Happy Thanksgiving!

In 1789, George Washington issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation with these words:

“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be….”

A couple years ago I read an article by Jewish radio personality, Dennis Prager, titled, “Here’s why Thanksgiving is good for the Jews.”

He points out that Thanksgiving is one of the most widely observed holidays, especially within the Jewish community. The majority of Jews across the spectrum observe Thanksgiving – from non-observant to Orthodox. The reason, according to Prager, “it is quintessentially American, it is deeply religious without being denominational and it is based entirely on one of the most important, and noble, traits a human being can have – gratitude.”

In an age when we are often not thankful enough for the blessings we have, Thanksgiving is another reminder that we have so much to be thankful for.

From our home to yours, we wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Chag Sameach!

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Choosing to be God Conscious

Parashat Toldot

What does this week’s Torah portion teach us about personal choices?

“Esau said to Jacob, ‘Pour some of that red stuff for me now, for I am exhausted. Jacob said, ‘Sell, as this day, your birthright to me.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ … Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, he ate and drank, got up and left; and thus, Esau spurned the birthright (Genesis 25:27-34).”

Esau was faced with a choice, soup or a birthright? When offered the opportunity for spiritual blessings and rewards, the only thing that mattered to him was his own immediate physical needs. Esau ended up selling his birthright to Jacob, for he had no regard for the spiritual. So why does he still end up hating and wanting to kill Jacob? (Genesis 27:41)

Just like Esau, we too often make irrational decisions in the spur of the moment, and end up hating ourselves and others as a result. We often cast off spiritual values in an attempt to satisfy an immediate need. Yet in the end it is futile. The thing we once cast off ends up becoming the thing we most desperately desire. And when we cannot have it, we end up hating those who do have it, resulting in a vicious cycle.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to G-d (Philippians 4:6).”

Instead of living by our own irrationality, like Esau, we must become like Jacob. We should never by too anxious to make a decision. But rather, we need to be “G-d conscious.” We need to constantly be reminded of a greater spiritual reality.

Yehudah HaNasi states, “Consider three things and you will not fall into the power of transgression: Know what is above you – a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and all your deeds are written in a book (Pirkei Avot 2.2).”

Being “G-d conscious” requires being in tune with spiritual values. It also requires us to train our minds to think about the consequences of our actions. We must choose to make good choices. 1 Corinthians 10:5 encourages that we must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Mashiach.”

We all make choices. Sometimes, we may not even make the best ones. However, I challenge each one of us to begin to train our minds to be “G-d conscious” in every way. So when the challenge arises to place our needs above the highest (and holiest) needs, we will be able to make the right decisions. May we, like our ancestor Jacob, receive the blessing to make choices of blessings and shalom, and in the end merit the righteous birthright of our Messiah Yeshua!

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The Binding of Isaac

Parashat Vayyera

This week’s Torah portion is action packed and full of Messianic significance.

But this is also a very troubling parasha:

  • Story of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Abraham pawning off Sarah as his sister – A SECOND TIME!
  • During Lot’s escape from the city, his wife is turned into a pillar of salt
  • Daughters of Lot get their father drunk, and then sleep with him
  • Hagar cast into the desert, and Ishmael almost dies of thirst

The central story, of course, is the Akeidah, the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22). There is more commentary written on this passage than on any other portion in the Torah. The rabbis struggled with this passage and its meanings. As we delve into the Akeidah, it is vitally important to keep in mind the words of German Bible scholar Gerhard Von Rad:

One should renounce any attempt to discover one basic idea as the meaning of the whole.  There are many levels of meaning.

This is especially true of the Akeidah. It has many lessons to be learned. Even the ‘WHY?’ is complicated. It is not just a test. It’s bigger than that!

