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Parshas Vayechi (5778)

Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up?

The philosopher Martin Buber once said:

The Christians claim that the true Messiah, Jesus, has already come, and are now awaiting his Second Coming, while the Jews maintain that Jesus is not the true Messiah, and that the real Messiah has yet to come. So, it's simple. When the Messiah finally gets here, we'll just ask him, "Have you been here before?. And if he's a diplomat, he'll probably answer, "I don't remember".

The question of whether or not the coming of Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecies mentioned in the Scriptures, has been hotly debated by Jews and Christians since time immemorial. Great wars have been waged over it, much blood (mostly Jewish, I might add) has been spilled because of it, and it continues to have a great impact on all of us till this very day, whether we realize it or not. Today, on university campuses across North America, Jewish students are being targeted by overzealous missionaries who are trying to persuade them that Jesus, or Yeshua, as they are fond of calling him, is the true Messiah.

In light of this fact, and especially now that we are in the middle of yet another "holiday season", I think that it's an appropriate time to discuss how the Torah addresses this issue.

THE REAL MESSIAH? HOW THE TORAH VIEWS JESUS

What does the Torah say about Jesus? Is he the real Messiah or isn't he? It really depends on whom you ask. Ask a Christian missionary or a "Jew for Jesus", and he'll undoubtedly present you with many "proofs" from the Bible and the Prophets that "show" that the Torah considers Jesus to be the true Messiah about which the Scripture prophesies. Ask your typical Jewish person what the Torah says about Jesus, and he'll most likely tell you that the Scripture doesn't even mention or allude to Jesus at all, because he was not the real Messiah.

The truth is that they are both wrong. On the one hand, all the Scriptural verses and allusions that the missionaries typically use to prove that the Torah considers Jesus to be the real Messiah, have been shown to be misreadings or misunderstandings at best, or gross distortions and intentional mistranslations and falsifications at worst. Yet, unbeknownst to most Jews, the Torah most definitely alludes to the rise of Jesus and the advent of Christianity. And, come to think about it, how could it not? If we are to believe that the Torah is a Divine document, given by G-d to us as an Instruction Book for Life, in which we can find answers and guidance to all the problems and challenges that we might encounter throughout our lives and for as long as we exist as a nation - then it would have to mention Jesus and the advent of Christianity, both which have had such a major impact - for better or for worse - on the Jewish people and on the whole world.

These Scriptural allusions to Jesus, which can be found primarily in the Book of Daniel, are really quite fascinating and I will quote one of them and expound upon it presently. But first I would like to share with you a very ancient "proof" - taken from a verse in this week's Torah portion, Parshas Vayechi, - that the Christians often used to support their claim that the Messiah has already come.

THE KINGSHIP OF JUDAH AND THE DEBATE AT BARCELONA

In this week's portion, the aging patriarch Jacob gathers his children, the Twelve Tribes, around his deathbed and tells them prophetically what will befall them and their descendants in later days. To his fourth son, Judah, who had shown leadership qualities and the moral character necessary to be a king in Israel, Jacob relates the following prophecy:

"The rod [i.e. kingship] shall not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh [i.e. the King Messiah] arrives and his will be an assemblage of nations" (Genesis 49:10).

This verse was actually the basis for one of the very first "proofs" used by the Christians against the Jews in the Disputation at Barcelona. In 1263 at Barcelona, Spain, James I of Aragon and Raymond of Penaforte held a major disputation between Pablo Christiani, a convert from Judaism, and Moses Nachmanides, Moses ben Nachman, or "Ramban" (1195-1270), the outstanding rabbi, Bible commentator, kabbalist, and leader of his generation.

The disputation was held in four separate sessions - the first was on Friday, July 20, 1263 - and all that transpired was faithfully recorded and preserved by Ramban himself, and has since been published under the title The Disputation at Barcelona. Although Ramban clearly bested his apostate opponent, and showed how all of Pablo Christiani's alleged proofs were nothing more than misreadings or misunderstandings of the Scriptural text, he was "rewarded" for his efforts by being forced to abandon his home in Spain, leaving the country that he had lived in all his life.

Here is a brief excerpt of the disputation, the point at which Pablo Christiani quotes the aforementioned verse to prove his point:

Pablo Christiani: Behold, Scripture states, "The rod shall not depart from Judah nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh arrives". The word "Shiloh" refers to the Messiah. The prophet Jacob is thus saying that Judah will always retain power until the Messiah will come from him. If so, since you have neither one tribe nor a ruler's staff today, the Messiah who is of his descendants and who has the rulership must have already come.

Ramban: The purport of the prophet Jacob is not to state that the kingdom of Judah will never be devoid of power at any time [until the advent of the Messiah]. Rather, he is saying that power will never be removed or depart from him completely. The intent thereof is that as long as kingship continues in Israel, it belongs to Judah. If their kingdom will be temporarily discontinued because of sin, the kingship will return to the tribe of Judah when it will ultimately be restored. The proof of my words is that for many years, before [Jesus] the Nazarene, Judah, not Israel had been divested of royalty. And for many years, monarchy ceased both in Israel and in Judah, because in the seventy years during which the Jews were exiled to Babylon, there was no royalty whatsoever in either Judah or Israel. During the era of the Second Temple, there was no king over Judah except for Zerubavel and his sons, who ruled only a short period of time. The people then remained without a king for 380 years ..... Thus, it can be clearly concluded that the prophet Jacob said only that kingship will not be removed completely.

This is but one example of the many "proofs" that the missionaries have used over the past two millennia in order to persuade us into accepting Jesus as the Messiah. And, in what is surely a testament to the strong faith of the Jewish people, let it be said that there have been few takers.

