Tag Archives: Deity

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

The Mystic Mirror Darkly: Messianic Divinity Part 3

I’ve said numerous times before in other blog posts, that I’m becoming convinced that we cannot understand the teachings of the Jewish Messiah and his early disciples without some ability to look at those teachings through a Jewish mystical lens. This goes beyond an understanding of Torah and Talmud (and possibly flies in the face of Judaism’s more “rational” understanding of God), but there are “mysteries” exposed in the Apostolic scriptures that suddenly become more comprehensible if we don’t examine them only with a literal and practical microscope. Seeing that Jewish mysticism can trace its origins to the first century B.C.E. (and perhaps before even that), makes it all the more likely that such a tradition found its way into the early Jewish writings describing the person and mission of the Jewish Messiah. How the divine could become a man and dwell among human beings requires belief beyond the physical realm and mysticism is the door that leads to the world where the mysterious can, in some fashion, become known.

-James Pyles
“Search for the Messiah in Pools of Unknowing”
Searching for the Light on the Path

Levertoff believed that the Gospels and Chasidic Judaism merged seamlessly, and he dedicated his scholarship to demonstrating that conviction. He is said to have best developed his ideas in his major life work, a manuscript on the subject of Christ and the Shechinah. Unfortunately, the book was never published and the manuscript has been lost; however, he presented a lecture titled “The Shekinah Motif in the New Testament Literature” to the Society of the Study of Religions that we may assume represented something of an abstract of the larger work. This short paper provides a glimpse into a compelling and radical attempt to reconcile Jewish mysticism and faith in an exalted, divine Messiah.

Commentary on Paul Philip Levertoff and
Love and the Messianic Age

This is the third part in my Messianic Divinity series. If you haven’t done so yet, please go back and read part 1, Exploring Messianic Divinity and part 2, The Living Word of God before continuing I here.

In yesterday’s “meditation”, I attempted to forge a connection between the Divine Presence inhabiting the Tabernacle in the desert, the Kabbalistic understanding that God somehow “clothes” His Divine will and wisdom as the actual Torah scroll and “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” (John 1:14). I admit, to make all of that fit, compelling as the imagery is to me, takes more than a little sleight of hand. But then, none of us has a completely unclouded view of the meaning behind the Biblical text, and so we manage to use various “tools” to help us interface with the Word, sometimes including mysticism.

Although Christianity enjoys as much of a historical mystic heritage as Judaism, most modern-day Christians (as well as Gentile Messianics) tend to take a dim view of anything that strays outside of standard theological boundaries, and especially anything that might even vaguely suggest the occult. Kabbalah has more than its fair share of “magical” practices that appear to directly contradict certain portions of the Torah, but on the other hand, mysticism isn’t exactly a stranger in the Bible either.

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. –2 Corinthians 12:1-7

I must also point out two other major areas of the Bible that are written with strong mystical themes are Ezekiel 1:4-26, referencing the Prophet’s vision of the Third Temple, and John’s amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelations. It’s also been suggested by some New Testament scholars that the Gospel of John is strongly mystical in its descriptions of the Messiah compared with the other three Gospels. We can hardly dismiss mysticism as “unBiblical” when we find many examples produced directly in the text.

I’m saying all of this to propose that it may well be impossible to begin to grasp the nature and character of the Messiah and his teachings, unless we are prepared to consider Jewish mysticism as one of our interpreters. We already have seen in my quote of Levertoff above, that he saw a connection between Christ and the Divine Presence. Not only may the “explanation” for matters of the Divine nature of the Messiah be found along mystic paths, but it seems more than likely that there was some mystic tradition in the Judaism of the Apostles that allowed sections of the New Testament to be created with a distinctly mystic flair.

Author Gershom Scholem in his book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism “connects the dots” of Jewish mystic tradition back before the birth of Christ.

The first phase in the development of Jewish mysticism before its crystallization in the mediaeval Kabbalah is also the longest. It’s literary remains are traceable over a period of almost a thousand years, from the first century B.C. to the tenth A.D., and some of its important records have survived…Between the physiognomy of early Jewish mysticism and that of mediaeval Kabbalism there is a difference which time has not effaced.

