According to Jewish tradition, the scandalous origins of the Messiah are described in a shocking story in this week’s Torah portion.
Given the prevalence of Christian anti-Semitism in previous generations, it is not surprising that many classical Jewish texts are antagonistic towards Christianity. There is a notable exception, however, in a passage by one of Judaism’s most influential rabbis, known as Maimonides. In his “Laws of Kings,” the 12th century Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar discusses the role of other religions in the Messianic era:
Nevertheless, the thoughts of the Creator of the world are not within the power of man to reach them, ‘for our ways are not His ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts’ (Isaiah 55:8). And all these matters of Jesus of Nazareth and that of [Mohammed] the Ishmaelite who arose after him are only to straighten the way of the king Moshiach and to fix the entire world, to serve God as one, as it is stated (Zephaniah 3:9), “For then I will turn to the peoples (into) clear speech, to all call in the name of God and serve Him unanimously.
Jews look forward to the arrival of the Messiah (Moshiach) in anticipation of the era in which the whole world recognizes the One True God. The Nation of Israel’s biggest challenge is that as .02% of the world’s population, our voice is hardly heard, our influence limited. With great foresight, Maimonides wrote nearly one thousand years ago that billions of non Jews would “straighten the way of the king Moshiach” by helping to spread the idea of Messianism around the world.
Christians believe that the identity of the Messiah has been revealed, however, as Jews we don’t. We are aware only of his lineage and where he comes from. According to Jewish tradition, the origins of the Messiah are described in a shocking story in this week’s Torah portion.
This Shabbat in synagogue we will read Genesis 19 where Abraham’s nephew Lot and his two daughters narrowly escape the total destruction of the wicked city of Sodom. Left hiding in a cave, Lot’s daughters fear the three are alone in the world, and decide it is their responsibility to repopulate the earth. Each conceives a child and the older daughter disgracefully names her child Moab, which in Hebrew means ‘me av’ – ‘from my father.’
Genesis contains yet another scandal when Tamar, the daughter in law of Judah, disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces the father of her deceased husband in the hopes of bearing a child. Genesis 38 tells us that the offspring of this shocking relationship is Peretz. You could think of no worst lineage than a daughter of Moab marrying a son of Peretz, yet that is exactly what happens. In God’s infinite wisdom, Tamar’s seemingly immodest deed is validated and her intentions prove to be holy when we are told that the child who descends from both Moab and Peretz is none other than King David. Amongst his many accomplishments, King David is known as the progenitor of the Moshiach. From here a vital lesson to all who anticipate the arrival of the Messiah emerges.
As religious people, we firmly believe in the principles of our faith. Yet, as believers, we must also be mindful of the delicate balance between conviction and arrogance. As devout as we are, we must not become too presumptuous to assume we know God’s ways. In the same passage mentioned earlier, Maimonides warns us that, “the thoughts of the Creator of the world are not within the power of man to reach them, ‘for our ways are not His ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts.” On a micro-level, God’s road map for our individual lives do not necessarily coincide with our own well-scripted plans for our future and this is especially true on a macro-level, when it comes to the destiny of all humanity. While I would have assumed that the Moshiach would certainly come from the best family and only have gone to the best schools, clearly God has different ideas.
In a refreshing example of humility and openness, the influential pro-Israel Pastor John Hagee describes in his book In Defense of Israel of his deep relationship with his colleague, Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg:
“The rabbi and I have become more than close friends over the years, more like brothers. I thoroughly enjoy those rare occasions when we have time to sit and talk about the Torah and world affairs. We agree on many, many things, but when it comes to the nature and identity of the Messiah, of course we simply agree to disagree – with the understanding that when we stand in the streets of Jerusalem and see Messiah walking toward us, one of us will have a major theological adjustment to make!”
Hagee’s humility and acknowledgment that God may still surprise him demonstrates an internalization of the Scripture quoted by Maimonides: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
In addition to his prolific writings on Jewish Law, Maimonides canonized what are universally considered to be the pillars of Jewish faith, thirteen ideas that define what a Jew must believe. The twelfth principle states, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. How long it takes, I will await his coming every day.” In our unique era when Jews and Christians are standing together on behalf of Israel, may our common anticipation in the coming of the Moshiach lead to the fulfillment of the words of Maimonides when we together “fix the entire world, to serve God as one.”