Pinchas: Is It Too Much To Ask For Both?

The Torah portion of Pinchas begins with G-d saying to Moshe: (Bamidbar 25:11-12.) “Pinchas… has turned My wrath away from the Jewish people by displaying anger among them on My behalf.”

Pinchas’ conduct involved self-sacrifice, for his deed aroused the wrath of the tribe of Shimon, whose members sought to kill him. (See Sifri and Tanchuma, end of Parshas Balak; Sanhedrin 82b.)

After the Torah concludes the tale of Pinchas, it speaks about the division of Eretz Yisrael and the appointment of Yehoshua to lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land. The portion concludes with a section on offerings, a number of which could be brought only when the Jews were in Eretz Yisrael. (See Menachos 45b; Zevachim 111a.)

Since all the above is part of the portion titled Pinchas, it follows that the entrance to Eretz Yisrael and all related matters are somehow connected to the spiritual service of Pinchas.

What is the connection?

Our Rabbis tell us (Nedarim 22b. See also Shmos Rabbah, beginning of ch. 32.) that, were it not for the iniquities of the Jews, their first entry into Eretz Yisrael would have triggered the Redemption. Although this did not actually take place, in some respects the first entry resembled the future Redemption.

This similarity helps us understand the relationship between Pinchas and the entry into Eretz Yisrael, for our Sages state: (Targum Yonasan, Va’eira 6:18; Zohar, Vol. II, p. 190a; Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, ch. 47; Yalkut Shimoni, beginning of Pinchas.) “Pinchas is Eliyahu,” and Eliyahu is the one who will bring the tidings of Redemption.

-Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
The Chassidic Dimension
Commentary on Torah Portion Pinchas
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

You can click the link I provided above to read the full “Chassidic Dimension” commentary (and remember, this is midrash, not concrete fact, so I make no claim as to how or if it can be applied to a specific understanding of the Biblical text), but what Rabbi Wineberg wrote reminded me of something else I recently read.

“If both Judaism and Christianity are correct in their definitions of redemption, then Jesus must do both what Judaism is expecting the Messiah to do, and what Christians expect him to do. This means that Jesus will do more than come back and save those who believe in him from sin and death. He will also re-gather his people Israel from exile and restore them to their land in a state of blessing and peace (Isaiah 35, 48:12-22, 52:1-12; Jeremiah 31).”

-Boaz Michael

I suspect that Boaz is sending out some “teasers” from First Fruits of Zion’s next project and if so, then it’s something I’ve been looking forward to since my last face-to-face conversation with him.

Both Rabbi Wineberg and Boaz talk about Israel’s redemption, but what does that mean? What is redemption within the Jewish religious context? We have a pretty good idea from Boaz’s statement above, but here’s a little bit more.

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

Wikipedia has a more condensed explanation:

In Judaism, (Hebrew ge’ulah), redemption refers to God redeeming the people of Israel from their various exiles. This includes the final redemption from the present exile. In Hasidic philosophy parallels are drawn between the redemption from exile and the personal redemption achieved when a person refines his character traits.

I’ll assume that most of my audience has a basic working knowledge of what Christians mean when they refer to redemption, but once again, I’ll invoke Wikipedia in order to offer a brief definition:

In Christian theology redemption is an element of salvation that broadly means the deliverance from sin. Leon Morris says that “Paul uses the concept of redemption primarily to speak of the saving significance of the death of Christ.” The English word redemption means ‘repurchase’ or ‘buy back’, and in the Old Testament referred to the ransom of slaves (Exodus 21:8). In the New Testament the redemption word group is used to refer both to deliverance from sin and freedom from captivity. Theologically, redemption is a metaphor for what is achieved through the Atonement. Therefore there is a metaphorical sense in which the death of Jesus pays the price of a ransom, releasing Christians from bondage to sin and death. Most evangelical theologians and Protestant denominations, however, reject the idea of Origen who held that redemption means that in the atonement God paid Satan with the death of Jesus.

Rabbi Wineberg is obviously addressing the Jewish and specifically the Chassidic viewpoint, while Boaz is saying that the Messiah will bring about both “redemptions” since they both are presupposed by the Biblical text. But how does this work or indeed, does it work at all?

One person commented critically about this on Facebook:

Sounds like Messianic theology to me please both groups so that every ome [sic] get to go! Makings all that Israel went though worth NOTHING. But this will please the people so tell them what makes them happy.