For those of you who disdain all things mystic and cannot possibly see how I, or anyone, can apply such material to a straightforward understanding of the Bible, I want to say that we might not always be able to understand what God is telling us if we confine ourselves within traditional Christian interpretations. I say that with the understanding that Judaism considers it impossible to interpret the Bible except through their traditions. I’m not one to toss tradition under a bus, so to speak, but it is possible that Christians miss something when we box ourselves in to our own little world of canned teachings and cardboard cutout explanations.

He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.

Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age.

I took the above-quote from my review of this First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) material on Levertoff, and if we accept them, and Levertoff, at their word, then we have a direct, eyewitness account of how the Gospels seem to have a distinctly Chasidic flavor. Perhaps we in Christianity are only educated in a single dimension of how to understand Jesus, including what he taught and more importantly, who he was and is as the Messiah and “the Word made flesh.”

Studying TorahI know what you’re thinking. How can we apply mystic traditions and interpretations to the New Testament when these traditions didn’t take form for a dozen centuries after the Apostles lived and died? Isn’t that a little bit like the Talmudic Sages performing Rabbinization on Abraham? Perhaps. I’m not saying the writers of the New Testament had an understanding of mysticism that mirrored Kabbalah or the Chasidic traditions, but I am saying that maybe we can use later mystic understandings as a sort of tool to deconstruct earlier writings. We may not get the absolute meaning, but we at least get to take a momentary peek under the Divine veil at the Messianic mysteries that lie underneath.

If little Feivel Levertoff could read a scrap of paper with bit of scripture from the Gospels on it and recognize something of himself and his Chasidic Jewish life in it, then perhaps there’s something there that can speak to us about who the Messiah is as well.

In 1887 a nine-year-old Chasidic Jew named Feivel Levertoff was trudging home from cheder (a Jewish day school) when a discarded scrap of paper caught his eye. It was printed with Hebrew text. Supposing it was a leaf from a prayer book or other sacred volume, Feivel picked it out of the snow.

He quickly read the piece of paper. It was a page from a book he had never read before. It told the story of a boy like himself – not much older either – whose parents found him in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, expounding the Scriptures and learning with the great sages of antiquity.

That boy found “in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, expounding the Scriptures and learning with the great sages of antiquity” was of course, twelve-year old Jesus.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. –Luke 2:46-47

The Gospels spoke to a late 19th century Chasidic Jewish boy in a voice we Christians could scarcely recognize. We need to adjust our hearing and our thinking to be able to listen to that voice as well. It is the voice of the Jewish Messiah and the voice of God speaking to His chosen people. It’s a voice that can speak to us as well, and whisper fascinating stories that we thought we knew, but don’t.

For my next and (probably) last part in this series, I’m going to step outside of my old “Searching” blog and discuss other sources of material on mysticism that just might shed more illumination on a Messiah who we view only “through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

In Tomorrow’s “Morning Meditation” comes the fourth and final part in this series: Waiting for Spring.

The Living Word of God: Messianic Divinity Part 2

According to this concept, God’s unknowable and divine will and wisdom (which are inseparable from His being) descended to be clothed in the corporal substance of commandments of Torah and ink in a book. This is not to say that a Torah scroll is God, but that the Torah scroll is an earthly container for His will and wisdom. It is similar to the concept of the Shechinah, the “Dwelling Presence of God.” Just as the Shechinah took residence and filled the Tabernacle, the Spirit of God fills the words of the Torah.

-from the Love and the Messianic Age Commentary

The deepest longing, therefore, of the genuine Chasid is to become a “living Torah.” The keeping of the Law is to him only a means to an end: union with God. For this reason he tries to keep the Law scrupulously, for “God’s thoughts are embodied in it.”

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw his Sh’khinah, the Sh’khinah of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.John 1:14 (CJB)

For my second part of the “Divinity” series, I’m mining my old “Searching” blogspot again, particularly the articles We Are Living Torahs and Descent of God to Man. In my first part of this series, Exploring Messianic Divinity, I challenged the general assumption of the church that Jesus is co-equal with God the Father and is literally God in the flesh. I proposed an alternate view that some “essence” of the Divine, related to how the Divine Presence occupied the Tabernacle in the desert without actually becoming the Tabernacle, made manifest in the human form of Jesus, allowing the Divine essence to express itself as a human being without God literally becoming a man.

