Tag Archives: Isaiah

Hamas in the Torah

In this week’s parasha, Noach, we read about the Great Flood that “reset” the world millennia ago. The reason for the Flood is given in one terse sentence right at the beginning of the parasha: “The Earth became corrupt before God; the Earth was filled with hamas.” (Genesis 6:11) Two verses later, we are again told: “God said to Noah: ‘I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the Earth is filled with hamas because of them, so I will destroy them with the Earth.’” The mysterious word hamas appears just a few more times in the Torah. It is typically translated as “violence” or “lawlessness”. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) comments here that hamas is gezel, “theft” or “robbery”. Chizkuni (Rabbi Hezekiah ben Manoach, c. 1250-1310) explains that hamas is a particular type of theft or robbery accomplished through subterfuge and manipulation. He brings verses from other places in Tanakh that use this term to show that it can also mean sexual sin, idolatry, and the shedding of innocent blood. The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, 1089-1167) adds that hamas refers to the abduction of women against their will. As we’ve horrifically witnessed in recent days, all of these are accurate descriptions of the group that calls itself Hamas, an organization that is violent and manipulative, a band of thieves who abduct, rape, and pillage, shed the blood of innocents—and do it all supposedly in the name of Allah, a most-appalling act of idolatry.

Countries that designate Hamas as a terrorist organization.

This is certainly not a coincidence. It appears that long ago the Torah encoded and predicted the rise of yet another Hamas that would wreak destruction upon the world. In fact, every instance of hamas in Tanakh seems connected to the terror group Hamas. The third case after the two above is when Sarah vented to Abraham her frustration with the pregnant Hagar, saying hamasi aleikhah (Genesis 16:5). Of course, Hagar would go on to give birth to Ishmael, forefather of the Arabs and spiritual father of Muslims. This makes a clear link between hamas and Ishmael, so that we would know exactly who they are!

The next instance of hamas in the Torah is connected to Simon and Levi’s surprise-attack upon the people of Shechem. On his deathbed, their father Jacob reproved them for the massacre, and said they should not have taken up klei hamas against their neighbours (Genesis 49:5). The next two cases both invoke ‘adei hamas, lying and conspiring false witnesses (Exodus 23:1 and Deuteronomy 19:16). Lying eye-witnesses and staged “Pallywood” videos are a classic tool in the Hamas book of tricks. This was most apparent in the recent errant rocket that landed short in the parking lot of a Gaza hospital. A minor event with minimal damage was creatively transformed into a “major attack” by Israel upon a hospital that supposedly killed hundreds. The whole thing was an elaborate lie, but the media ate it up and demonized Israel instantly without bothering to check the facts.

King David presciently foresaw the lying media in Psalm 58, which he began by saying that those who are looked upon to speak truth and justice instead have “wrongdoing in their hearts”. They have blood on their hands, too, for they collude with those ba’aretz hamas (58:3). In Psalm 11 he reminds us that “God seeks out the righteous man, but loathes the wicked one who loves hamas.” They will get their comeuppance, and “He will rain down upon the wicked blazing coals and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be their lot. For God is righteous and He loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold His face.”

Meanwhile, Ezekiel spoke at length about the final war at the End of Days (Ch. 38-39), then described the Third Temple and the outlines of a rebuilt Jewish kingdom. He quotes God as chastising the failed leaders of Israel: “Thus said the Lord God: Enough, leaders of Israel! Make an end of hamas and crime, and do what is right and just! Put a stop to your evictions of My people—declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 45:19) We shouldn’t forget that it was the State of Israel’s failed leadership that unilaterally handed over Gaza to the Palestinians back in 2005 and created this mess, while forcefully evicting Jews who had lived there peacefully. And we shouldn’t forget that Israel’s leadership once quietly supported Hamas in the 1980s, hoping to use them as a wedge against Fatah. (This was the same mistake made by the United States in supporting the Mujahideen against the USSR, only to have the same terrorists turn around and attack America some years later.) And where was Israel’s leadership last week? We are all still confounded as to how such a massacre was even possible. Ezekiel tells us that God will hold Israel’s leaders to account. And he makes it clear that the leaders of Israel must “do what is right and just” and finally end hamas v’shod for good.

