30 Kislev 5783
Listen to recorded message: https://youtu.be/_2f62wh7nd
Is there more than one Messiah?
Tomorrow is Christmas day and the seventh day of Hanukkah. It’s a time of lights and a time of miracles. The Christian world is celebrating the miraculous birth of their Savior, their Messiah. In the Jewish world, as we light the Hanukkiah, we cry out for the coming of our Messiah, an idea that only developed after the Maccabees fought against assimilation to the gods pf the Greeks. Are there two Messiahs? Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that our parashah today is Miketz, the key characters being Joseph and Judah. I was taught that Joseph represents Mashiach ben Yosef, the suffering messiah or servant (who many believe points to Jesus) and Judah represents Mashiach ben David, the conquering Messiah (who they say will be revealed when Jesus returns). I remember when the Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson died, some of his followers called him Mashiach ben Yosef and said that he was reincarnated into a boy who is in Jerusalem and who would one day be Mashiach ben David.
Judaism teaches that there have been many mashiachs throughout our history. It is written in Obadiah 1: 21,“And מוֹשִׁעִים saviours shall ascend on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’S.” The word mashiach in the Torah means “anointed” referring to a ceremony where the cohanim (priests) and the kings had oil poured upon them anointing them for their specific role. The idea of a “saviour” pervades the Tanach and is at the very heart our people. In fact, the character of Superman was invented by two Jews, Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster in 1938 during WW2 when we were crying out for the Messiah to come and save us from the Nazis.
Is there one messiah, were there many, who will the next one?
After looking into various religions, ideologies, and philosophies for a savior in my own life, I was sure that I had finally found one in Christianity. I had gone to a Protestant High School where I learned about Jesus and had no problem with him but growing up in a Jewish home, there was no place for him there. In 1989, when my life was a total mess, I was invited to accept “Jesus into my heart” with the promise that my life would change dramatically. And as a matter of fact, it did. I was told that Jesus was the Messiah who died for my sins and I thought that I really needed what he had to offer. I would now be a new creation; I could start my life all over with old things having passed away and everything would now be new. I was high on this idea but as the days passed, the aura of being a new creation lifted, the honeymoon was over and I was finally faced with having to deal with my past, sometimes over and over again. However, I did have a new hope in God and I loved reading the Bible but I began to question some of the tenets of Christianity and Messianic Judaism when it came to the identity of Jesus. They had turned the Hebrew Yeshua into a Superman, a Herculean hero and everyone loves a hero, especially one who rises up and save us from our enemies.
Our Rabbi began to show us that Yeshua, a rabbi who lived in Israel during the time of the Romans, had nothing to do with the Jesus Christ of Christianity and that our Yeshua who loved and followed the Torah, could never have died for our sins. That goes against everything that the Torah teaches. If that was true, I thought, then who was he and why do I need him? That’s like saying who was Moses and why do I need him? These two Hebrews never asked anyone to believe “in them” or to need them. They never wanted to draw attention to themselves rather they wanted our people to be obedient to our Creator, to believe in Him and His Commandments, and to trust that “He” is the only one who can save us as is written in Hosea 13: 4, “Yet I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; and you know no God but Me, and beside Me there is no מוֹשִׁיעַ saviour”.
Moses was the humblest of men as was Yeshua, both always pointing us to the Bore Olam, not to themselves and like them both Joseph and Judah would need to go through a process of being humbled before God could use them in His plan to save His people. This didn’t happen overnight. Joseph was 17 when they threw him into the pit and then sold him and now he was 30 when he became second to Pharaoh in Egypt. His brothers would also have to go through their own processes. They had many years to stew about what they had done to him. Our past never leaves us until we deal with it. It was obvious to Joseph as he listened to their conversation that they were acknowledging that what was happening to them now, was because of their treatment of him in the past. They were learning the concept of midah keneged midah, measure for measure. I am sure we can all related that in our lives.
In every aspect of this parashah, we can see the humanity of the people. The brothers had to admit what they had done and that they were suffering because of it. They had hated Joseph because Jacob blatantly favored him over them. It seems to me, however that their father Jacob did not learn this lesson. Here he was repeating the same thing with Benjamin. He said to them: You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and you will take Benjamin away; upon me have all these things come.’ He had been through so much in his life and yet he could still be such a self-centred cry baby. I love how the Torah portrays its characters because I’m sure we all know someone who is exactly like him, if not ourselves at times. We all have these characteristics in our nature, and we usually feel so bad when they rear their ugly heads. The only thing that God wants for us is to be honest about who we are, to come to Him, to do teshuva, to acknowledge and truly feel badly about what we have done, to make restitution and then feel relief as God steps in to help us begin again.
The people depicted in the Tanach from Adam to the last prophet are wonderful examples of our failures and fragility. All its families are dysfunctional. All our families are dysfunctional to varying degrees. It’s good to remember that when we look at others and think that they are so much better than we are and if only we could be like them. These stories are meant to help us to not do the same things they did, to learn from their mistakes so that we can grow in wisdom and understanding and accept who we are. We are not perfect. Only the Creator is perfect. So why do we keep getting disappointed and fall apart when we fail. Why do we expect ourselves or those close to us to be perfect? Who do we think we are? It’s important to remember that although we are not perfect, we have value; each of us has a role in this world and we all have to go through our own processes to become humble enough for God to use us.
The stories of the people in the Torah are not complicated, like the stories of our lives, except they feel overwhelmingly complicated when we are going through difficult situations which we think will never be resolved; that the cycles of pain will keep on going, but let us remember what the second commandment says, “…for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” The third and fourth generation means “a limited period of time” and the thousandth generation means “forever”. We would do well to remember that and to trust that while we are going through the struggles and trials of this life, that God will show up, like Joseph who allowed his brothers to sweat for a time and then finally revealed who he was and that he had forgiven them.
In keeping with the idea of Hanukkah, Joseph was given “a wife פּוֹטִי פֶרַע כֹּהֵן אֹן אָסְנַת בַּת Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, cohen of On” and although he was fully immersed in the pagan Egyptian culture, henever forgot who his God was; he taught that to his sons Efraim and Manasseh whose names we have chanted every Shabbat for centuries, asking that our God bless and make our sons like them. This is the essence of Hanukkah, a reminder that no matter where we live in the diaspora, we can hold onto the knowledge of the one God and not choose assimilation. Moshe, Joseph, Judah, Yeshua all understood the consequences of turning away from our Creator. They were all “anointed” for a role; they were all mashiachs. Is there another great mashiach coming? Probably, but in the meantime, our lives need to go on and while we are waiting, let us ask God to show us our role, our part in His great plan to save humanity. Every one of us struggles because we are imperfect beings so as we light the last candle of Hanukkah tomorrow night, let us remember that we are each called to reflect God’s light to others; that we are not perfect, that we did not create the light, but that God in us is that light. That should help to keep us humble.