91. SHOULDN'T A MAN'S GOOD DEEDS BE THE BASIS FOR JUDGING HIS FITNESS FOR THE WORLD TO COME?
Even Moshe Rabbenu was not 'good enough' to enter the Promised Land. Aaron, representing the priesthood, was not allowed to enter; he died and was buried in the wilderness. Miryam was not 'good enough'. And even Moshe, who knew Torah better than anyone, who was 'meek above all men', after a lifetime was good deeds, and filled with humility and obedience, was still found to be imperfect and was denied entry. Can rule-keeping remove imperfection? Do you think you can do better than Moshe?
Yes, but only so long as her Sages do not depart from the Torah established by HaShem. However, there are times when the Sages attemped to set themselves up as arbitors even of disputes with HaShem. For example:
'He who interprets Torah not according to halakha, even though he has Torah and good deeds, has no portion in the world to come.' (Avot 3:15)
'Our rabbis taught, to be engaged in the study of scripture is neither good nor bad; to be engaged in the study of Mishnah is good and brings reward; yet there is nothing better than study of the Gemara. ' (Baba Mezia 33a)
'My son, pay heed to the words of the scribes rather than the words of the law, for the words of the law have both positive and negative commands; but whoever will transgress any of the words of the scribes is guilty of death.' (Erubin 21b)
There is also the story in Baba Mezia 86a in which, during a dispute in the heavenly court, a certain rabbi--considered the most learned on the subject--is summoned to heaven to decide the case. And in Baba Mezia 59b the opinion of Rabbi Eleazor ben Hyrcanus is supported by miracles, and finally by a bat kol (voice from heaven) crying out that he is right. But even then, the Sages disagree and overrule him, claiming authority for themselves.
Thus the sages seem to have verged at times into disrespect for HaShem. It verges on presumption to claim to speak FOR Hashem, in His place--although there might be such a time when a prophet can do so. But there is NEVER a time when HaShem needs to seek the counsel of men. (Does HaShem have to seek wisdom from men?) Nor is there EVER a time when they IMPOSE their decisions and opinions upon Him.
Some of these traditions may have originated in an attempt to refute the new Nazarene sect. For example, the followers of Yeshua would consistently cite scripture to prove their point and show that Yeshua was indeed the messiah. To counter this, the sages seem to have set up a rule, that 'scripture says only what we say it says', and 'our opinion is right because it is our opinion'. Therefore, the Nazarenes are wrong, even if the scripture supports them (or even if they have miracles to support their case) , because only the sages can interpret scripture.
In the gospel story (Luke 18:10), the Pharisee prays, 'L-rd, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, aulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I receive.' But the tax collector prays, 'L-rd, be merciful to me, a sinner.'
There are those who wish to claim that this picture of a Pharisee at prayer is only a prejudiced distortion. But the Talmud contains these examples:
'I wish to thank you, O L-rd my G-d, that You have put my part with those who sit in the Academy, and not with those who sit at the corners (moneychangers and traders). For, I rise early and they rise early; I rise early to the words of Torah, and they run to vain things. I labor and they labor. I labor and receive a reward, they labor and receive no reward. I run and they run. I run to the life of the world to come, and they to the pit of destruction.' (Ber. 28b)
'L-rd of the world, judge me not as those who dwell in the towns (such as Rome), among whom there is robbery, and uncleanliness, and vain and false swearing.' (Erub. 21b)
And Rabbi Simon ben Yohai is said to have claimed that 'I have seen the children of the world to come, and they are few. If there are three, I and my son are of their number. If they are two, I and my son are they.' (Ber. R. 35)
Edersheim notes concerning this:
'. . . indeed, rabbinic writings lay down elaborate directions, what place is to be assigned to the rabbis, according to their rank and to their disciples (Horay 13b), and how in the Academy the most learned, but at feasts the most aged, among the rabbis are to occupy the upper seats (Baba B. 120a). So weighty was the duty of respectful salutation by the title 'rabbi', that to neglect it would involve the heaviest punishment (Ber. 27b). Two great rabbis are described as literally complaining that they must have lost the very appearance of learning, since in the marketplace they had been greeted only with 'May your peace be great', without the addition of, 'my masters' (Ber. 9a, Yerushalmi).