Substitution

יא וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְי, מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַיֹּאמֶר, אַבְרָהָם אַבְרָהָם; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּנִי. 11 And the angel of HaShem called out to him from heaven, and said: ‘Abraham, Abraham.’ And he said: ‘Here am I.’
יב וַיֹּאמֶר, אַל-תִּשְׁלַח יָדְךָ אֶל-הַנַּעַר, וְאַל-תַּעַשׂ לוֹ, מְאוּמָה:  כִּי עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים אַתָּה, וְלֹא חָשַׂכְתָּ אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ, מִמֶּנִּי. 12 And he said: ‘Do not lay a hand upon the lad, neither shall you do anything unto him; for now I know that you fear HaShem, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.’
יג וַיִּשָּׂא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה-אַיִל, אַחַר, נֶאֱחַז בַּסְּבַךְ בְּקַרְנָיו; וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָהָם וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הָאַיִל, וַיַּעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה תַּחַת בְּנוֹ. 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram was caught in the thicket by its horns. And Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt-offering instead of his son.
יד וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, יי יִרְאֶה, אֲשֶׁר יֵאָמֵר הַיּוֹם, בְּהַר יי יֵרָאֶה. 14 And Abraham called the name of that place Adonai-yireh; as it is said to this day: ‘In the mount where HaShem is seen.’

The Torah states that G-d will provide Himself the lamb (vs. 8), an offering in place of Isaac. This is the reason we sound a shofar (a ram’s horn) on Rosh HaShanah and why this passage is read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah; to recall the substitution of the ram and to recall HaShem’s mercy. And the shofar itself contains a hint to Mashiach. According to the Talmud:

Rabbi Abahu asked, “Why do we sound the horn of a ram? Because the Holy One, Blessed be He, said, ‘Blow Me a ram’s horn that I may remember unto you the binding of Isaac the son of Abraham, and I shall account it unto you for a binding of yourselves before me (b.Rosh Hashana 16b).’”

Resurrection and Atonement

Although it may not be the majority position, there are a few commentaries that claim that Abraham really went through with it – that he really sacrificed Isaac. This idea is drawn from the text itself – they go up together, but Abraham returns alone:

יט וַיָּשָׁב אַבְרָהָם אֶל-נְעָרָיו, וַיָּקֻמוּ וַיֵּלְכוּ יַחְדָּו אֶל-בְּאֵר שָׁבַע; וַיֵּשֶׁב אַבְרָהָם בִּבְאֵר שָׁבַע.  19 So Abraham returned unto his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheva; and Abraham dwelt at Beer-sheva.

Interestingly, immediately after this Sarah dies (see next week’s parasha). The rabbis speculate that it is due to hearing the news of Isaac and seeing Abraham return alone. One reason for this speculation is that very little is mentioned of Isaac after this, and there is a very clear change in the Hebrew (as if written by someone else – a later revision).

However, even more interesting, there is another remarkable tradition that Abraham completed the sacrifice and that afterward Isaac was miraculously revived …

Ibn Ezra (12th cent.) quotes an opinion that Abraham actually did kill Isaac … and that he was later resurrected from the dead.

Furthermore, Saadia Gaon (10th cent.) states, “there are ten reasons for blowing the shofar … the sixth one is to remind us of the binding of Isaac who offered himself to Heaven.  So ought we be ready at all times to offer our lives for the sanctification of His name.”

According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, such views enjoyed a wide circulation in medieval writings. There are even a few references to Isaac’s sacrifice as an act of atonement:

-Philo (1st cent.) refers to Isaac as the son/servant of Isaiah 53, who provides atonement for both Jew and Gentile.

-Shir HaShirim Rabbah, quoting Song of Songs 1:14: “‘A bundle of myrrh (kofer) is my beloved.’  This refers to Isaac, who was tied up like a bundle upon the altar.  Kofer, because he atones for the sins of Israel (1, sec. 14).”

Within the Akeidah we see not only a message of faith, obedience and sacrifice, but also a message of resurrection and redemption. Within our Jewish tradition, the Akeidah carries a glimpse of an even greater hope, a greater redemption, and a greater Resurrection still to come.

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Abraham and the Amidah

Parashat Lekh Lekha

In the opening words of this week’s Torah portion, G-d speaks to Abraham, saying:

Lekh Lekha – Get yourself out of your land … and go to the place I will show you (Genesis 12:1).

