Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mashiach HaTsippor, For Ascension Day

Yom HaAliyah, which recalls the ascension of Mashiach into the sky on the fortieth day of the Omer, is preceded seven days by the minor holiday of Lag BaOmer, a memorial to Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai z”l. In honor of these two sacred days, I would like to reflect on an idea found in Zohar Hakodesh attributed to Shimon Bar-Yochai which sheds light on many aspects of the life of Mashiach including His ascension.

Mashiach the Bird-
The Zohar and other kabalistic writings drawing from its text relate Mashiach to a “bird.” In fact, at the beginning of his commentary on Parshat Metzorah, The Ohr Hachaim z”l explains that one of Mashiach’s names is Tsippor (Bird). It is written that the soul of Mashiach exists on the outskirts of the Garden of Eden in a place called the היכל קן ציפו (Heichal Ken Tsippor) “bird’s nest”. This term speaks of the Shekinah which both envelopes His Neshama and flies about the Garden. It is said that from His abode in the bird’s nest He lifts his eyes and sees the patriarchs returning to the ruins of the Beit Hamikdash. The tear streaked face of Rachel Imenu repeatedly flashes before him. Mashiach cries out, and the Garden of Eden is shaken from one end to the other. The voices of all the tzaddikim joining His lament, shakes the heavens beyond the garden until it reaches the highest throne.

Descending From the Nest-
Our sages understood that the redeemer of Israel would be revealed only after this messianic soul made its descent from the Bird’s Nest, coming to rest upon the one whom would be revealed as Mashiach. This is spoken of as the “crowning” of the redeemer and marks the point in his life when he would begin his messianic mission (Igeret Teyman, ch. 4).

Nearly two millennia ago Yeshua traveled from the Galil in Northern Israel to be immersed by Yochanan Hamatbil z”l, a relative who had been instructed by a heavenly decree to immerse the sons of Israel until he saw a “dove” descend upon one of them. This holy Jew was the Mashiach. It is written that when our Mashiach rose from the water the Ruach Elohim was seen descending on him as a dove.

That the identity of Mashiach was revealed through water is significant. The first time the soul of Mashiach was seen interacting with the chaos of this world is found at the beginning of Sefer Bereishit. The Torah relates that while the world was yet formless and void, covered by darkness on the face of the deep, the Ruach Elohim hovered [like a mother bird shielding her young with her wings] upon the face of the waters. This Ruach Elohim is said to be that of Mashiach (Bereshit Rabbah 2:5).

After his crowning with the messianic soul, Yeshua spoke of himself using the language of a bird. While standing upon the Mount of Olives, Mashiach lamented over Jerusalem saying, “Again and again would I have taken your children to myself, as a bird gathers her young ones under her wings, but you would not!” (Lk 13:34) Here Mashiach speaks of his desire to gather the exiles of Israel. He is detained only by our refusal to be redeemed.

Two Birds One Mashiach-
To better understand this process of exile and redemption, as it relates to Mashiach, who is called Tsippor, a bird, we look to the previously mentioned Parshat Metzorah. We learn in this sidra that one who has contracted a certain spiritual disorder called Tzara’at is to be expelled beyond the walls of the city. The complex nature and role of Mashiach as a gatherer of exiles can be understood through the ritual relating to the purification and returning of one who is stricken with this affliction.

Tzara’at is a spiritual disorder generally believed to be brought on by evil speech. It appears as a discoloration on one’s property and person. The Metzorah (one who has contracted Tzara’at) would first notice “something like a plague,” a discoloration upon the walls of his or her home (Lev. 14:35). In a worst case scenario, a Kohen would declare the house unclean— ordering its destruction. The stones of the house would be dismantled and removed. Again, the Metzorah having a discoloration in his or her flesh would be exiled to the wilderness beyond the city walls.

These rituals concerning the Metzorah and his house have been described as relating to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. Mashiach prophesied regarding this destruction in relevant terms. He said, “Do you see these immense buildings? Not one of these stones will be left on top of another. Each one will be torn down." This description can be compared to the dismantling of the stone house of the Metzorah.

The law given by Hashem for the cleansing of a Metzorah reveals His redemptive plan for Israel and describes the process through which Mashiach would carry it out; his death and resurrection. Hashem commands the use of שתי צפרים(shetei tsiparim) “two birds” (Lev. 14:49). In his commentary on this subject, Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky notes that the numerical value of צפר (tsippor) is 370 and corresponds to the words זה משיח (zeh mashiach), “this is Mashiach.” He says, “This [passage regarding the ‘two birds’] refers to Mashiach ben Yosef [who will die] and Mashiach ben David [who will rule the Earth].