'. . . it was said that, according to Proverbs 8:15, the sages were to be saluted as kings (Gitt. 62a), nay, in some respects they were higher. . . since every Israelite was fit to be a king, but the loss of a rabbi could not be easily made up (Horay 13a). But even this is not all. The curse of a rabbi, even if uncaused, would surely come to pass (Sanh. 90b). It would be too painful to repeat some of the miracles pretended to have been done by them or for them, occassionally in the protection of a lie, or to record their disputes about which among them was 'the greatest', or how they established their representative claims. (See, for example, Baba Metz. 85a and 86b)
(Edersheim, 'Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah', chp. on Matt. 23:8)
Compare this with Yeshua's description of them:
'Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries wide and the tassles on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplace and to have men call them 'rabbi'.
'But you are not to be called 'rabbi', for you have only one master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father', for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'teacher', for you have one teacher, the messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant.' (Matt. 23: 8-11)
Josephus records an incident ('Wars' VI 5.3):
'. . But, what is even more terrible, there was one Joshua (ie, ironically, also named 'Yeshua'). . . who four years before the war began. . . began suddenly to cry out, 'A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Holy House, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice against this whole people.'
For this offense Josephus goes on to record that the man was seized by the authorities and turned over to the Romans for punishment--quite probably death (where, after being severely flogged, he was released since he was considered 'mad').
In Jeremiah it is recorded (Jer. 26:8,9):
'But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the L-rd had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, 'You must die! Why do you prophesy in the L-rd's name that this House will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?' And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the House of the L-rd.'
Evidently, therefore, there was some form of blasphemy or crime considered in connection with cursing the Holy Temple, or else in prophesying its destruction. And Yeshua was accused of this very thing:
'We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made Temple and in three days will build another, not made by man'. (Mark 14:58)
'Finally two came forward and declared, 'This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the Temple of G-d and rebuild it in three days.' (Matt. 26:61)
We do not fully know how all the laws were interpreted during the Second Temple period--our present records (ie, the Mishnah) depict mostly the practices of the Pharisee sect, and even these are presented in their 'idealized' form. The extent to which the Sadducean priesthood would have concurred on such matters is uncertain. But the above examples are enough to indicate that prophesying the end of the Temple could, in itself, be considered a crime and virtually a blasphemy.
There are enough denunciations of Israel in Tanach that the anti-Semites, if they are seeking material which they can distort to their own purpose, could have found plenty of it there, even if the New Testament did not exist.
'Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the L-rd, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. (Is. 1:4)
'For they are a rebellious people, lying sons, sons who will not hear the instruction of the L-rd; who say to the seers, 'See not'; and to the prophets, 'Prophesy not to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel.' (Is. 30:9-11)
'But you, draw near, sons of the sorceress, offspring of the adulterer and the harlot. . . Are you not children of transgression, the offspring of deceit, you who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree; who slay your children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks?' (Is. 57:3-5)
And much of what will be found there is WORSE than anything Yeshua said.
In Matthew 21:33-41 Yeshua tells a story about a landlord who owns and vineyard and leases it out to tenants. The tenants kill the servants he sends to collect his rent, one after the other. Finally, he sends his own son to them, thinking, they will respect his own son. But they kill him, too. What will the owner do then, asks Yeshua? 'He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,' his talmidim reply, 'and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.'
Yeshua goes on to say (vs. 43ff) 'Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of G-d will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. . . ' And verse 45 continues, 'When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Yeshua's parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.'
Compare this with:
'Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the Temple of the L-rd, which he had consecrated in Jerusalem.
'The L-rd, the G-d of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked G-d's messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the L-rd was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians (Chaldeans), who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged.' (II Chronicles 36:14ff)
Yeshua asked the Pharisees (Matt. 22:41-45), whose son they thought messiah was. They replied, 'David's'. Then he said to them, 'How is it that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says:
'HaShem says to my lord (ie, the messiah, if this interpretation is correct), 'Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'
Yeshua then makes the point that if David calls him 'Lord', how could messiah be David's son? And none of the Pharisees could answer him (which is also evidence that they, too, considered the Psalm to be messianic).
In verse 5, the Psalm says, 'The L-rd is at your right hand.' The word used here is 'Adonai', which is never used in scripture except of HaShem. Therefore, the L-rd is sitting at the right hand of the L-rd.
