Waiting for Spring: Messianic Divinity Part 4

According to Torah sources, Moshiach undertakes the most intense suffering in the world on the condition that every Jew that has ever lived should have a portion in the ultimate redemption, including even aborted fetuses, the stillborn, and those souls that only arose in G-d’s thought, (Sicha of Chayei Sarah 5752-1991, Ch.1) The Sages state, (Ya/kut Shimoni, Psalms 2) “G-d divided the world’s suffering into three portions. One of those portions is the lot of King Moshiach. ‘He is wounded because of our sins… He suffers that we should merit peace.’ (Isaiah 53:5) When his time will come, G-d says, (Psalms 2:7) ‘Today I have given birth to him … It is his time and he will be healed.”’

from “Moshiach: The Greatest Challenge”

The prophet Zechariah describes Moshiach as “a pauper, riding on a donkey.” The simple meaning of the verse is that Moshiach — whom the Midrash describes as “greater than Abraham, higher than Moses, and loftier than the supernal angels” (Yalkut Shimoni after Isaiah 52:13) — is the epitome of self-effacement. Indeed, humility is the hallmark of the righteous: they recognize that their tremendous talents and achievements, and the power vested in them as leaders, are not theirs but their Creator’s. They live not to realize and fulfill themselves, but to serve the divine purpose of creation.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Moshiach’s Donkey”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

This is the fourth (and probably final) article in my “Messianic Divinity series. To read this series from the beginning, go to part 1 Exploring Messianic Divinity, continue to part 2 The Living Word of God, and then part 3 The Mystic Mirror Darkly.

If you’re a Christian, the quotes I placed at the top of this blogpost probably sound a little familiar. You’ll probably have to “filter out” the parts that sound “too Jewish” for the Christian consciousness and theological palate, but I’m sure you’ll get the references most believers would associate with Jesus. I chose these sources because of how they seem to parallel what we believe in Christianity. Of course, this isn’t the intent of the writers, particularly the quote from ChabadWorld.net, which is specifically speaking of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as the Moshiach, who had to suffer and die only to be resurrected and live again. This is a point that hasn’t escaped the author of that article:

One thing is demonstrable; the Rebbe has not left us. He still guides us, obtains G-d’s favor and campaigns on our behalf. He’s still here, still alive, somehow. He is still the gener­ational leader and he’s still Moshiach. The redemption is still on, and the world is still moving towards its ultimate fulfillment. The mira­cles haven’t slackened one bit. In fact there are more miracles now. You can access the Rebbe, too. The main point is that we will soon see him again, here, soul in a body, and he will be recog­nized by all to be Moshiach and he will finish the job he started ­leading mankind into the true and complete redemption.

One may ask, “But how can this all be true? It sounds too fantas­tic. And besides, now this really sounds like another religion.”

That other religion being mentioned is unquestionably Christianity and the writer is correct. This all really does remind me of Jesus. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, but the parallels, though not intentional (by human beings, anyway), are just too close to ignore.

Rabbi Tauber writes something in his Moshiach’s Donkey story that also connects to how we think of Christ.

On a deeper level, Moshiach’s donkey represents the essence of the messianic process: a process that began with the beginning of time and which constitutes the very soul of history. In the beginning, the Torah tells us, when G-d created the heavens and the earth, when the universe was still empty, unformed, and shrouded in darkness, the spirit of G-d hovered above the emerging existence. Says the Midrash: “‘The spirit of G-d hovered’ — this is the spirit of Moshiach.” For Moshiach represents the divine spirit of creation — the vision of the perfected world that is G-d’s purpose in creating it and populating it with willful, thinking and achieving beings.

Let’s take a closer look at this reference, first from the Torah and then from a slightly more recent source.

When God began to create heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water. –Genesis 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. –John 1:1-3

I should point out that the word translated as “wind” in Genesis 1:2 is the Hebrew word “ruach” which can be properly translated as either “wind” or “spirit”.

Why am I writing all this and why should you care? What does this have to do with the issue of the Messiah’s deity or lack thereof? To answer the second question first, not much. To answer the first question, because you want to know just as much as I do, who the Messiah really is (as much as we can understand, at least) so you can draw closer to God through him (John 14:6).