I know, it sounds confusing, even to me, but probably no more confusing than trying to understand how God could simultaneously be the all-powerful God of Heaven, a Spirit within our hearts, and a human being teaching during the Second Temple period in Roman-occupied Judea. All I’m really changing here is the lens we use to look at the Messiah in order to get a picture of who he is. It’s like changing the prescription of your glasses or contact lenses from one set of values to another, keeping in mind that both prescriptions don’t give us a very clear image.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. –1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)

Chasidic Jew and late 19th century Hebrew believer Paul Philip Levertoff has presented us with a different view of the Torah, not as a document containing a collection of laws to be followed by Jews, but as the conduit by which a Jew (and to some degree a Christian) may interface with God, drawing closer to Him and His thoughts and purposes. This image of the “living Torah” is then applied to any Jew who desires a relationship with God. How much more can it be applied to the Jewish Messiah Jesus who often in “Messianic” circles is referred to as “the living Torah” and who was the only human to ever reach a perfect fidelity with God’s standards and will. We do say “the Word became flesh”, after all.

Levertoff also presents us with a very encouraging picture of the Torah as the will of God descended from Heaven and physically “clothed” in Torah, as if Torah had a divine “life” of its own. It’s difficult to imagine imbuing life and will to a scroll, but applying the very familiar John 1:14 to Levertoff’s ideas, we can much more easily perceive the human being Jesus as “an earthly container for His will and wisdom” rather than the Torah scroll. Look at the comparison of the functions of the Shekhinah descending from Heaven to occupy the Tabernacle at the end of the Book of Exodus, the Word becoming a flesh and blood human being as our living Torah, and the Chasidic concept of God’s will embodying the “non-living” Torah. The symbolism and imagery matches up amazingly well and gives us something to “hang our hat on” as far as the relationship between the human Messiah Jesus and his Divine nature and character.

In my Descent blog published last spring, I used Levertoff’s writings to show further the relationship between the “will and wisdom” of God contained in the Torah scroll (according to Chasidic thought) and that same “will and wisdom” of God contained in Jesus.

“that the Torah is the divine expression of God’s will and wisdom, placed within the physical limitations of this world and translated into terms comprehensible to human beings. However, God’s will and wisdom cannot be separated from HaShem Himself. If the Torah contains HaShem’s will and wisdom, then it contains something of HaShem Himself; they are ‘one in the same’.”

This is sort of like saying that Jesus is and isn’t God at the same time. If God’s will and wisdom cannot be separated from who God is, then the container for those qualities possesses something of the Divine inside. At the same time, we cannot picture a Torah scroll as literally God, anymore than we picture the Tabernacle being literally God, so how can we view the human Jesus in any different manner? I also want to point out what the Master said in Mark 14:22-24 to show how matzoh and wine can symbolize Jesus and represent his spiritual nature in physical objects without actually being the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Let me provide you with one more picture that I’ve taken from another blog I previously wrote called The Hovering Dove, but first allow me to lay a bit of scriptural groundwork.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. –Matthew 3:13-17 (NRSV)

And he set up the enclosure around the Tabernacle and the altar, and put up the screen for the gate of the enclosure. When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift. For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys. –Exodus 40:33-38 (JPS Tanakh)

I’m not necessarily suggesting that these two events are direct parallels. If I were to say that, then I’d have to say that Jesus was not actually aware of his being the Messiah until God’s Spirit came to him after being immersed by John in the Jordan river. We have some indication that Jesus was aware of his status before this, at least by age 12, when he was debating the Sages at the Temple after Passover (Luke 2:41-52). But from this brief episode, we don’t know if he was really conscious of being the Messiah or “merely” aware of his amazing “natural Torah aptitude.” Traditional Judaism believes that the Messiah will be born fully human of a human mother and father and he will not be initially aware of his “Messiahship”. In fact, there is the idea that in every generation, a person is born who could potentially be the Messiah if God so designates his age as the time of the Messianic coming. Using that as a basis, we can conceive of a Jesus who did not become fully aware of his Divine and Anointed status until he was indeed anointed by the Spirit as we see in Matthew 3:13-17.