At the age of seventy-five, Abraham left his home in modern day Iraq, and traveled all the way to the land of modern Israel. Included in the command to leave his homeland was also a promise that G-d would multiply Abraham’s descendants, and that they would inherit a new homeland.

This must have come as quite a shock. At an age where Abraham should have been settling down and enjoying retirement, G-d basically exiles him from his place of comfort. The place he had always known. The place where he speaks the language, knows the customs, and knows all his neighbors.

Through an act of great faith Abraham did it. He left all he had ever known and set out to a place he was not even sure of yet. But he trusted G-d would be with him, and would eventually reveal where this place would be. He trusted the calling.

What makes this act of faith even more remarkable is the fact that Abraham also trusted G-d’s promise of children. At the age of seventy-five, like most of us, he must have finally given up on any hope of a child.

Throughout the difficult years that followed – battles, wanderings, and expulsions – Abraham remained convinced that G-d would remain faithful to his promise. That is – until the day his faith gave out.

One day, at the age of ninety-nine – twenty-four long years later – G-d appeared again to Abraham and reemphasized the promise of blessing. That was enough! Abraham could not take it any longer! Abraham threw himself to the ground and scoffed:

Shall a child be born to a hundred-year-old man? And shall Sarah – a ninety-year-old woman – give birth? (Genesis 17:17)

By this point Abraham’s faith was so weak that it took an additional appearance by G-d found in next week’s parasha to finally convince him that he would indeed have a son (see Genesis 18:10-15).

In the end – in spite of all the trials – Abraham and Sarah did have a son. It took an exile to bring a blessing. So it is often with us. We often need to be removed from our comfort zones in order to see spiritual fruit in our lives.

When we stand before G-d at the beginning of the Amidah, it is traditional to take three steps back. We exile ourselves from G-d’s presence. It is G-d’s way of telling us, “Lekh lekha … get yourself out of that place of comfort … that place of stagnancy …” So that in the end, when we take three steps forward, like Abraham, we will step into that place of destiny, blessing, purpose and direction.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Three More Book Reviews!

Over the last few weeks three more book reviews have appeared discussing my new book, Jude: On Faith and the Destructive Influence of Heresy (Lederer: Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2014). The three reviews are by First Fruits of Zion, Emet HaTorah and Dr. Richard Harvey.

richardharveyDr. Richard Harvey’s Mapping Messianic Judaism Blog

Well-known and respected Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Richard Harvey wrote a blog post today marking the date on which the Christian Church traditionally remembers Jude the Apostle and incorporated a review of my new book. It should be noted that Harvey was also one of my initial reviewers and wrote an endorsement which appears in the book itself.

According to Harvey:

Like the book of Jude itself, this short commentary punches above its weight. Brumbach introduces the book and its author in an easily accessible way, drawing from the cutting edge of contemporary biblical scholarship. He also, from his own distinctive Messianic Jewish perspective, takes us to the heart of the text and its meaning for Israel and the nations. If you want to understand more of the significance of Yeshua (Jesus) as seen by one of his own brothers then, and by a leading Jewish believer in Yeshua today, I thoroughly recommend his book.

Messiah Journal #117 (Published by First Fruits of Zion)

117

In the recent Fall 2014 issue of Messiah Journal, published by First Fruits of Zion, Jeremiah Michael wrote a very positive review of the book.

He begins his review by highlighting various parts of the text as he walks his readers through the book. In his conclusion, Michael writes:

The commentary is easy to read, not heavily academic, and it encourages a practical application of the epistle. Brumbach highlights differences of opinion amongst his sources, which gives the reader a firm grasp on the breadth of scholarship on Jude. Brumbach does a great job of drawing out the practical and ethical implications of Jude through easy-to-understand exegetical commentary … This commentary can be used for serious study of the Epistle of Jude as well as for personal devotion … The short Epistle of Jude contains a very powerful message for believers today, and Rabbi Brumbach has done an excellent job of helping us understand it.

image (2) Huckey ReviewEmet HaTorah Fall Newsletter

Darren Huckey, of Emet HaTorah, also wrote a very engaging review. Huckey writes in Emet HaTorah’s 2014 Fall Newsletter, “In his commentary on Jude, Rabbi Joshua Brumbach … presents compelling evidence of the importance of Jude’s epistle from both historical and theological positions.”

