Tag Archives: Sacrifices

The Mystery and Mysticism of the Essenes

This Sunday night we celebrate Shavuot, staying up all night learning Torah and showing our devotion to God’s Word. Previously, we traced the origins of this custom to the Kabbalists of Tzfat in the 16th century, based on the teachings of the Zohar that date back to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in the 2nd century CE. However, there is actually one more historical mention for a tikkun leil Shavuot, of sorts, that predates Tzfat, the Zohar, and even Rashbi. The first-century Jewish sage and philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE – 50 CE), describes a ritual where certain Jews would stay up all night on Shavuot:

And after the feast they celebrate the sacred festival during the whole night; and this nocturnal festival is celebrated in the following manner: they all stand up together, and in the middle of the entertainment two choruses are formed at first, the one of men and the other of women, and for each chorus there is a leader and chief selected, who is the most honourable and most excellent of the band. Then they sing hymns which have been composed in honour of God in many metres and tunes, at one time all singing together, and at another moving their hands and dancing in corresponding harmony and, uttering in an inspired manner, songs of thanksgiving…

The ideas were beautiful, the expressions beautiful, and the chorus-singers were beautiful; and the end of ideas, and expressions, and chorus-singers was piety; therefore, being intoxicated all night till the morning with this beautiful intoxication, without feeling their heads heavy or closing their eyes for sleep, but being even more awake than when they came to the feast, as to their eyes and their whole bodies, and standing there till morning, when they saw the sun rising they raised their hands to heaven, imploring tranquillity and truth, and acuteness of understanding. (On the Contemplative Life, XI, 83-89)

Philo calls this sect of Jews the Essenes, or the Therapeutae, the “Healers”. They have become more well-known in recent decades because of their association with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Who were the Essenes? What did they believe? Why did they stay up all night on Shavuot? And how did they come to influence Kabbalah and other mystical movements?

The Holy Ones

Little is known of the ancient Essenes. Most of our knowledge comes from Philo, and a little more light is shed by Josephus (c. 37-100 CE) and Pliny the Elder (c. 23-79 CE). Recall that at the end of the Second Temple era, there were two dominant streams of Judaism: the Perushim (“Pharisees”) and the Tzdukim (“Sadducess”). The former held on to an Oral Tradition while the latter strictly followed the written word of the Torah. The former made up the majority, and were generally supported by the rural masses. The latter were the wealthier, more cosmopolitan minority. Many of the kohanim at the time were Sadducees, and they controlled the Temple.

It is believed that the Essenes were a break-away sect from the Sadducees, though they adopted a number of Pharisee ideas. They were tired of the corruption going on in the Temple, and the hypocrisy of the leaders in the big cities. Many scholars hold that the breaking point was when a certain “Righteous Teacher” (moreh tzedek) was ousted from the role of kohen gadol (most likely during the Hasmonean period) and left Jerusalem to start his own mystical movement in the rural areas. It isn’t clear whether the Essenes already existed before this, or were established by the Righteous Teacher and his disciples at that point.

The Essenes were ascetics, living simply and devoting themselves to God, prayer, and study. In some accounts, they were celibate; others suggest that they did permit marriage, and only the leaders or priests were celibate. They did not drink wine, eat meat, or sacrifice animals. It appears that they held (like the Rambam later would in Moreh Nevuchim) that the sacrifices were only a temporary measure, and never meant to be eternal laws. They did not engage in warfare or commerce. They were so careful with Shabbat that they forbid defecating on that day so as not to have even a bit of impurity. Purification rituals were a big part of their system, and they immersed in a mikveh daily.

Comparison of Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes, from the Jewish Virtual Library.

The origin of the term “Essene” is unclear. It may come from an ancient Greek word denoting holiness (οσιον), or from the Hebrew osei haTorah, or more likely, hitzonim (which would have been pronounced hisonim back then), meaning those on the periphery, or “outsiders”. Philo also calls them Therapeutae, which may imply that they were seen as healers, or that the health of both body and soul was of supreme importance to them. The ancient Greek root of the word can mean, more generally, to “serve” or “minister to”, so it might just mean that they were “servants of God”.