Impossible? Outrageous? Crazy? Perhaps. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not saying this theory of mine has any foundation in reality or that this is actually how the process of Divine and Human have met in the Messiah, but it is food for thought and discussion. It also is a way to reintegrate Judaism back into the Jewish Messiah as we experience him in Christianity. If Jesus, like Joseph, can completely disguise himself from his brothers, the Jews, so that he is unrecognizable in the body of a foreigner, we will also leave a path of discovery so that the Jewish people can find him again. Kabbalah and Chasidic mysticism could be such a path. All we need to do is learn to walk it and see where it leads and to who it leads.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed. –Proverbs 3:18 (ESV)

Tomorrow, the series continues with part 3: The Mystic Mirror Darkly.

Exploring Messianic Divinity

Lion of JudahThus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?Isaiah 66:1

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.Exodus 40:34-35

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.1 Timothy 3:16

Have you ever wondered who Jesus is? I know. You think you have the answer, but maybe you don’t. If you’re a Christian, you’re probably really sure who he is. The Son of God. The “Son” part of the Trinity. The Word made flesh (whatever that might mean). If you’re Jewish and you don’t “believe”, then at best, you think he was a little known, itinerant teacher who said a few good things and came to a bad end (most Jews I’ve met don’t believe Jesus was trying to start a new religion that hated Jews and they blame Paul for that part of it).

Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Jews don’t. One of the big reasons Jews don’t believe Jesus could be the Messiah is that no where in modern Jewish thought is it required that the Messiah must be God. In fact, a man claiming to be God is a heretic. People who worship a man as if he were God are pagan idol worshipers. It’s a really big problem and one of the major reasons (which many Christians don’t get) that Jews don’t even consider “converting to Christianity” (and there are lots of other reasons besides this one).

What gets me is that Jews have been radically monotheistic back to the days of Abraham and Christians don’t seem to understand the depth of this feeling. The very idea that there could be more than one God is just insane from a Jewish perspective. Christians, of course, say they are not polytheistic but in fact worship God as “three-in-one”. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to a Jew who would just see the argument as a cheap way to get around worshiping three gods. Christians don’t have a problem believing that God can exist in His heaven (God the Father) and still exist as a human being on earth (God the Son).

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get some small handle on the nature of the Messiah, and to somehow reconcile the Jewish and Christian viewpoints on who the Messiah must be. It isn’t easy. Christians have long since (as far as I can tell) given up on any attempt to solve the mystery, and just accept that the God-nature of the human Jesus and his co-existence with the Father are simply beyond human understanding.

And yet people have tried to understand it. People have written about it. We can find those writings today. I’ll try to pull some of that stuff together into one (hopefully) short series so we can wrestle around with it, starting with this blog.

I should say that I’ve posted a number of blogs on my old “Searching” blogspot on the topic of the nature of the Messiah. The reason I’m revisiting the material is that all of that stuff is scattered across half a dozen blog posts or more and I’d like to pull it together. For the record, the main source of information, which includes a ton of comment responses, is at a blog I wrote called The Deity Problem. There are 89 comments (as of this writing) posted in response to my original blog and we still didn’t resolve anything. I think there is a resolution somewhere or perhaps just a theory that offers one. Here’s part of it.

Warning! My theory is based on ideas proposed in Kabbalah, so some people are going to be automatically put off by what I’m going to say. If that’s really going to bother you, stop reading now and find a blogspot that’s more politically correct. Also, my source is a site called hebrew4christians.com. I’m not crazy about using this site as a source, not because there are inaccuracies involved necessarily, but I’d prefer to use a non-Messianic site or at least a non-Gentile oriented site as a source for strictly Jewish and Kabbalistic information. But this is what came up when I started looking. OK, here we go.

How did God create the universe according to Kabbalah? Yes, this is relevant to how I understand the nature and character of the Messiah. Be patient. Keep reading.