He goes on to discuss the brevity of both the epistle and my commentary (since it is only 79 pages) and notes, “The author has packed a surprising amount of research and interpretation in a few short pages. It is not only informative, but engaging as well.”

Huckey continues:

When I first saw this work I was curious as to how the text of Jude would be handled from a Messianic perspective. I was particularly interested, because of Jude’s use of non-canonical, apocryphal texts and how most Christian commentary seems to gloss over these important connections Jude makes with these texts. I was pleasantly surprised at Brumbach’s treatment of the connections between the text of Jude and these sources, as well as his conclusions of Jude’s purpose for weaving these allusions and direct references into his message.

Huckey ends his very positive review with saying, “I highly recommend this book for both personal and group study, for both academic and practical application.”

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A Flood and a Tower

Parashat Noach

A Flood and a Tower. These are the two central narratives within this week’s parashah. Noach is rich with lessons for our day, connections to other biblical events, and full of historical allusions within the greater ancient Near East.

The most central narrative within the parashah is of course the account of the flood, of Noah and his family, and the salvation of all living creatures through the building of an ark (a wood vessel).

The Ark

The ark that Noach builds is called in Hebrew a Tevah (תבה). This word only appears in two places in the entire Torah. The only other time the word Tevah is used is in reference to the reed “basket” Moshe is placed in by his mother and hidden in the river, only to be later discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter.

This was intentional. The use of the word Tevah is meant to connect these two stories. So what are the connections between the two narratives? Both of these are mysterious “vessels.” They are literally boxes. When you look at the dimensions of the ark in the Torah, it is not a typical ship. It is a box. They are both covered with pitch. Both are also “divinely directed.” Meaning, neither of them are guided by human means. The ark has no oars, or any type of steering mechanism. The reed basket Moshe is placed in is also divinely directed, left to the current of the river.

Both figures emerge from their respective Tevah to become a type of redeeming figure – a savior of humanity. And both are recognized for their obedience and faith to HaShem. The Torah wants to make clear that Noach is a redeeming figure similar to Moshe. The use of these connections also ties the whole narrative (and all the intermediate narratives) together.

I have not even touched on the connection of the Biblical flood account to other flood accounts known throughout the world, let alone the Ancient Near Eastern flood account of Utnapishtim.

The Tower of Bavel

The other narrative central to this week’s parashah is the Tower of Bavel. According to the Torah, a great “tower” was built in the plain of Shinar, intended to reach up into the heavens. G-d destroyed the tower and scattered the people across the earth, and confused their languages because of their intentions.

Ziggur9The reference to Shinar is believed by scholars to be ancient Sumer (one of the earliest great civilizations), and more broadly to Mesopotamia as a whole. Interestingly, the tower is called Bavel, most likely a reference to the Mesopotamian city with the same name – Bavel (Babylon).

According to the Biblical account, the purpose for building the Tower was to reach the heavens so they could make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:4). Scholars have long connected this story with the great Mesopotamian temples, known as Ziggurats – which were massive stepped pyramid structures. Ziggurats were places where priests offered prayers, offerings, and sacrifices to the Mesopotamian pantheon of gods.

Another interesting possible connection is that the great ziggurat in Babylon was called “E-sag-ila,” meaning, “the head that reaches the gods,” the same concept behind the biblical account. Maybe this is further insight into the reason G-d destroyed the Tower of Bavel???

So, what are we to make of all this?

The Scriptures contain a wealth of historical allusions and references. It is fascinating just how many there really are when you are familiar with ancient Near Eastern civilizations. But these narratives were included for particular reasons – theological reasons. They were meant to demonstrate to their ancient listeners (our ancestors) that the G-d of Israel was in fact the G-d of the flood account, which was known throughout the world. And the narrative of the Tower of Bavel is meant to demonstrate that the G-d of Israel is greater then the pantheon of Mesopotamian gods, and was meant to explain the reason for various people and languages spread throughout the world.