One thing that we do know for sure about the Essenes is that, for them, the most important holiday of the year was Shavuot, “the Jubilee feast”. Philo writes that the Essenes

devoted their whole life and themselves to the knowledge and contemplation of the affairs of nature in accordance with the most sacred admonitions and precepts of the prophet Moses. In the first place, these men assemble at the end of seven weeks, venerating not only the simple week of seven days, but also its multiplied power, for they know it to be pure and eternally virgin; and it is a prelude and a kind of fore-feast of the greatest feast, which is assigned to the number fifty, the most holy and natural of numbers, being compounded of the power of the right-triangle,* which is the principle of the origination of the whole [alternately: the source of the creation of the universe]. (ibid. VIII, 64-65)

The Essenes put special emphasis on the number 50, and called Shavuot the “festival of Jubilees”. The Jubilee, of course, is the special 50th year according to the Torah. We’ve discussed before the ancient Book of Jubilees, which records the entire history of the first 50 Jubilee cycles from Creation. It divides up the entire Torah narrative—up to the Sinai Revelation—into chunks of Jubilees and describes what happened in each of them, both summarizing the Torah and adding many more details like a Midrashic text. The Essenes included the Book of Jubilees in their Tanakh and archaeologists have found at least 15 copies of it among the Dead Sea Scrolls, making it one of the most abundant there.

We know that the Essenes followed a unique calendar which is different from the Jewish calendar we use today. As Philo states above, the Essenes devoted themselves both to the Torah of Moses and to the study of nature and God’s Creation. They believed the calendar must be perfect, cyclical, eternal. They didn’t like the fact that the priests of the Temple and the sages of the Sanhedrin proclaimed new months based on “faulty” human observation, and that this resulted in holidays landing on different days. Instead, they divided up the year into 4 equal seasons of exactly 13 weeks each, or 91 days per season, giving a 364-day year of precisely 52 weeks. They did not take the new moons into account like mainstream Judaism, and strictly followed the Sun. (Though how they intercalated the years to stay in synchrony, since the solar cycle is actually 365.24 days, isn’t clear.) The result was that their holidays always took place on the exact same day each year.

This had the greatest effect on Shavuot. The Torah does not specify a date for Shavuot, instead saying that we should count 50 days mimacharat haShabbat, from the day after the Sabbath following Pesach. The approach of the ancient majority—which carried over to the Mishnah and Talmud, and our own tradition—is that this refers to the day following the first yom tov of Pesach, which is also a “Shabbat”. So, we start counting the Omer the night that follows the first seder (ie. the second seder for those in the diaspora). The Essenes, on the other hand, read Scripture here more literally to mean Shabbat specifically, and so they only started the Omer count after the first Shabbat that followed Pesach. This was always a Sunday, and resulted in Shavuot always being celebrated on the 15th of Sivan.

The 15th of Sivan was, by far, the most important day on the Essene calendar. It highlighted what they believed to be their superior calendar and knowledge of nature. It represented the number 50, a most-holy number for them. In the Book of Jubilees, the 15th of Sivan holds immense importance, for this was the day that Noah made a covenant with God after the Flood (Jubilees 6:19), when Abraham made the Covenant of the Parts, when Isaac was born (16:13), and when Jacob defeated Laban and returned to the Holy Land (29:5). It was also when Yehudah was born (28:15), perhaps to signify that it was as if the Jewish people themselves were born on this day! (It may be worth mentioning that the Essenes believed themselves to be the true followers of Judah. They referred to the “wicked” Sadducees as “Menashe”, and to the Pharisees, with whom they generally got along better, as “Ephraim”.)

In fact, the Book of Jubilees is the earliest known source that actually ties the holiday of Shavuot to the Sinai Revelation. The Torah itself doesn’t say this, only referring to Shavuot as a harvest festival and a pilgrimage. It is in Jubilees where this holiday is first associated (at least in writing) with the divine covenant Israel forged at Sinai.