In the beginning there was only God… and nothing else. God, or Ein Sof, was an all-encompassing Divine Presence/Light called Or Ein Sof (the Light of Infinity). Since nothing but God existed before creation, when God decided to create yesh (i.e., “something”) from its Ein (i.e., “nothing”), God needed to “make a space” or to “provide room” for that which was not God (i.e., otherness). God therefore “emptied himself” by contracting his infinite light to create a conceptual space for the creation of the universe. In a great cosmic flash, God then “condensed” into a point of infinite density and infinite energy called tzimtzum (“contraction”) and “exploded out” in all directions (i.e., the cosmic “Big Bang”). In a sense, this self-imposed “contraction”of the Infinite Light is a picture of God “sacrificing” Himself for the sake of creation.

You can use the link I previously provided to get all of the content, but the key for me is that God had the ability to contract or “humble” Himself, so He could cease to be “infinite” and allow room for the universe (I know all this is highly symbolic and I’m not saying this is really how God made the universe, but bear with me…the method I’m using to try and understand the Messiah has significant mystic elements…I don’t think you can understand the Messiah otherwise).

The next part has to do with how an infinite God (Isaiah 66:1) could occupy a finite container in our universe (Exodus 40:34-35)

Kabbalah suggests different aspects or natures to God. The concept of an infinite, unknowable God, as previously mentioned, is often referred to as Ein Sof in Kabbalah. I suppose if I were to translate that into a Christian concept, I would call it “God the Father”. However, Ein Sof cannot occupy a tent in a desert or a Temple in Jerusalem. Ein Sof is infinite, unknowable, cosmic, unfathomable in an absolute sense. So just what was it that took up residence in the Tabernacle at the end of the Book of Exodus?

ShekhinahJews believe that the Shekhinah or the “Divine Presence” occupied the Tabernacle and later, the Temple. This is an aspect of God that is able to manifest itself in our universe and something that we can experience, sometimes in an extremely powerful way (think about the burnt off top of Mt Sinai when God spoke to the Children of Israel). The root word in Hebrew for “Shekhinah” literally means “to settle”, “to inhabit”, or “to dwell”. It’s an aspect of God that is able to “condense” or “sacrifice” or “humble” itself to make itself physically finite in our finite universe so that we can have a direct interaction with the Divine.

Now remember about the root word in Hebrew for Shekhinah, and that the root literally means “to dwell”.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. –John 1:14 (ESV)

OK, God’s Divine Presence was able to occupy a three-dimensional object in our universe: the Tabernacle. No one would ever suggest that the Divine Presence actually became a tent; it just inhabited the tent temporarily and when it was done living there, it left. Now, using all that as our foundation, let me suggest (and it’s just a suggestion, not a conclusion) that the “Presence” were able to manifest as a human being without God literally transforming himself into a person!

“Chassidic philosophy has added significantly to our understanding of the resurrection generally, and of Moshiach specifically. Moshiach’s case is somewhat different, since his soul comes from the Divine Essence (atzmus in Hebrew). At this level, life and death are equal. In fact this Essence transcends all limitations, for a soul of this Essence, the miraculous and the natural are equal and coexist. It follows that the life of Moshiach is completely above the laws of nature, which our Sages confirm.”

-from “The Greatest Challenge”
Chabad of Central New Jersey

This is actually really amazing to read from a Chabad source because it seems to support both my contention that the Messiah has a Divine nature as a human without literally being God and support many of Christ’s statements about himself such as “The Father and I are One” (John 10:30) and “I can do nothing but what I see the Father doing” (John 5:19).

There’s too much to talk about to contain in a single blog post, so I will continue the “Divinity” series, writing four articles over the course of time. Some of you may become upset that I’m challenging the long-accepted tenets of the church regarding the “Deity of Jesus” and I hope you understand that I mean no offense or disrespect, either to you or to God. I think it’s important to ask questions. I think the episode of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22-32) can be a picture for us and permission to wrestle with God in our faith. I pray that you read my “Divinity” blogs in that light and respond accordingly. I pray for God’s understanding and guidance in this endeavor.

(To Elie Wiesel:)

Abraham, father of us all, questioned G‑d’s justice. So did Moses. So did Rabbi Akiva. So did many enlightened souls. You are not the first.

Of all those who questioned, there were two approaches: Those who meant it, and those who did not.

Those who wanted understanding gained understanding—a sense of nothingness encountering a reality far beyond our puny minds.

Those who asked but did not want to understand gained nothing.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Questioning the Divine”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Look for Part 2 in this series on Sunday: The Living Word of God.