May we, like Noach, learn to hear from HaShem. May we also be bold enough, like Noach, to act on whatever G-d asks of us. HaShem may not ask us all to build an ark, but sometimes G-d asks of us tasks that are often just as difficult in faith and action. The lesson of this parashah is that difficult faith is rewarded, and that the same all powerful G-d is also active in the world around us today to help us through life’s most difficult trials.

Shabbat Shalom!

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Genesis in Context

I love the book of Genesis! Not only as a religious Jew, but as an academic. I value the theological understandings gleaned through thousands of years of Jewish interpretation. However, I also value the rich tradition of Genesis from its historical and literary understanding, which is also teaming with Ancient Near Eastern allusions, language, and places.

The Bible is a product of the Ancient Near East. When we view the Bible also from the perspective of literature, we can appreciate the context out of which it was birthed, the particulars of the people who brought it forth, and its similarities to other ANE texts.

Although the creation account in Genesis differs from other creation accounts and has its own unique characteristics, there are also many ANE allusions. The idea of “tohu v’vohu,” of the earth being in utter chaos prior to Creation, of the “firmament (or dome)” above the earth, the separation of the “upper” and “lower” waters, and of course even the concept of the Garden of Eden. Interestingly, the word Eden itself is not Hebrew. It is a borrowed Sumerian word that finds its way into the Bible through Akkadian influence.

Ancient Sumer (the Biblical “Shinar”) was the cradle of civilization. It is the earliest known complex civilization in the world and spanned over three-thousand years – from the 6th millennium to the 2nd millennium BCE. Sumer was the birthplace of complex society, the wheel, and of agriculture. It was also the birthplace of writing (ca. 3500 BCE).

The heart of ancient Mesopotamia is between the two great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates, which are mentioned in Genesis as two of the rivers bordering the Garden of Eden. Several of these earliest cities are mentioned in the first three Torah portions – Bavel, Uruk (Biblical Erech), Akkad, Nineveh, and Ur (just to name a few). The biblical patriarch Abraham, himself, came from Ur in Southern Mesopotamia.

The flood story of Noah is also interestingly paralleled in earlier ANE versions; however, I will not expand on this as my friend and colleague, Rabbi Derek Leman, has blogged on it extensively in the past.

Even the idea of the Tower of Babel is believed to be an allusion to the great Mesopotamian temples, known as Ziggurats – which were massive stepped pyramid temple structures. Ziggurats were places where priests offered prayers, offerings, and sacrifices to the Mesopotamian pantheon of gods.

As a religious Jew I obviously attribute theological truth to Genesis as Scripture and I absolutely believe HaShem literally created all that exists. However, it is important that we also understand Genesis for what it is, and what it is not. We should not try to read especially the creation account too literally. It was never intended to be a scientific account of creation (although it may contain scientific and historical information). Rather, Genesis is a theological account of Creation. As I mentioned last week, Genesis is meant to directly establish God as the sovereign of the universe. As such, the Torah speaks only in general terms to illustrate that nothing came into being except at God’s command. Unlike other origin stories circulating around the Ancient Near East, the Biblical account makes no attempt to explain the origins of God, or try to persuade the listener of God’s existence. The existence of God, in Judaism, is an axiomatic fact. Therefore it immediately jumps to the explanation of God’s creation of heaven and earth, and to what God expects of His creation.

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Creation and the Hidden Light

Parashat Breishit

The Torah relates the story of the six days of creation in order to refute other theories that claim that the universe came into being through some cosmic accident or coincidence. As such, the story of creation speaks only in general terms to illustrate that nothing came into being except at G-d’s command. The Hebrew word, bara, emphasizes this. The word bara, used here for “create,” grammatically can only be used in connection to G-d (never for humans), and alludes to the creation of something from nothing.

The Torah’s narrative of creation is meant to directly establish G-d as the sovereign of the universe. Unlike other creation accounts circulating around the Ancient Near East, the Biblical account makes no attempt to explain the origins of G-d, or try to persuade the listener of G-d’s existence. The existence of God is an axiomatic fact. Therefore it immediately jumps to the explanation of G-d’s creation of heaven and earth.