[For further reading on why the Jews don't accept Jesus as the Messiah, as well as how to respond to Christian missionaries, I highly recommend two books: The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and You Take Jesus, I'll Take G-d by Samuel Levine. Or try these two informative articles on the web: http://www.ohr.org.il/ask/ask00j.htm and http://www.aish.com/spirituality/philosophy/Why_Dont_Jews_Believe_In_Jesus$.asp ]

THE BOOK OF DANIEL AND "THE JESUS PROPHECIES"

The Biblical figure Daniel is best known to most of us as the guy who was thrown into the lion's den and miraculously came out alive. But when he wasn't playing around with lions, Daniel was leading quite an amazing (and historically significant) life. He served as counselor to the mighty Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, interpreted the King's strange and prophetic dreams, and was an exemplar of courage for the Jewish people at a time when they needed it most - after they were exiled from the Land of Israel and sent into captivity in Babylon.

The book that Daniel wrote - known in Scripture as The Book of Daniel - enjoys a special distinction among the Books of the Bible. Nowhere else are the promised redemption of the Messianic Era - referred to in Scripture as the Keitz (The End of Days) - as well as Techiyas Hameisim (Resurrection of the Dead), so explicitly spelled out. In this Book, one can find much of the history of our people alluded to - from the Greek domination over the Land of Israel and the Hasmonean revolt, to the Roman conquest and the destruction of the Second Temple, to the rise of Christianity and Islam, up until the exact date of the coming of the Messiah! It's all in there .... if you know how to read it!

Sounds like Nostradamus, doesn't it? Only this stuff is for real. In this amazing book, which was written in or around the year 420 B.C.E., we find two significant, if obscure, allusions to Jesus and Christianity. One of them can be found in Chapter 11 (v. 14), where Daniel relates the following prophecy:

".... and the sons of the lawless of your people will exalt themselves to set up vision and will stumble".

It is not very clear from the context in which this verse is mentioned to which "sons of the lawless" Daniel is referring. Maimonides, in a passage in Hilchos Melachim (Laws of Kings) 11:4 which has been censored out of most recent editions of the Mishneh Torah, saw this phrase as a strong allusion to Jesus, the founder of Christianity, as follows:

Also about Yeshu the Nazarene [Jesus of Nazareth] who imagined himself to be the Messiah . it has already been prophesied by Daniel as is written, "and the sons of the lawless of your people will exalt themselves to set up vision and will stumble". For is there a greater stumbling block than this? All the prophets foretold that the Messiah will redeem the Jews, help them, gather in the exiles, and support their observance of the commandments. But he [Jesus] caused Jewry to be put to the sword; to have their remnants scattered; to be degraded; changed the Torah; and misled most of the world to serve a god other than the One True G-d.

THE ROLE OF CHRISTIANITY IN G-D'S PLAN FOR HUMANITY

A story is told about a Catholic priest who once approached Rabbi Yehonasan Eybeschutz, the great Talmudic scholar and leader of eighteenth-century German Jewry, with the following challenge: "It is taught in the Talmud that the law follows the majority opinion. If so, why do you Jews worship your G-d when the majority of the world's inhabitants follow Jesus?" The Rabbi thought for a moment and, with a big grin on his face, responded, "The Talmudic principle that majority rules is only applicable in cases of doubt - but we Jews have no doubt at all about Whom we believe in!"

Now, although in the story, the good Rabbi did have an excellent comeback, and the fact that the great majority of the earth's inhabitants follow Christianity and Islam does not necessarily prove anything about the truth of those religions (you can get people to believe lots of things, you know, whether they happened or not) - one can still ask a very good question .....

If, according to Judaism's claim, Jesus is not the Messiah and Christianity is based on dogmas that have no basis in reality, how has it come to be that this religion has spread to all corners of the earth? What could G-d's plan possibly be that He would allow this religion, which espouses a false Messiah and the doctrine of the trinity that distorts the very essence of G-d, to become so popular? If Christianity has enjoyed such widespread acceptance, shouldn't that tell us something about the truth of its claim? And what about the other major world religions such as Islam, which preaches a belief in Mohammed as G-d's prophet - a claim that Jews have never accepted as true - yet which enjoys a tremendous following of Muslims worldwide? How does the Torah explain the tremendous popularity of this and other world religions?

Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, deals with this troubling question at the end of Hilchos Melachim (The Laws of Kings) in his major work Mishneh Torah. However, as with most references to Jesus and Christianity that are found in the Talmud and in the works of the great medieval commentators, the heavy hand of the Church censors was at work and the "controversial" passage was missing from most editions of the Mishneh Torah. Luckily for us, the church didn't get to all of Maimonides' editions, and his words have been preserved for all of us to learn from today:

But the thoughts of the Creator are unfathomable to humans .... And all these doings of Yeshu the Nazarene [Jesus of Nazareth] and of this Ishmaelite (Mohammed) who came after him, are only to pave the way for the Messianic king and to prepare the world to serve G-d together as it says, "For then I will change the nations to speak a pure language, so that they will all proclaim the name of G-d, to worship Him with a united resolve." How will this happen? [Through these religions] the world has already been filled with knowledge and awareness of the Messiah and the Torah and the mitzvos (commandments) and this knowledge has spread to all parts of the world .... And all are discussing these ideas and the commandments of the Torah. Some say these commandments were true but have been rendered unnecessary in our times, and others say ..... So when the true Messianic king comes, and succeeds ..... they will all immediately return [to the truth of the Torah] and know that their ancestors had inherited a falsehood.

Thus, according to Maimonides' view, the world's monotheistic religions are the vehicle through which the fundamental teachings of Judaism are to be spread to the far corners of the earth, preparing the world for the eventual coming of the real Messiah, at which time all the world will unite in worshipping the One True G-d. And to that I say . Amen!

[Sources: Artscroll Book of Daniel]

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