So, it appears that while the Essene calendar did not make it into the Jewish mainstream, their views on Shavuot absolutely did. It was the Essenes that emphasized Shavuot not as a harvest and pilgrimage festival (since they had divested from the Temple community and swore off sacrificial offerings anyway), but as a time to commemorate God’s covenant and His gifting of the Torah. The Essenes were the first to stay up all night in gratitude for this, and in contemplation of the Divine Word. If we look just a little bit further, we will find that this small group of mystical Jews actually influenced a whole lot more.

The First Hasidim

A little-known medieval Jewish work called Sefer Yosifun (“Josippon”, not to be confused with Josephus, whose works are sourced there) refers to the Essenes as Hasidim. The Talmud, too, speaks of hasidim rishonim, “the first pious ones”. They are first mentioned in Berakhot, where the Mishnah (5:1) tells us that they would “meditate deeply for an hour” before starting their prayers. Later (Bava Kamma 30a), we learn that these hasidim were most concerned about, and most careful with, Nezikin and Berakhot. The former deals with laws of damages, and the latter with prayers and blessings. This is very much in line with what we know of the Essenes, who were careful not to hurt other humans (and not even animals), who abstained from any warfare or fighting, and who spent most of their time in prayer, repentance, purification, and contemplation. Altogether, it is quite possible that when the Sages refer to the “first pious ones”, they are talking about the Essenes.

Later in history, we find that much of Essene practice and belief re-emerged in Kabbalistic circles. This includes meditation, angelology, eschatology, and purification rituals. The emphasis on frequent mikveh immersions can’t be overlooked either. We also find a great deal of mystical literature in the Essene canon among the Dead Sea Scrolls. One of the most prominent is the Book of Enoch, which plays a big role in later Kabbalistic texts, too. The ascetic and communal lifestyle, meditative practices, devotion to Torah, and punctilious observance of mitzvot among the Essenes, the hasidim rishonim, would later become associated with the modern Hasidic movement that began in the 18th century.

Earliest known tefillin, discovered in Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls

And so, the impact of the Essenes on Judaism is much greater than we normally think.** It is worth pointing out that, incredibly, the most ancient set of tefillin ever found is from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some scholars therefore believe it was the Essenes who first came up with the tefillin we are familiar with today. As we’ve seen, they were also the first to have a tikkun leil Shavuot. Therefore, while the Essene sect may have disappeared following the Great Revolt and the Roman destruction, a good portion of their beliefs and practices survive to the present, and continue to enrich Judaism today.

Chag Sameach!


Tetractys

*What is meant by the “compounding” of the sevens in the secret of the “right-triangle”? What does this have to do with Creation? I spent quite a while contemplating what this might mean. The best I could come up with: for a right triangle, if each side has a length of 7, then based on the Pythagorean Theorem (which the Essenes surely would have been familiar with), the hypotenuse (the long side of the triangle) would come out to roughly 10. So, “compounding”, or putting together, two sevens in a triangle produces ten. Ten is another holy number, representing the Ten Utterances of Creation and the Ten Commandments. This might explain why they associated the double-seven right triangle with Creation. (Relatedly, the ancient Greek Pythagoreans held the tetractys—a triangle made of ten points—to be a sacred symbol.) For the Essenes, the compounding of the two sevens would have further meaning because multiplying two sevens gives us forty-nine, the intervening days between Pesach and Shavuot which are counted, and the intervening years in the divine Jubilee cycle. Moreover, the triangle is the strongest geometric shape, so it does hold a certain real power. There may very well be some connection here to the mysteries of the Star of David (explored here).

Calculation for a right-triangle with equal sides measuring 7.

**Even more than Judaism, the Essenes appear to have had an even greater impact on Christianity. There are scholars who hold that the Essene sect inspired Christianity directly. There are certainly a number of parallels between the two, including the celibacy of priests, the notion of being “healers”, and the importance of immersion, or “baptism”. John the Baptist himself is thought to have been an Essene at some point. Some scholars have noted that the persona of Jesus very closely resembles that of the Righteous Teacher of the Essenes. The Righteous Teacher seems to have been killed by the authorities for apostasy, and the Essenes awaited his return to usher in the Messianic Age. It is possible, quite ironically, that Jesus sought to present himself as the “second coming” of their long-awaited “Righteous Teacher”!