In verse three, G-d says, “’Let there be light’: and there was light.” However, if one reads more carefully, the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day of creation (see 1:14-19). Therefore, what is the “light” that is being spoken of? Interestingly, there are two possible answers.

Within Jewish tradition there are, of course, a wide variety of perspectives regarding Messiah. Yet, the pre-existence of Messiah, and the presence of Messiah at creation, has been discussed among certain Jewish writers throughout history.

A medieval rabbinic anthology commenting on this verse states:

‘And G-d saw the light, that it was good.’ This is the light of the Messiah…to teach you that G-d saw the generation of Messiah and His works before He created the universe, and He hid the Messiah … under His throne of glory. Satan asked G-d, Master of the Universe: “For whom is this Light under your Throne of Glory?’ G-d answered him, ‘It is for … [the Messiah] who is to turn you backward and in who will put you to scorn with shamefacedness (Yalkut Shimoni on Isaiah 60).’

According to Midrash HaGadol, “The final goal of humanity is to attain the state of the days of Mashiach; therefore the name of Mashiach had to be formulated even before the world’s inception (Midrash HaGadol, 1:1).”

Another perspective in the Talmud relates:

It was taught that seven things were created before the world was created; they are the Torah, repentance, the Garden of Eden, Gey-Hinnom, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, and the name of the Messiah … The name of the Messiah, as it is written: ‘May his name endure forever, may his name produce issue prior to the sun (Pesachim 54a, Nedarim 39a, also Midrash on Ps. 93:3).’

The light, which some rabbis speak of as alluding to the Messiah can also serve as a representation of the “Ein Sof,” the hidden/unexplainable aspect of G-d. There is a midrashic legend that teaches that this light was hidden until the time of the Messianic Age, after which it will be once more revealed. When this happens, it will be like in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 21:22-23, 22:5, etc.), where there will no longer be any need of the sun, for G-d’s “Ein Sof,” His presence, will provide all needed light.

However, no where is the Messiah more clearly connected to the themes of light and creation than in the Gospel of John:

“In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with G-d, and the Word was G-d.

He was with G-d in the beginning.

All things came to be through him,

and without him nothing made had being.

In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not suppressed it

…The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,

and we saw his Sh’khinah,

the Sh’khinah of the father’s only Son,

full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).”

May our divine Messiah, Yeshua, who was present at creation, continue to work in each of our lives to dispel the darkness, and make each of us into a new creation!

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Yahrzeit of Rabbi Lichtenstein

Tonight begins Hoshanah Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, and also marks the yahrzeit of Rabbi Ignácz (Isaac) Lichtenstein, one of our great Messianic Jewish forbearers.

Lichtenstein’s Early Life

Rav Lichtenstein was born in 1824, and became a rabbi before turning 20 years old. After officiating for several years in different communities in northern Hungary, he finally settled down as the Chief/District Rabbi in Tápiószele, where he remained for nearly 40 years.

Early in his career, one of his teachers in the communal school of the district casually showed him a German Bible. Turning the leaves, his eye fell on the name “Jesu Christi.” He became angry and reproved the teacher for having such a thing in his possession. Taking the book, he flung it across the room in a rage; it fell behind a shelf where, dusty and forgotten, it lay for some thirty-odd years.

Tisza Eslar Affair and Franz Delitzsch

In April of 1882 a fierce wave of anti-Semitism broke out in Hungary, culminating in the now historic “Tisza Eslar affair.”  As is often the case, the blood libel was ultimately demonstrated to be false and baseless – thanks largely to a number of prominent Christian leaders, most notably Dr. Franz Delitzsch, a Biblical scholar and Professor at Leipzig University, who rose to the occasion to defend the Jewish people against the outlandish blood libel.