In verse 3 the people of the one spoken of are arrayed in 'holy' majesty--not merely ordinary soldiers.
In verse 4 the one spoken of is declared to be a priest forever, but of the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron. (And it can be noted that Melchizedek was both a priest and also a king. He was greater than Abraham, in that Abraham paid a tithe to him, and received from him a blessing.)
In verses 5 and 6, the L-rd promises to crush the enemies of the one spoken of (this recalls, as does verse 1, the content of Psalm 2, which is generally accepted as messianic).
So it is unlikely that any figure other than the messiah could fit the description; nor was this matter disputed by the Pharisees with Yeshua at the time; though later, after the rise of the Nazarene sect, efforts were made to try and make it fit any number of other personalities: Hezekiah, Abraham, or even Israel as a whole. But the difficulties and artificialness of these assignations are too difficult to overcome..
Yeshua. Yeshua has always been a scandal for Israel. His person alone became the issue. At first they would not even speak of him. He was to be referred to only by a euphemism, a derogatory nickname, or simply an initial letter. As it became necessary to speak of him, he was dismissed with ludicrous fables, or gutter tales about sexual impurity and illegitimacy--stories unworthy of men who called themselves Sages. Even today, the counsel remains, 'Have nothing to do with this person!'
Judaism will accept almost any style of belief or practice and will not reject any Jew even if he turns atheist, Buddhist, or to New Age beliefs. He can follow a false messiah (Bar Kochba) or Shabbtai Zevi. He can mislead Israel as to the nature of these false messiahs, sending many to their deaths in defense of them. But none of these things will cause Judaism to cry out, 'You are no longer a part of the Jewish family!' But with Yeshua--and Yeshua alone--it is a different story. Yeshua is believed by many to be the fullment of Isreal's hopes. But whether he is loved or hated, Jews will never be able to pass by and simply ignore him.
These verses are against false prophets. 'On that day every (false) prophet will be ashamed of his prophetic vision. He will not put on a prophet's garment of hair in order to deceive. He will say, 'I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livlihood since my youth.' If someone asks him, 'What are those wounds on your body?' he will answer, 'The wounds I was given at the house of my lovers.' (Ze. 13:4-6)
The phrase 'on your body' is literally, in the Hebrew, 'between your hands (or arms)'. It is a way of referring to the chest or the body. The reference here is to the pagan practice of gashing or wounding themselves during lamentation or 'prophetic' utterance.
Jer. 16:6 notes, 'Both high and low will die in this land. They will not be buried or mourned, and no one will cut himself or shave his head for them.'
Jer. 41:4 says, 'The day after Gedaliah's assasination. . . eighty men who had shaved off their beards, tore their clothes and cut themselves, came from Shechem. . . '
Jer. 47:5 'Gaza will shave her head in mourning. . . O remnant on the plain, how long will you cut yourselves?'
Jer.48:37 'Every head is shaved, and every beard cut off; every hand is slashed. . . '
Judah and Israel had been influenced by the surrounding nations and sometimes adapted these pagan practices, but they had been forbidden in Deut. 14:1 'You are the children of the L-rd your G-d. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your head for the dead, for you are a people holy to the L-rd your G-d.'
The pagan prophets also followed this custom, as is shown in I Kings 18:28,29: 'So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. MIdday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying. . . '
And yet, it is Yeshua who has affected and altered the cultures of the world, and been a light for the Gentiles--which is the mission of Israel. He has accomplished this, and brought entire pagan nations to the adoration of the G-d of Israel. Meanwhile, Israel's teachers did as much as they could to help insure she would have as little contact with gentiles as possible. She was benched on the sidelines for 2000 years, mourning. What had become of her mission?
And so Yeshua, who is loved by multitudes the world over, is despised only by his own people, and in his own nation--which is the only one which refuses to honor him. And thus is fulfilled what was said by Isaiah in chapter 49, that he would be “the abhorred of the nation”. (verse 7) He who failed in mission to Israel (“I have labored to no purpose”--verse 4) would find his reward with the Lord (verse 5). “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob, and to bring back those of Israel I have kept--though Israel is not brought back. I will also make you a light for the gentiles, that you may bring my salvation ot the ends of the earth.” (verse 6)