That second term shod (שד) is typically translated as “crime” or “rapine”. However, the same word with the same spelling is shed, a demonic force. When we look at the recent crimes of Hamas—which they proudly displayed for the whole world—there is no doubt that the demonic was involved. No human being could commit such crimes without assistance and inspiration from the Sitra Achra, the “Other Side”, the realm of evil. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that our Sages centuries ago described that there are those within the House of Ishmael that are likened to “demons of the outhouse” (Kiddushin 72a). Interestingly, the numerical value of hamas (חמס) is 108, equal to Gehinnom (גיהנם). In Reishit Chokhmah, we learn that there are three origins or “gates” to Gehinnom: in the sea (ים), in the wilderness (מדבר), and in a settlement (ישוב). One can immediately see a connection to Hamas’ recent three-pronged attack, with an invasion by sea landing at the Zikim Beach, an attack on a nature party in the wilderness, and into Sderot and surrounding settlements. This was a massacre straight out of Hell.

It is worth concluding with a Mishnah in Eduyot (2:10) which suggests that five things last exactly one year or twelve months: the Flood, the suffering of Job, the plagues in Egypt, the forthcoming war of Gog u’Magog, and the judgement of the wicked in Gehinnom. This ties everything together: we began with the Flood, where the notion of hamas is first introduced; and our suffering today is much like the suffering of Job, who tragically lost all of his children, his home, his wealth and health, and even his faith. The Prophets compare the events at the End of Days to those in ancient Egypt (and say that Pesach seders in the future will recount not just the Exodus but also the salvation at the End of Days). And we hope to be in the final Gog u’Magog war now, when all evil and all the forces of Gehinnom will be defeated for good. This was foreseen by Isaiah, who declared that “No more shall hamas be heard in your land, nor shod or ruin within your borders” (Isaiah 60:18).

Let us pray that we see this day very soon.

The War in Israel and How to Help

Perspectives on the sensless catastrophe in Israel – and how these horrific events may tie into ancient Biblical, Talmudic, and Midrashic prophecies – followed by three simple but powerful ways to spiritually assist our brothers and sisters in Israel.

Ushpizin & Anti-Ushpizin

Over the course of Sukkot, we are graced with the spiritual presence of the “Seven Shepherds of Israel”: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. These Heavenly guests are commonly known as the ushpizin. Interestingly, the root ushpiz or oshpiz, “guest”, actually comes from the Latin hospis, as in the English “hospitality”! What is the origin of the notion of Seven Shepherds? Where did the practice of inviting the ushpizin come from? And who are the mysterious “anti-ushpizin” that oppose the Seven Shepherds?

Origins of Ushpizin

‘Micah Extorting the Israelites to Repentance’, by Gustave Doré

The idea of Seven Shepherds of Israel comes from the Tanakh, from the prophet Micah. The fifth chapter of his book begins by telling us that an ancient soul of Judah, mikedem mimei olam, will emerge out of Bethlehem of Efrat to be moshel b’Israel, a ruler of Israel. The next verse tells us it will come at a time of great desperation for Israel, following a series of “birth pangs”. This leader will be righteous, and serve in the name of God. We might think this is referring to Mashiach, but the chapter continues to warn that Assyria will invade and drive Israel into exile. It’s quite clear that Micah is speaking about the near future, and the Judean leader he envisions is the righteous Hezekiah, who drove away the Assyrian invasion and miraculously saved Jerusalem. Indeed, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b) records an opinion that all of the Messianic prophecies of the Tanakh were referring to Hezekiah!