This act of defense by Delitzsch, such a prominent Christian, played a key role in Rabbi Lichtenstein beginning to rethink his position on Yeshua and the Brit Chadashah:

“In articles written by [Delitzsch] in defense of the Jews of Hungary, I often met with passages where Jesus was spoken of as He Who brings joy to man, the Prince of peace, and the Redeemer; and His Gospel was extolled as a message of love and life to all people. I was surprised and scarcely trusted my eyes when I espied in a hidden corner the New Testament which some 30 years before I had in vexation taken from a Jewish teacher, and I began to turn over its leaves and read. How can I express the impression which I then received? Not the half had been told me of the greatness, power and glory of this Book, formerly a sealed book to me. All seemed so new, arid yet it did me good, like the sight of an old friend who has laid aside his dusty, travel-worn garments, and appears in in festive attire, like a bridegroom in wedding robes, or a bride adorned with her jewels.”

Lichtenstein’s New Boldness

Lichtenstein’s synagogue in Tápiószele.

For two or three years Rabbi Lichtenstein kept these convictions a secret. However, in time, he slowly began to teach some of these strange and new doctrines in his synagogue which both interested and astonished his hearers. At last he could contain himself no longer. On one Shabbat, while teaching on a parable of Yeshua, he openly proclaimed that his subject was taken from the New Testament and spoke of Yeshua as the true Messiah and Redeemer of Israel.

He ultimately embodied his ideas in three publications appearing in rapid succession which created a tremendous sensation within the Jewish community, not only in Hungary, but throughout Europe. Here was an old and respected Rabbi, still in office, calling upon his people in burning words to align themselves under the banner of the long-despised Yeshua of Nazareth, and to hail Him as their true Messiah and King.

Opposition and Persecution

A storm of persecution quickly broke out against him. From the Jewish pulpit and in the Press, insults were hurled against Lichtenstein, and he who but a few weeks before was considered among the noblest leaders and teachers was now described as a disgrace to his nation.  Falsehoods were spread against him and he was eventually cited to appear before the assembled rabbinate in Budapest.

On entering the hall he was greeted with the cry, “Retract! Retract!”

“Gentlemen,” said Rabbi Lichtenstein, “I shall most willingly retract if you convince me I am wrong.”

Chief Rabbi Kohn proposed a compromise. Rabbi Lichtenstein might believe whatever he liked in his heart, if he would only refrain from preaching about Yeshua publicly. The Synod of Rabbis would draw up a document stating that what Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote was done in a temporary fit of insanity and all he would have to do would be to add his name to this statement. Rabbi Lichtenstein answered calmly but indignantly that this was a strange proposal to make. When it was clear he would not sign the document, they demanded that Lichtenstein should resign his position and be formally baptized to indicate that he was leaving the Jewish people. But he replied that he had no intention of joining the church and had found in the New Testament the true Judaism, and would remain as before with his congregation, and teach it in the synagogue.

And he did so … in spite of tremendous persecution and reproaches. From his official position as the District Rabbi he continued to teach and preach from the New Testament. This was also a testimony to the strong commitment of his own community, which alone had the power to request his dismissal. In fact, much pressure was brought against members of his congregation, and relatives of his wife were completely ruined financially; but still they supported their esteemed rabbi.

Rabbi Lichtenstein and his writings become widely known across Europe and different church and missionary organizations sought his services with tempting offers – including the Pope.  However, to all Rav Lichtenstein had but one reply:

“I will remain among my own nation, I love Messiah, I believe in the New Testament; but I am not drawn to join Christendom. Just as the prophet Jeremiah, after the destruction of Jerusalem, in spite of the generous offers of Nebuchadnezzar and the captain of his host, chose rather to remain and lament among the ruins of the holy city, and with the despised remnant of his brethren, so will I remain among my own brethren, as a watchman from within and to plead with them to behold in Yeshua the true glory of Israel.”

Lichtenstein’s Resignation as Chief Rabbi of the District

Finally, after losing all his abilities to save the members of his congregation from total ruin, and with his health greatly deteriorating as a consequence of his bold stand, he voluntarily resigned his office as District Rabbi. He then settled in Budapest, but the opposition to him was relentless. He was shadowed and even physically attacked on the street. His barber was bribed to disfigure his beautiful beard. His landlord kept a close watch on everyone who visited him and reported to the rabbinical authorities. But, with all of this opposition also came interviews and discussions from fellow Jews from every walk of life.

