Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Seed of Mashiach, For Shavuot

While sipping coffee and looking through old files on my laptop, I came across something I wrote about 5years ago regarding the genealogy of Yeshua. Its a tradition on Shavuot to read megilat Ruth and stay up all night learning. A discussion regarding the seed of Mashiach is also traditional as Rut is the mother of the King. It seemed fitting to post this lesson regarding the messianic line as described by Matthew. Feel free to use this lesson for the coming holiday. Its long, but you've got all night.

The Seed of Mashiach.

From the earliest moments of creation Hashem preoccupied himself in the making of the light of Mashiach. Some have spoken of this Messianic light as having been hidden in a fog, wrapped in darkness. The messianic seed was carried down throughout all generations, hidden in unlikely places. This can be compared to a King who sent his royal carriage with a procession of white horses and noblemen through the broad section of town while he himself chose to travel unnoticed riding a donkey down narrow back alleys.

Opening to the first chapter of the besorah of Mattai we are given a list of names recounting the lineage of Mashiach. At the heart of this messianic pedigree are five holy women: Tamar, Ruth, Rachav, Batsheva the wife of Uriah, and finally, Miryam the mother of Yeshua. In mentioning these names the author of sefer Mattai intends to remind it’s readers of the unique circumstances in which the spark of Mashiach has been brought down through time.

Listing the royal lineage of the kings of Israel with the specific mention of the five women named above, sefer Mattai emphasizes the unlikely path of Mashiach through generations that are clouded by incest, prostitution, adultery and murder. Each of these holy men and women conceived children through what would seem to be, questionable interactions.

The first female listed in the genealogy is Tamar. The Torah relates that soon after Tamar married Judah’s son, the son died. According to a practice called yibum it was the responsibility of the closest male relative to take Tamar as a wife and have a child who would be called the son of the deceased. In that way the child would continue the lineage of the family and inherit the deceased man’s belongings. After the first son died, Judah’s second son married Tamar. He too died shortly after the wedding. Because two of Judah’s sons had died after sleeping with Tamar, Judah rationalized that this had caused his two son’s death. Judah felt giving his youngest, and now only son, to be Tamar’s husband was out of the question. Tamar shamefully returned home to live with her parents. She was a teenage girl, with two dead husbands, no prospects, possessions nor children. What Judah didn’t know was his sons had died because of their own transgressions. With Judah’s refusal to give his youngest son to Tamar the line of Mashiach stopped. The messianic seed that continued to form with each generation could not be passed on.

For now, physical and spiritual components destined to come together in the forming of Mashiach were trapped in Tamar and Judah. The Torah explains that Judah arrived in the town where Tamar was living to sheer sheep. When Tamar heard he was in the area she assumed Judah had brought his youngest son to perform the right of yibum, so his third son could take her as his wife. She ran to greet him wearing beautiful garments and a veiled face. When Judah saw this striking young woman standing alone along the way he took her to be a prostitute and made his proposition. Tamar accepted the proposal and slept with him. Strangely, the Torah records the event as casually as if Judah and Tamar had been buying and selling fruit at the market. What appears on the outside to be a blatant disregard for morality is explained quite differently in the midrashim. According to the midrash, when Judah passed by Tamar he caught her sent on a breeze. It was the most intoxicating fragrance he had ever smelled. It was the sent of the garden of Eden and the days of Mashiach. Judah was unwilling to consort with her so an angel came to further persuade him. The angel said to Judah, “If you fail to turn in to her tent, from where will the kings come?” It was at this point when Judah approached Tamar. Tradition further explains that it was actually because of Tamar’s extreme spirituality that she accepted his offer. Tamar knew that yibum must be performed, and understood she had to conceive. What is important to realize is that while Judah and Tamar were together, Hashem was busy creating the light of Mashiach.

Another woman to be noted in the lineage of Yeshua is Ruth. Ruth is perhaps the central female figure in the ancestry of the kings of Israel. The controversy surrounding this holy grandmother of King David began generations before her birth. Ruth came from the people of Moav a corrupt non-Jewish nation descending from Lot who although a worshiper of the one G-d, separated from Avraham to live in Sodom. The city was lost to any hope of rational thought. In Sodom every rule was turned on its head. Rape and molestation were open and public activities. The city was destroyed by G-d. Lightning rained down from the sky and the city was engulfed in flames. Only three righteous persons escaped. Lot and his two daughters took refuge in the wilderness. This story also takes a bizarre twist. Lot’s daughters immediately decide to get their own father drunk and sleep with him, each becoming pregnant in the process. In the Torah, our earliest encounter with the seed of Mashiach is in this horrifying union. Bereshit Rabbah 41:4 states, “I have found David my servant; where did I find him? In Sodom.” In this Midrash, Hashem explains that he found the light of Mashiach in a most unlikely place; in the apparent rape of Lot by his daughters. As difficult as it may seem, hidden on the inside of this situation is a holy motivation which can only be uncovered with a close and sensitive reading of the text.