I’ve been bothered by the obvious disconnect between the Christian and Jewish views of the Messiah. Of course, it’s understandable why modern Judaism would want to create that disconnect, based on the rather bloody history of how Christians have harassed, tortured, and murdered Jews. It’s understandable why Christianity would also want to make that disconnect if you factor in the long history of supersessionism in the church (a theme of which I have a special interest). All of the Old Testament prophesies Christians say point to Jesus as the Messiah are interpreted to have other, non-Christian meanings by Judaism. Few Jews would want to even breathe a hint that their expectations of the Moshiach could have anything to do with oto ha’ish.

And yet there is a beauty and spiritual elegance in how Judaism renders the resurrection and the Moshiach that for me cannot fail to conjure up the perfect picture of Jesus Christ and his promises to a humanity desperately longing for hope and peace.

Resurrection involves both perfection in the state of man and a revelation of the Essence of G-d, an essence that transcends both the spiritual and the physical. In resurrection, there is a fusion of the Divine with the human through which is fulfilled the purpose of creation – to provide G-d with a dwelling in this lowly world.

How interesting. “…to provide G-d with a dwelling in this lowly world.” Isn’t that what we’ve been talking about for four blog articles now?

Rabbi Tauber uses the image of the Moshiach riding the donkey as a picture of how heaven and earth are joined together in the Messianic hope.

Conventional wisdom has it that the spiritual is greater than the physical, the ethereal more lofty than the material. Nevertheless, our sages have taught that G-d created the entirety of existence, including the most lofty spiritual worlds, because “He desired a dwelling in the lower world.” Our physical existence is the objective of everything He created, the environment within which His purpose in creation is to be realized.

So Moshiach, who represents the ultimate fulfillment of Torah, himself rides the donkey of the material. For he heralds a world in which the material is no longer the lower or secondary element, but an utterly refined resource, no less central and significant a force for good than the most spiritual creation.

Is the Messiah God? I can come to no absolute conclusions, especially since my “evidence” is based largely on mystical and metaphorical perceptions and interpretations. Any support for or against Jesus as God rests on foundations that are equally slippery to grasp and that transcend the logical, the rational, and the “real”, whatever “real” means. Whoever or whatever the Messiah is, he is no ordinary man. If man he is, then he has one foot on earth and another foot at the Heavenly Throne of God. He is the bridge between mankind and the Divine. Something of Him must have a Divine nature if he was the Word God used to speak the universe into being, if his spirit hovered over the antediluvian waters, and if the will and wisdom of God was “clothed” in flesh and “dwelt among us” in the person of Jesus.

The Death of the MasterDid the early Apostles worship Jesus as God or bow down to him as a serf bows to a (non-Deity) King? The Greek is not conclusive in my opinion but I’m hardly a linguistic expert. Judaism says that the Moshiach is a unique human being who will be raised very high and given great and extraordinary honor; that he is an elevated tzaddik whose death will atone for a nation and perhaps a world.

Whether we say “the Christ” or “Moshiach”, we’re all waiting for him. Some of us consider that he has been here once before (including the Lubavitchers who await the return of the Rebbe) while many others believe he has not yet come. Whoever he is, whatever he is, he is the promise and hope of Israel and the salvation and restoration of the earth.

Like a watchman on the walls of a besieged Jerusalem, we await the dawn. Like a frozen world isolated from life and light by the dark and endless winter, we long for spring.

All of us.

Cultivate the soul with hope; teach it to await the break of dawn with longing eyes.

Through its ordeals, the soul is softened to absorb the rains. Yet, nevertheless, Spring comes for those that long for it.

And so the sages say, “In the merit of hope, our parents were redeemed from Egypt.”

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’
“Longing for Spring”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson


10 thoughts on “Waiting for Spring: Messianic Divinity Part 4”

  1. Just shows that there are plenty of Orthodox Jews who think very much along the same lines that “we” do. I appreciate your inquiring mind, my friend.