During the cleansing of the Metzorah, a bird is killed over running water in an earthen vessel and a second bird is dipped along with other elements in its blood. The Metzorah is sprinkled with the blood seven times and the living bird is released into the open field. That the living bird flies away covered in the blood of the slaughtered is significant. This aspect of the ritual creates a connection between the two birds and hints at the notion that Mashiach ben Yosef, the suffering servant, and Mashiach ben David, the reigning king are two natures of one individual. Although this may be a novel idea to some, it is not a new one.

Rabbi Chaim Vital z”l (1543-1620) was the foremost student of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal and is responsible for the transcription of his master’s famous Kabalistic teachings. In an autobiography written by this renowned authority, The Book of Visions (Sefer HaChizyonot), he explains that Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David are only terms reflecting two aspects of a single man (p.106).

In hindsight, it is clear that while the releasing of the living bird by the Kohen foresees the resurrection of Mashiach, its flight into the open field depicts his ascension into heaven. Concerning this Rabbi Chaim Vital z”l again writes, “Mashiach [who will be largely unknown] will thereupon rise up to Heaven just as Moshe ascended to the firmament, and will subsequently return and be revealed completely for all to see. The entire Jewish people will then perceive him and flock towards him” (Arba Mei’ot Shekel Kesef p. 68). Our Mashiach ascended into the clouds in precisely this way. In comparing the event to Moshe Rabeinu’s ascent into the clouds on Sinai’s heights, we are reminded that we must not lose hope of his return.

Sending away the Mother Bird and the Ascension of Mashiach-
Mashiach was born into a generation unprepared for his kingdom. Rather than immediately gathering the tribes back to their land, he desired to suffer, bearing the transgressions of the world upon his shoulders. The Zohar explains the need for Mashiach to give up his life in no uncertain terms, “Because this lower plateau lacks manifestation of G-dliness, this Mashiach must die…He will remain dead until this plateau receives 'life' from the higher plateau, at which point he will rise and come to life...(Balak 203).”
After having risen from the dead, Mashiach spent forty days strengthening his students, clarifying their understanding of his mission. Then, ten days before Shavuot, Yeshua was lifted into Heaven covered in a cloud. We have been awaiting his glorious return ever since. Questions arise,” Why was the complete redemption delayed; why must we suffer further exile; and why did Mashiach have to leave us?” To better understand this, we search out one of the most obscure mitzvot, Shiluach Haken, “Sending Away the Mother Bird.” The Torah obligates, “When one happens upon a mother bird nesting on her young in an un-owned place, one is forbidden to take the un-hatched eggs or the young birds until the mother is sent away.”
The generation that witnessed the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash was saturated with baseless hatred. At this time even the very religious were often plagued by hatred for fellow Jews. A Heavenly judgment was passed and Israel was expelled from her land. Sadly, the remedy for this kind of hatred could only be found in exile. While exile creates difficulties regarding ritual observance, it promotes a true sense of ahavat Israel, love for every Jew. Living in dispersion encourages a longing for peoplehood and a desire to connect. To remove the blemish of hatred from the Holy Nation, Hashem chose to remove the children of Israel from their “nest.” Mashiach, like the mother bird needed to first be sent away before His children were carried off into exile. The Zohar explains that when the mother bird returns to find her nest empty, she flies throughout the forest searching for her young. Mashiach is now searching for his children throughout the world, calling to them, desiring to gather them back to Himself.


Yahnatan Lasko said...

Beautiful piece--very mystical. Great job, Tim.

a Yid said...

Thank you for writing this, brother! Keep writing! I have not heard of this before. Sholom!

a Yid said...

Hi again brother!
I have the sefer chezyonos and the quote from R. Chaim Vital that ben yosef & ben dovid will be the same person is not on p. 106 in my version. Can you relay the "chelek" and kapitel? My version is arranged in this manner and has what is like simonim. Anyway, totally awesome stuff! PS I have learned much from his dreams and it has "lifted" my faith to believe that God speaks to us in dreams!!! I always pay very careful attention to dreams. In my version, the footnote on p. 106 quotes a chazal that says Moshiakh will be first seen in the upper Galilee. OMG. Shalom! Avrohom

a Yid said...

Hi yet again, I found that Zohar and it is so awesome! Thanks! A little later on, also in Balak, it relates a story with R. Yosi who explained about being "born of God" and "dead to sin", where he actually died himself and describes how when the evil sees God, it dies and then the Holiness within becomes revived! Wow! Sholom.