When Sodom was destroyed Lot’s daughters believed the entire world had been annihilated. Just a few generations earlier the world’s populations had been destroyed with water. Now these two girls believed G-d had devastated its inhabitants again, this time with fire. Yibum is at the center of this encounter as well. The sisters are recorded in sefer Bereshit as having made the statement, “there is not a man on earth left to be with us” (19:31). According to the practice of yibum it was (they believed) their duty to raise up seed from their father. There was no time to question the choice. If Lot were to die do to the extreme anguish felt at the loss of all those he had loved including his wife no relative could be found to raise up a son unto his name. Within both Lot and his daughters was the seed of Mashiach.

From the consorting of Lot’s oldest daughter with her father came a son named Moav (meaning of father). An evil nation descended from Moav cursed with a heavenly declaration that no Moabite could enter the congregation of Israel. Ruth was a daughter of Moav caring the seed of Mashiach, the spark she had inherited from her ancestors. Ruth desired to enter the nation of Israel. It was known by Israel’s finest Torah minds that this was in fact a possibility. Although a Moabite was disallowed from entering the people of Israel a Moabitess was permitted. Ruth had in fact already married two Israelite men before entering the land of Israel. After her first husband died his brother performed the act of yibum taking her as his wife. He too perished. The story begins to sound remarkably similar to that of Tamar. Ruth’s mother-in-law instructed the obedient young woman to find a redeemer (who would perform the act of yibum) on the threshing floors belonging to a near relative of her now dead husband. His name was Boaz. The final threshing of grain was a happy occasion. It meant a large payoff, a time of drinking, singing and an end to the long harvesting hours. Ruth’s mother-in-law instructed Ruth to bathe in water, dress in her finest garments and only enter the area used for threshing barley during the night after the harvesters had laid down to rest from a night of feasting. She told Ruth to find Boaz and lay herself at his feet. Again a strange twist in the story, from the out side what Ruth’s mother-in-law was asking her to do looked a lot like what many prostitutes would be doing that same night. Women often snuck into the threshing fields for the purpose of selling themselves for grain. However, Ruth’s mother-in-law hid a code word in the phrase she used when speaking about Boaz. She told Ruth to notice “the place where” Boaz was sleeping and go and meet him there. In Hebrew these words are “et hamakom asher.” In a language without vowels the final letters of each of these three words when brought together spell out the name Tamar. Ruth knew she would look like a prostitute to anyone who saw her nevertheless she fulfilled the wishes of her mother-in-law and went to Boaz during the night.

When Boaz awoke with the startling realization that Ruth lay at his feet he treated her respectfully as a woman of holiness rather than take advantage of the situation in an inappropriate manner. He declared his intentions to properly take her as his wife and perform yibum. A question arises- what caused Boaz to treat this foreign woman dressed as a prostitute in such an honorable way? The answer is found in our text and is the name of the second woman mentioned in Mattai’s rendering of the lineage of Mashiach. Rachav, a foreign born woman who joined herself to the people of Israel was also Boaz’s mother. Before her joining the holy nation Rachav an extremely righteous woman had lived as a prostitute. Boaz knew holiness sometimes existed hidden under a mask. He also knew that at all times you need to know the inside of a situation before you can understand it.

The fourth woman listed in Mattai’s lineage is Batsheva. The Torah tells us that from the roof of his palace King David glimpsed Batsheva bathing. He fell in love instantly. The Torah relates that although Batsheva was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a man who fought among the ranks of Israel, King David slept with her. She became pregnant. In an attempt to cover up the act King David called Uriah back from war and encouraged him to be with his wife. Uriah refused. As long as his fellow solders were fighting on the battle-front Uriah would not allow himself the pleasure of being with Batsheva. When sending Uriah back to his military service, King David intentionally placed Uriah in the front lines to die. On the surface this story seems to paint King David in an entirely negative light. However a look into some of the midrash surrounding the event and a close reading of the story reveal more.