  2. Just shows that there are plenty of Orthodox Jews who think very much along the same lines that “we” do.

    Which is amazing in and of itself, especially with the tremendous controversy going on over Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s soon-to-be-published book Kosher Jesus.

    I’m not trying to say there’s a “real” relationship between Orthodox thought and Christian/Messianic thought, but given all the reasons the Orthodox have to avoid any commonality with Christianity, I find it fascinating that the parallels still exist. I wonder how Jews in the First Century C.E. looked at the prophesies in the Tanakh about the Messiah relative to Jesus? How different was that viewpoint compared to how Jews see those prophesies today?

  3. Very good article, thanks for sharing it. (only the last picture is offensive..)
    Indeed, the controversy of the Smuley Boteach is interesting and ironically brings both camps near to each other. If you reach out to Jesus it would be a stumbling block for both Christians and Jews.

  4. Greetings, Jos. Thanks for the complement. I’m sorry if you found the last image offensive, but there are a good many readers of this blog who relate to it within their own understanding of their faith. If it helps, consider that the first century Romans crucified a large number of criminals and “dissidents,” so the image doesn’t necessarily have to represent something iconically Christian for you.

    Not sure exactly why you’d consider it a stumbling block if I “reached out for Jesus,” but I choose to think of myself as a person who worships God and not a man. Jesus is the Messiah and Savior who allows me to enter into a relationship with my God when I had no means of doing so previously. I don’t expect everyone to agree with how I see my faith, so I understand if your perspective is different.

  5. I don’t think that our perspective on faith is that different.
    About the stumbling block, I had the following in mind. If one digs into the sources to unveil the real Jesus (the Jewish one) whether you call it historical or what ever, you come to a very special Person whom is not to be set apart. You either will see and confess he is the Messiah, or stumble upon him. You can’t stay inbetween. That’s the challenge for Judaism, they will see that he is one of them and their Messiah. And for Christianity the challenge is that he is Jewish and part of the covenant with the Jews who will come the salvation through him (Rom.9-11). The state of Israel is just one step (by God), the restoration of faith/theology is at hand. May He build up the “Jewish” and “Christian” Jerusalem in our days! Shalom, Jos

  6. Great series James.

    During one of the feasts last year – I don’t remember which one – my wife and I noticed that some of the thoughts expressed through http://www.chabad.org were quite similar to some the Apostolic Writings that we are much more familiar with. We have now come to expect this similarity and are seeing more and more parallels as time goes by. What was of note for us however is that how they viewed and expressed their faith actually added to how we viewed and expressed our faith. Given this we couldn’t help thinking that if one of these chaps were to come to faith in Jesus/Yeshua as Messiah that this would be a significant matter. There would seem to be something to learn and from both sides.

    Incidentally, I have a set of two books which I found in an old book store some years ago (Tales of The Hasidim: The Early Masters, Martin Buber) which contain an introductory essay on the nature of the remembrance, oral transmission and ultimately, the compilation and hence written transmission of these tales (a work of disciples). Outside of considerations of the work of the Holy Spirit to inspire, reading this started to answer questions concerning how the Gospels – so many years after the life of Jesus/Yeshua – could be what they purport to be i.e. a mixture of eye witness accounts and second-hand testimonies concerning His life, teachings, practices and so on. What is my point? Simply to add support to what you have suggested – hope I understood you correctly James – that to engage with non ‘Christian’ Jewish faith traditions like Chabad and other Jewish mystical traditions can be beneficial to disciples of Jesus/Yeshua.


  7. Andrew, this is exactly my point in reading Chasidic tales, learning from the writings of the Rebbe at Chabad, and studying Jewish mystic traditions. I don’t believe literally everything that Jewish mysticism supports, but I too see amazing parallels between their writings and my faith.

    If you haven’t done so already, you really need to get the book and commentary for Paul Philip Levertoff’s Love and the Messianic Age. Levertoff was born and raised a Chasidic Jew in the late 19th century, and was able to independently make the connection between the “Chasidic/mystic feel” of the Gospel of John and his own traditions. I wrote a review of Levertoff’s book and the Vine of David commentary almost a year ago. I highly recommend buying and reading them both.

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