Nonetheless, this chapter of Micah is seen as a “double-level” (or “dual-fulfilment”) prophecy, one that spoke of the near future in Micah’s own days, and also cryptically referred to a future time at the End of Days. This is how Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai read it, for instance, and saw “Assyria” here as secretly referring to Persia at the End of Days, who will invade Israel in the final apocalyptic war (Eichah Rabbah 1:41). Whatever the case, Micah 5:4 says that God will raise up “seven shepherds and eight princes of men” against the invaders. Again, the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 14:1) wonders if this means there will be seven or eight messianic figures in the End of Days, and concludes that there will actually be four:

There is a great debate with regards to how many messiahs there will be. Some say there will be seven, as it is said “then shall we raise against him seven shepherds…” (Micah 5:4) And some say there will be eight, as it is said, “and eight princes of men.” And it is neither of these, but actually four, as it is said, “And the Lord showed me four craftsmen…” (Zechariah 2:3)

And David came to explain who these four craftsmen are [Psalms 60:9 and 108:9, where God declares: “Gilead is mine, Menashe is mine; Ephraim also is the defence of my head; Judah is my sceptre”]: “Gilead is mine” refers to Elijah, who is from the land of Gilead; “Menashe is mine” refers to the messiah who comes from the tribe of Menashe… “Ephraim is the defence of my head” refers to the Warrior Messiah who comes from Ephraim… “Judah is my sceptre” refers to the Great Redeemer, who is a descendant of David.

That said, the seven shepherds must refer to other figures. The Talmud (Sukkah 52b) explains: “Who are these seven shepherds? David is in the middle; Adam, Seth, and Methuselah are to his right; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses are to his left. And who are the eight princes among men? They are Yishai, Saul, Samuel, Amos, Zephaniah, Zedekiah, Mashiach, and Elijah.” The Sages seem to suggest that alongside Mashiach and Eliyahu, the souls of thirteen other great figures of the past come back to help them. Glaringly missing from the list of seven shepherds is Isaac. Why is he the only one of the Forefathers not included? Any why include Seth? Are there not greater figures of that era, like Noah and Enoch?

Some would explain Isaac’s omission from the shepherds by pointing out that, well, Isaac wasn’t really a shepherd! The Torah describes him digging wells and irrigating farms, his blessed crop producing me’ah she’arim, hundred-fold yields. A deeper explanation is given by the Arizal, who says that Itzhak (יצחק) is an anagram of ketz chai (קץ חי), “lives at the End”, as he will come back at the End of Days in the form of Mashiach ben Yosef, the “Warrior Messiah” mentioned above. The name Itzhak itself is in the future tense, meaning “he will laugh”—in the future when he is victorious in battle. The Arizal even proves it mathematically, as the value of Itzhak (יצחק) is 208, equal to Ben Yosef (בן יוסף)! (See Sha’ar haPesukim on Lech Lecha, for instance, and also the Ba’al haTurim on Deuteronomy 7:21.)

Noah was not a shepherd either, but a farmer. Enoch was a scribe and scholar, and transformed into an angel. That leaves Adam, Seth, and the longest-living Methuselah to represent the pre-Flood generations. Aaron was not a shepherd in Egypt, and served as high priest after the Exodus. Joseph was a shepherd-in-training in his teens, but did not return to that profession in Egypt. Instead, he oversaw all of Egypt’s farming operations and granaries. That leaves us with David, Abraham, Jacob, and Moses.

The lower 7 Sefirot correspond to the 7 Shepherds of Israel

The Zohar (III, 103b) comes in and tells us that holy figures of the past visit us on Sukkot, and this is the source for ushpizin. However, the Zohar only states “Abraham and five other tzadikim”. It doesn’t say who the five are directly, but does quote David, Isaac, and Jacob speaking. The whole passage itself comes from the mouth of Ra’aya Mehemna, the “Faithful Shepherd”, who is Moses. Right before this, Aaron is mentioned in passing, for it was in his merit that the Clouds of Glory—which the sukkah is likened to—appeared in the Wilderness. The only one missing is Joseph. However, the Zohar always parallels such things to the Sefirot, and the six righteous figures are meant to correspond to the six Sefirot of Zeir Anpin, from Chessed to Yesod. The figure that always stands in for Yesod is Yosef haTzadik. David, meanwhile, is always paralleled to the seventh Sefirah of Malkhut. In this way, we find our Seven Shepherds, as we know them, in the Zohar.

