The Messiah’s Lament

Someone once asked the Chozeh of Lublin, zt”l, an interesting question about a well-known statement found on today’s daf. “Our sages tell us that a person who says something in the name of the one who originally said it brings redemption to the world. It seem strange that after all these centuries that the Jewish people have learned Talmud—which quotes the original source for every statement—we have not yet been redeemed!”

The rebbe immediately supplied an excellent reply to this question. “We can understand this in light of what I have already said: that there are two types of redemption. Besides a general redemption for the Jewish people through our righteous redeemer, there is also a personal redemption for every Jew. So the redemption alluded to here is not the ultimate redemption at all. It refers to every Jew’s personal needs, both material and spiritual. When a Jew says something in the name of its originator, he affords this type of redemption to the world.”

Rav Shmuel, the student of the renowned Be’er Mayim Chaim, zt”l, gave a similar response. “It is clear from the very words of our sages themselves that this does not refer to bringing Moshiach. Firstly, it says that it brings גאולה , redemption, not the גואל , redeemer. Secondly, our sages learn this from Esther. When Esther revealed the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh to Achasverosh, she told him this in the name of Mordechai. Just as there we find that this led to a specific redemption for the Jews and it was not the actual arrival of Moshiach, the same is true at all times. When someone says something in the name of its originator, a Jew somewhere is saved from difficulty!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Bringing Redemption to the World”
Shabbos, June 9, 2012
Niddah 19

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”Matthew 23:37-39 (ESV)

I’ve written about the connection between Jewish return to the Torah and Israel’s national redemption before, but I still don’t understand it very well. Our “story off the daf” for the previous Shabbat discusses what seems to be a related matter, but while I think it’s interesting and perhaps ultimately important, the ability to fully comprehend what it means against the larger backdrop of Israel, the Messiah, and humanity continues to elude me.

I usually “get in trouble” for two reasons when I opine in this direction. I am usually criticized for “buying into” the various arcane and mystic Jewish writings as if they are fact, and I am accused of applying midrash as if it can be directly attached to the Gospels. While none of this is necessarily true, I do believe it is important to illustrate that general Jewish thought and perspectives on matters such as redemption, the Messiah, and God can be bound by a single though slender thread as we weave our way from ancient to modern times. It’s the thread that’s important because it shows that the destruction of the Second Temple did not disconnect the Jewish people from their faith in or their covenant relationship with God.

What remains mysterious to me though, is how to connect the Jewish vision of Israel’s national redemption and the return of the Messiah back to what we see in the Scriptures. I think there is a clue, albeit a rather faint one, in the Master’s lament over Jerusalem from Matthew 23:37-39. Let’s consider a few things.

The general assumption in Christianity is that the Temple was destroyed and the Jews scattered because they had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. But is that true? Can we find anywhere in either Scripture or Rabbinic commentary that says the Jews will suffer exile for the rejection of the Messiah? If you know where this is found, please point me to it, because I have never seen such a pronouncement in the Bible.

Why do Jews believe the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish nation sent into exile?

Why was the Temple destroyed? One of the reasons given by our Sages was unwarranted hatred. The Jewish people, even during the siege of Jerusalem, remained fractionalized and divided. And on the individual level, there was a lack of concern, love, and respect for each other.

How can this be corrected? By showing unrestrained love. By reaching out to another person – any other person – and showing him care, consideration, and concern. Do a favor for someone else, not because there is a reason to do so, but because you care for him.

“Keeping In Touch: The Three Weeks”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Adapted by Rabbi Eli Touger

There are probably other traditional reasons but this is the one I encounter most often. Notice that a solution to the exile is also offered in showing “unrestrained love” toward your fellow. Our popular culture refers to “random acts of kindness” which sounds like a good idea, too.

Historically and in Scripture, we find that God has promised the destruction of the Temple and Israel’s national exile as consequences for disobedience to Torah and straying after “alien gods,” which of course, has little or nothing to do with a rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Post-Second Temple, the Jewish resistance to pursuing “alien gods” is one of the primary reasons why many Jews have rejected the Christian Jesus). Messiah, in Jewish thought, isn’t the cause of national exile, but the ultimate hope of its end.

Galut means exile. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Jewish nation was driven out of its homeland and sent off into a tear-soaked galut that lasts to this very day. We wait and yearn for the day when our galut and suffering come to an end, when we will be returned to the Holy Land, with the coming of our redeemer, the Moshiach.

-from “Moshiach 101”

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

Judaism 101

Now let’s return to the Messiah’s lament over Jerusalem. What does he say is Israel’s “crime?”

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

In every era of disobedience in Israel, those messengers of God, the prophets, were imprisoned or killed when they brought a message that was intended to turn them from their sins back to God. It wasn’t so much that the identity of the prophets were in doubt, Israel just didn’t want to hear the message. They were not “willing to be gathered.” So too in the time of Jesus. Many believed he was the Messiah and while history records that the level of religious observance during the late Second Temple era was rather high among the general Jewish population, baseless hatred and hostility between a Jew and his fellow was also present. The message of Jesus was to love one another (John 13:34) but largely, the message was rejected.

So what is the consequence for such a rejection of the message of love and repentance? There are actually two. The first is:

See, your house is left to you desolate.

This is exactly what happened when the vast majority of the Jewish population was forced out of Israel. The Land of Israel (“house”) was left desolate, not only of the Jewish people but of the blessings of God. This desolation would continue to be literally true in the land as long as there was not a substantial Jewish presence. The famous American author Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) described such desolation:

“….. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

from The Innocents Abroad

The punishment it seems, not only affected the Jewish people, but the Land of Israel as well.

But what of the second consequence:

For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’

The common understanding of this is plain. Israel will not see the Messiah again until it declares him (i.e. Jesus) as Messiah and Lord.

