Rabbi Kramer wouldn’t present it this way, Jesus is an intermediary between us and God as our great High Priest in the Heavenly Court (Hebrews 4:14-16). He “serves as an agent and a catalyst for bringing spirituality to this world”. We are not alone nor are we, even though not Jews and recipients of the gift of Sinai, without one to petition the Father with our needs.
Rabbi Freeman tells us the role our teacher plays out for us today and where it will lead tomorrow:
An interesting idea, because it fits so well into the idea of what the messianic era is all about and how it fulfills the purpose of creation—as Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes, “everything depends on our work throughout the time of exile.”
Meaning that through the toil of our hard work, our struggle and persistence in the most trying times right up until that glorious era, we will draw into the world a deep light, an essence-light, such as could never have been revealed without that labor. It is that essence-light that the Moshiach will have the job of revealing to us. Something entirely transcendental, and yet, something that each of us touches; something from which each of us draws strength every time we defy the confusion and darkness of our present world to do what we know is right and beautiful.
I cannot help but see Jesus as the Messiah through the teachings of the Rabbis. In fact, I see him more clearly as I read the words of Rabbis Kramer and Freeman than I do in the books written by traditional and modern Christian scholars. I see Jesus in the words of Talmud, as interpreted by such Rabbis (again, I emphasize that these Rabbis would never have intended that I take such a meaning. This is due to Jesus being completely “re-painted” in the image of a Gentile Christian “god” by the church). How can I not? I must seek him where he is to be found.
The Moshiach is found among his people; among his Father’s chosen ones; His Am Segulah, God’s treasured, splendorous children. As servant and teacher, whose death atoned for an evil decree upon mankind, as Intermediary, Priest (Hebrews 6:20), and Messiah King, he first came for Israel but is the redeemer of all the world. We seek him and God sent him to us so that we, in seeking God, could be found by Him and return home.