The Anti-Ushpizin

Elsewhere, the Zohar (Sitrei Otiyot on Beresheet) says that the world endures in the merit of these Seven Shepherds of Israel. Opposing them are seven shepherds that stem from the “Left Side” or “Other Side”, the Sitra Achra. They seek to shepherd Israel away from God and towards idolatry. This is the meaning behind Jeremiah 15:9 which reads “She who bore seven is forlorn, utterly disconsolate; her sun has set while it is still day, she is shamed and humiliated. The remnant of them I will deliver to the sword, to the power of their enemies—declares God.” The Zohar lists the “anti-ushpizin”: Jeroboam, Ba’asha, Ahab, Yehu, Pekah, Menachem ben Gaddi, and Hoshea ben Elah. Who are these people?

Recall that Yerovam ben Nevat, “Jeroboam”, was the first king of the northern Kingdom of Israel after the split following King Solomon’s reign. Afraid to lose his throne and grip on power, he set up roadblocks so that his Israelites wouldn’t go to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals. Instead, he built two idolatrous temples with golden calves. For this, the Sages say he has no share in the World to Come (Sanhedrin 10:2).

Ba’asha ben Achiya was the third king of Israel. He spent his reign at war with the Kingdom of Judah, and even allied with Aram at one point. He continued the wicked ways of Jeroboam, so God declared he would obliterate Ba’asha just as he did Jeroboam (I Kings 16:3). King Ahab is well-known, being the husband of the wicked idolatrous Queen Jezebel, and the tormenter of Eliyahu. His dynasty was destroyed by Yehu ben Nimshi, originally a military general. Yehu was used as an instrument by God to carry out Ahab’s punishment. However, Yehu went a step too far and bloodily massacred countless people in the Valley of Jezreel. Although God initially rewarded him with a multi-generational dynasty, He did declare that He would eliminate Yehu’s dynasty for the cruelty at Jezreel (Hosea 1:4). Amazingly, we have archaeological evidence clearly confirming Yehu and his story, from the Assyrian Black Obelisk.

King Yehu of Israel giving tribute to King Shalmaneser III of Assyria, on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III from Nimrud (circa 827 BC), currently in the British Museum.

Menachem ben Gaddi was another such general-turned-king. We know little about him. So was Pekah ben Remalyahu. He allied with King Rezin of Aram to attack Jerusalem. The Judeans were terrified, and it was in the context of this that Isaiah relayed his famous prophecy about the miraculous birth of a saviour child (Isaiah 7). Although it is abundantly clear that the passage is speaking about Hezekiah—who did go on to save Judea and Jerusalem as a young, righteous ruler—Christians infamously interpreted the prophecy to refer to the birth of Jesus (reading the word almah, a “young lady”, as “virgin”). Their argument that this, too, is a “double-level” or “dual-fulfilment” prophecy speaking about both contemporary times and future times cannot be the case. A double-level prophecy must not give a specific time, in order to allow interpretation for the present and the future. This prophecy clearly states the events are supposed to happen “in 65 years” (Isaiah 7:9). A specific time is given, leaving no ambiguity. The Tanakh continues to relay how the prophecy was fulfilled.

Pekah was assassinated by Hoshea ben Elah. The Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser III then appointed Hoshea as the new (and final) king of Israel. An Assyrian inscription confirms this, too, stating that the Israelites rebelled and “overthrew their king Pekah and I placed Hoshea as king over them. I received from them 10 talents of gold, 1,000 talents of silver as their [tri]bute and brought them to Assyria.” Hoshea didn’t last long. One of Tiglath-Pileser’s successors soon destroyed the northern Kingdom of Israel and exiled the tribes.

The souls of these seven idolatrous kings stand in opposition to the souls of the holy Seven Shepherds. We find that the Seven Shepherds of Israel were all about unity, bringing people together to serve God and inspire righteousness. The anti-shepherds, meanwhile, were power-hungry and vindictive, instigators of division and civil war, propagators of idolatry, and collaborators with Israel’s enemies. On Sukkot, we welcome in the spirit of the righteous ones as we bring people together in our huts. And we hope to expel the spirit of idolatry and divisiveness, of the wickedness stemming from “the Left Side”. This is all the more important to keep in mind and meditate on as we see what is happening all around us today in the Holy Land and the world at large.

Chag sameach!


More Sukkot learning resources:

Medicinal Properties of Arba Minim
Russia, Iran, and Gog u’Magog
What is Happiness?