This isn’t the first time Boaz and FFOZ have been accused of playing both sides against the middle, but is that what they’re doing here? It would be impossible to tell based on a single quote, so let’s try another one from Boaz.

“I have to confess, I don’t really get it. If you believe in Jesus, you believe he is the King. The Lord. The Boss. Your Boss. There is no other option. It’s an integral part of his identity. The fact that some people have lost sight of that fact is evidence, to me, of how far we have come from a really Biblical idea of who Jesus is. We have forgotten that there is no such thing as a Jesus who is not our King, a Jesus we don’t have to obey.”

That one is also bound to draw some fire since the Messianic movement in all of its flavors has been rather “Torah-centric,” often at the expense of the Jewish Messiah. A lot of Christians who have been dissatisfied with the church have abandoned it in favor of the Torah and probably without meaning to, have fused the Torah and Jesus (Yeshua) into a single unit, as if they were interchangeable components; cosmic spark plugs, so to speak. Torah equals Messiah and Messiah equals Torah and pretty soon we forget that the Messiah was and is the living example of what a Torah lifestyle looks like (at least in the late second Temple period) and that he also has a life of his own, and a very critical life at that.

I actually started talking about this topic right after I returned home from the FFOZ 2012 Shavuot Conference. Blog posts “Redeeming the Heart of Israel,” Part 1 and Part 2 discuss the interactivity between Christianity and Judaism in bringing about national Jewish redemption.

Initially, I was very keen on this concept, since the mission of the church as presented in this paradigm, is to bring about Israel’s redemption by encouraging Jewish Torah observance, and this is something that is very dear to me on a personal level. But then, as I thought about it, I wondered where we could look in the Bible to support this viewpoint. Christianity is (and in this case, rightly so) a tad suspicious of Jewish religious pronouncements that seem to be disconnected from the Bible or which have a source largely based on Rabbinic midrash. If you can’t point to where in the Bible we can find Israel’s redemption linked to Torah obedience and to personal salvation all as the work of the Messiah, how real can it be? Can we successfully bridge Jewish and Christian conceptualizations of redemption so that we can envision all of this as what the Jewish King will accomplish upon his return?

I find this to be a compelling direction to investigate, but I suspect FFOZ has its work cut out for it, not just in performing the necessary scholarly research and constructing a book that is accessible to a mass audience made up of a broad spectrum of Jewish and Christian theologies, but in convincing that audience that the powers of the Messiah are indeed sufficiently vast as to encompass such a redemption.

I just finished a conversation on Facebook unrelated to this one, where the fellow and I were discussing the difficulties involved in truly seeing a situation from another person’s paradigm. We all almost exclusively tend to see the world from our own limited perspective. If you’re an evangelical Christian for example, your worldview is colored by that lived experience. The same is true if you are an Orthodox Jew, a Sunni Muslim, a Catholic priest, a liberal, progressive Democrat, or just about anybody else.

Although we like to believe so, Messianic Judaism doesn’t successfully meld Judaism and Christianity. Both are extremely different perspectives as we understand them currently and also historically. So saying something like, “If both Judaism and Christianity are correct in their definitions of redemption, then Jesus must do both what Judaism is expecting the Messiah to do, and what Christians expect him to do,” seems as if you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. Maybe both things can be true, but how can you see and understand the Messiah from the perspectives of both Christian and Jewish redemptive imperatives simultaneously?

It isn’t easy.

Rabbi Wineberg states:

The novel aspect of the future Redemption lies in the fact that at that time, G-dliness will be fully revealed. (Tanya ch. 37.) Nowadays, G-dliness is clothed in the material world, and manifest only in a contracted manner. In times to come, however, a greater level of Divine illumination will be found within this world — a level not subject to contraction or limitation.

On the Facebook thread discussing this topic, Pastor Bill Beyer replied:

Theology is not about making people happy. It’s about finding the truth. To say that Yeshua can only do one OR the other is limiting the power of the Messiah. Truth be told, scripture says he’s going to do even more than these two things.

The only limiting factor imposed on the Messiah is us. We place constraints on his power and what he will accomplish based on our viewpoints, doctrines, dogmas, and desires. Christians have been told that redemption means only personal redemption for believers. Jews have been told that redemption means only the national redemption of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles. To quote Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey, Jr.) from the first Iron Man (2008) film, “I say, is it too much to ask for both?”

I suspect the answer is right around the corner.

Good Shabbos.

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