The Final Years 

Rav Lichtenstein’s recently restored tombstone in the Central Jewish Cemetery in Budapest. Courtesy of Zsolt Marton.

Over the next twenty years Rabbi Lichtenstein traveled to many parts of Europe to speak about the truth as he saw it in Messiah. However, the storms of controversy, of misunderstanding and antagonism, began to take their tole on him. But his spirit remained undaunted. In his An Appeal to the Jewish People, Lichtenstein wrote:

“At the very outset I make my honest and public confession, the result of earnest thought and inward struggle, that it is my steadfast, unalterable conviction … Yes, as a Rabbi grown grey in office, as an old Jew faithful to the Law, I confess candidly, Jesus is the predicted Messiah of Israel … for whom we long, and for whose Advent our people have ever expected. He is come! This is now my shout of rejoicing, which my lips and pen, and, if God wills, my prolonged life shall serve to make known.”

Quite unexpectedly he became very ill. As he realized that his end was approaching, in the presence of his wife and the nurse, he said:

“Give my warmest thanks and greetings, to my brethren and friends; goodnight, my children; goodnight, my enemies, you can injure me no more. We have one God and one Father of all who are called children in heaven and on earth, and one Messiah who gave up His life on the cursed tree for the salvation of men. Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”

On the morning of Hoshanah Rabbah, Friday, October 16, 1908, at the age of 85, Rabbi Lichtenstein entered into Paradise. On this Hoshanah Rabbah, a day of joy and celebration, we also remember Rabbi Lichtenstein.

A collection of his writings, The Everlasting Jew: Selected Writings of Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein, is now available through First Fruits of Zion.

Zichrono livracha … May his memory continue to bless and inspire us until Mashiach returns!

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Sukkot and Heavenly Ascent

Revelation 7:9-17

Sukkot is a joyous holiday packed with prophetic significance.  Our tradition teaches us that a time will come when all people will come up to Jerusalem to worship HaShem on Sukkot.  This is the climactic message of the Haftarah read on the first two days of Sukkot from Zechariah 14.

But the connection between the nations and Sukkot does not begin in the Messianic Age.  Rather, the connection between the two goes all the way back to Mt. Sinai.  The Jewish people are called throughout the Torah to be Or l’Goyim – a Light to the Nations.  From the beginning, God’s desire to reconcile humanity back to God’s self is mirrored most vividly in our Festival of Tabernacles.  After all, HaShem’s desire has always been macro – to reach all of humanity, beginning with the Jewish people.

Among the numerous offerings prescribed by the Torah during the Biblical seven days of Sukkot, seventy bulls were to be offered corresponding to each of the seventy nations of the world (see Gen. 10).  According to our rabbis, this was a prophetic act of intercession on behalf of the nations.  So even within the Torah, we get a small glimpse of God’s compassion and concern not just for Israel but for the nations as well.

Although the context of Revelation 7:9-17 may not specifically be related to Sukkot, it does contain many of the themes and imagery related to Sukkot, and echoes language from the Torah and Haftarah readings.

Within this vision from Revelation, a vast crowd of martyrs representing every nation, tribe, and language are gathered around the throne of heaven in front of the Lamb.  They are holding palm branches and singing psalms of praise and adoration:

“Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb … Praise and glory, wisdom and thanks, honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever!”

This imagery is right out of Zechariah 14 when all the nations of the world will come up to Jerusalem, carrying their Lulav and Etrog, singing Hallel, and dressed in their finest attire.

Sukkot is also known as Chag HaAsif, the Festival of Ingathering, because it is a prophetic allusion to a greater time to come.  One day, the Jewish people, alongside the nations of the world, will come together in Jerusalem to ascend the Temple Mount singing and waving the Lulav and Etrog together in praise and adoration of our LORD and King.  One day we will see the Lamb, our righteous Messiah, and will be caught-up together in heavenly ascent.

As we celebrate Sukkot this year, I pray we will all experience a taste of the World to Come.

Maranata – Come Adon Yeshua, speedily and in our day!

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