When King David was young he killed an enormous man named Goliath. After killing him he approached the body and sought to remove the giant’s head with his own sword. There is midrash that explains that Goliath was covered in dense armor from head to toe. David tried to remove it but was unable to. It was then that he met Uriah for the first time. The man stepped forward and informed the hero of Israel that he knew how to remove the heavy armor but would only do so if David made an oath to find him an Israelite wife. David agreed and Uriah soon married Batsheva who‘s name means daughter of an oath. This forbidden marriage of Batsheva to a non-Jew which was facilitated by David himself created a detour in the road of David’s future. Batsheva had always been intended as David’s wife says the midrash. In hindsight this is obvious; the Mashiach would eventually come from their union. Because David vowed to give a daughter of Israel to a non-Israelite Hashem made sure it would be his own wife he was to give away, not the wife of another.

In ancient Israel it was the practice of solders to give their wives a bill of divorcement (a get) before going off to war. Without such a practice the wife of a fallen solder whose body could not be found or identified would remain legally married. Without the proof of a body, it would be assumed the man was still alive somewhere. On a technical level, Batsheva was unmarried (Kethubot 9b). The Talmud explains that Uriah the Hittite was also guilty of treason, a crime punishable by death, at the time he was sent to the front lines by King David. When Uriah stood before the King he referred to his general as my lord and refused to heed the request of the highest authority on earth, the King of Israel. King David’s punishment by G-d for the bloodshed of Uriah appears to have its root in his making inappropriate vows to Uriah long before his coming together with Batsheva and those vows coming back to haunt him. The interactions between King David and Batsheva are far more pure on the inside of the story than from how they might appear from the outside. This is the message of Mattai’s lineage.

The author of sefer Mattai desired its readers to meditate on the pattern found in the Torah and Midrashim before naming the fifth and final woman listed in the genealogy: Miryam the wife of Yosef ben-Ya’akov. It would be through this woman that the light of Mashiach, the final king of Israel, would enter the world.

In her mid teens Miryam had entered into kiddushin a kind of contract binding herself and Yosef together for a period of time before their actual wedding. During this period Miryam was visited by a malach, the angel Gavriel. He greeted her with the words, “Be glad, you who are loved, the master is with you.” Miryam had been uncomfortable allowing a strange man to speak to her in such a way. Gavriel told her to not be afraid. He explained that she would conceive and birth a son, and that she would call his name Yeshua. He further told Miryam that Hashem would give her son the throne of his father David from which he would rule over the house of Jacob forever.

Yosef was a tzadik who truly loved Miryam. When he learned that she had become pregnant he was devastated but nevertheless refused to shame his bride. He decided to call off the wedding as quietly as possible. This would be difficult where they lived, a town with a population of only 200. In the night an angel spoke to Yosef dispelling his fears. The angel explained that Miryam hadn’t been with anyone. It was the same ability Hashem held to create light from darkness that had now caused the light of Mashiach to flourish within her womb. The messianic seed that had been forming from the earliest generations was now ready to enter the world in the person of Yeshua Meshicheinu. Again the birth of this holy king of Israel would be shrouded in what looked from the outside to be simple adultery.

Like Father Like Son, David and Yeshua a conclusion.

Our Mashiach was believed by many to be a mamzir, an illegitimate child. To this day there are those who teach this. It has been impossible for some to understand the circumstances under which the Mashiach would be born. According to halachah a mamzir is disqualified from the crown of Israel. For this reason the author of sefer Mattai divides the messianic lineage into three sets of fourteen. In Hebrew fourteen is the numerical equivalent of the name David. Those who teach that Yeshua was a mamzir only establish a greater connection between Melech Yeshua and his holy ancestor David.

As a boy David spent his time alone in the fields watching over his father’s flocks. The midrashim tell us that David’s father Yishai kept him in the field because he was not convinced that David was actually his son. David was raised as a mamzir. In this case David’s father believed him to be the son of an adulteress affair. We read in scripture that Hashem sent the prophet Shmuel to the home of Yishai in search of the next king of Israel. The prophet instructed Yishai to bring his sons forward. Yishai brought seven young men to stand before Shmuel. From oldest to the youngest, the old man turned each one away. He spoke to Yishai and insisted there must be another. It must have been at this point when Yishai realized David was truly his son. Shmuel poured oil over David and consecrated him as Melech HaMashiach, the anointed king of Israel. May the day come soon when Yeshua is recognized as the same.


Yahnatan Lasko said...

Great post. Today David W. over at the Reform Shuckle asks a related question about Mashiach ben Gerim.

Alaina Wood said...

Wow great article Tim,
very insightful!

Tim Layne said...

Lain...don't act like you read my must be boring at work, eh?

Tim Layne said...

Thanks for the tip Yahnatan, I left a comment on David W's post.

Damian said...

FRESH...It was way nicer to read this then to hear it come from your annoying voice. LOL! Just joking great post bro.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Shalom, Tim. I enjoyed reading this. You are connecting the dots! You'd enjoy my blog Just Genesis:

Best wishes to you.