I must admit, it’s difficult to connect the national redemption of Israel and return of the Jewish people to the Torah with not only the Messiah’s return, but in Israel’s specifically recognizing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. So in general, when do Jews believe the Messiah will come. Opinions vary, but the Judaism 101 site offers a summary:

Although some scholars believed that G-d has set aside a specific date for the coming of the mashiach, most authority suggests that the conduct of mankind will determine the time of the mashiach’s coming. In general, it is believed that the mashiach will come in a time when he is most needed (because the world is so sinful), or in a time when he is most deserved (because the world is so good). For example, each of the following has been suggested as the time when the mashiach will come:

  • if Israel repented a single day;
  • if Israel observed a single Shabbat properly;
  • if Israel observed two Shabbats in a row properly;
  • in a generation that is totally innocent or totally guilty;
  • in a generation that loses hope;
  • in a generation where children are totally disrespectful towards their parents and elders;

None of those options seems to directly connect to, “you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” I must admit to being at a loss, although the first three and particularly the first option seem somewhat promising.

So, either I am unaware of some vital scripture or other piece of information that ties the Messiah’s lament to how Jews understand national redemption of Israel, the Torah, and the coming of Messiah, or there is a really big disconnect between Jewish thought, even within Messianic Judaism, and how the record of the Gospels and the writings of the apostles describe redemption and the return of Jesus.

I’m not writing this “meditation” to offer answers but to pose questions. This is my continued exploration into this topic, and I’m trying to understand without summarily dismissing the Jewish perspective on their own national redemption (as perhaps many other Christians would). I offer this subject up for discussion and commentary, particularly to my friends in the Messianic Jewish movement who may actually have a unifying solution. If there is an answer to the mystery, where can it be found?

Why were we made so small, with such great heavens above our heads? Because He desired creatures that would know wonder.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Why the Heavens?”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

7 thoughts on “The Messiah’s Lament”

  1. Yochanan 16:16 -18, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”

    The “seeing” and “not seeing” was Yeshua referring to His soon to be death and resurrection. The conversation is in the context of the disciples receiving the Spirit of Truth who would be sent in Yeshua’s name.

    In other words, they, the disciples, would soon not see Yeshua in the flesh any longer, but after a brief time they would see Him again in Spirit.

    When Yeshua said that the house of Israel would not see Him again until they said “Blessed is He who comes in the name of YHWH”, He was saying that when an individual, or a group of individuals, acknowledges that Yeshua came in His Father’s name ( YHWH ) and put their trust in Him as their redeemer, they would also see Him in the same sense as His other disciples would see Him. As the reigning King of Israel, their promised Messiah, their Savior. This is because the Set-apart Spirit will take of the things that belong to Yeshua and show them to His disciples, His children.

    Yochanan 16:13-15, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

    Those who put their trust in Him will not be ashamed.

    Those who don’t put their trust in Him will find only shame in the end. Which is why He said that the house of Israel would be desolate until they do put their trust in Him.

    Collectively as a nation? I don’t know. Perhaps it is a language barrier. Or perhaps there is a day coming when the choice will be offered, which I find difficult to accept seeing that it is up to each individual to make the choice.

    As far human beings doing anything as the deciding factor as to when Messiah returns is not supported in the scriptures we have. That seems to me like leaving a young child in charge of making sure the mortgage gets paid on time. It’s not likely to happen.

    But there are still mysteries.

  2. Russ I tend to agree with you as far as it being an individual choice rather than a collective one. And if it’s a national thing and there are a few that do not make that choice what happens to the rest? But on the other hand I can now understand a little better what James is saying. There are many that don’t even follow Torah barely at all let alone adding the news of Yeshua as the Messiah. Just having some of the more secular Jews following even just a Shabbat properly would be a step in the right direction. There are still a number of Jews that are not really following Judaism, but at the same time if you mention Yeshua, they will tell you if you accept him that makes you a Christian. They don’t practice Judaism, but at the same time do not want to let go of their Jewish identity. And there’s always this thing that I have to constantly be reminded of that it is not ultimately of our power, but God as far as salvation goes. Yeshua says if you love me, you would keep the commandments. So if we encourage Jews to keep the commandments and we all do keep them, that is showing love for Moshiach regardless whether it’s believed to be Yeshua or not.

  3. I can understand what you’re saying Russ and it certainly seems plausable as an interpretation, but I don’t see it as the only possible interpretation. Basically, I’m trying to resolve something I heard at the FFOZ Shavuot conference a few weeks ago against scripture. While the teaching in question resonates with me personally, largely because I’m married to a Jewish wife, I am having a tough time seeing it in the scriptures.

    One thing I think we often miss is that we see redemption as a solely individual activity but that means we have to miss the possibility that Israel can receive redemption nationally. The other thing that’s important to grasp here is that I’m not using redemption in terms of “salvation” but the return of Israel to the glory as the head of all nations and the servant of God that it was always meant to be.

  4. I don’t have the time this subject deserves, but familiar verses in Romans and Ezekiel may be of help concerning Israel’s national return to God and Torah.

    Romans 11:15 reads, “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” and 11:25-26, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved.”

    The “fullness of the Gentiles” may refer to the thought that is also expressed in Psalm 86:9: “All nations [or, “all Gentiles”?] whom you have made shall come and worship before You, O Hashem, and they shall glorify your name.” The terms “all nations” and “all Israel” seem pretty comprehensive (Shaul could have used simply “Israel,” but he chose “all Israel” will be saved. The passage assumes that Messiah will be the agent of their salvation, though there is no reason to assume that this will take place only when Messiah returns.

    Ezekiel 36:24-28 reads, “I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”

    Israel’s national return clearly involves an ongoing “walk” in the Torah, which can’t be separated from the return to relationship with God.

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