Unicorns in the Torah

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday, and her favourite thing in the world is unicorns. Perhaps this is because the unicorn makes a hidden appearance in her parasha, this week’s parasha, Vayak’hel-Pekudei. In summarizing the construction of the Mishkan, the Torah notes that it was made with the skins of the tachash (Exodus 35:7). The tachash is a mysterious animal whose true identity is entirely unknown. The Talmud (Shabbat 28b) states that it was a unique mammal species, wild and undomesticated, with a singular horn on its head. It came specifically in the time of Moses to be used for the Mishkan, and has since disappeared. The Talmud goes on to suggest that it was probably the same animal that was brought by Adam as a sacrifice in the Garden of Eden. This ties to another passage in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 8a) that explains how Adam brought a thanksgiving offering to God, of a unique animal with a single horn, as it states in Psalms 69:32 that “it shall please God better than an ox with horn and hooves.” Elsewhere (Chullin 60a), the Talmud adds that this special animal emerged fully formed, horn-first, from the Earth. The Sages hold that having horn and hooves means it was probably kosher! Continue reading

Do the Deaths of the Righteous Atone for the Sins of Others?

‘Nadav and Avihu consumed by fire’ by M de Brunhoff (1904)

In this week’s parasha, Shemini, we read of the sudden death of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron. The Torah states that they brought an incense offering that God “had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1) and as a result were consumed in a blaze of fire. The simple meaning here is that they had performed a priestly service that they were not supposed to, or were not worthy of performing, and this is why they were consumed. Rashi brings a number of other opinions as to why they perished: One is that they brazenly “rendered halachic decisions before Moses”. Another is that they had brought the offering while intoxicated, which is why just several verses later the Torah prohibits priests from being inebriated while serving in the Temple (Leviticus 10:9).

The Arizal, in Sha’ar HaGilgulim, brings a number of explanations, too. One is from an older Midrash that Nadav and Avihu refused to get married, believing that no women were worthy to marry them. Based on this, the Arizal states that Nadav reincarnated in Samson (ch. 36). Samson, too, didn’t marry any Jewish girls, and instead married Philistine women that brought him nothing but trouble. This may have been his punishment for refusing to marry a good Jewish girl in a past life. The Arizal adds that because Nadav had served while drunk, Samson was born a nazir, and was forbidden from consuming even a drop of alcohol his entire life. The proof that Samson was a reincarnation of Nadav comes from Scripture, where in one instance (I Samuel 12:11) Samson is actually referred to as “Badan” (בדן). This name is the reverse of Nadav (נדב), hinting to their spiritual connection.

Having said all that, the Arizal gives another reason for the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, and in this case not because they were sinful. Instead, he explains that Nadav and Avihu correspond to the sefirot of Netzach and Hod, emerging from the highest level of Adam’s soul (ch. 33). They died to atone for the sins of the nation, and to remove the zuhama, the spiritual impurity that the Serpent (Nachash) in Eden injected into the world. (For a deeper analysis of exactly which sin Nadav and Avihu died for and why, see ‘The Holy Souls of Nadav and Avihu’ in Garments of Light.) This idea predates the Arizal, and is found in the Zohar (III, 56b), which compares Nadav and Avihu to the two goats sacrificed on Yom Kippur. The Zohar states that the two brothers were equal in greatness to the entire Sanhedrin of seventy elders, and their deaths atoned for the sins of Israel.

‘Joshua Burns the Town of Ai’ by Gustave Doré (1866)

The Zohar’s description brings to mind a similar one from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 44a), where the Sages discuss the deaths of 36 Israelites in the Battle of Ai (Joshua 7-8). Recall that Joshua led the Israelites into battle to conquer the Holy Land. The first battle, for the city of Jericho, was a flawless victory, with not a single Israelite casualty. The second battle, however, was initially a defeat, with 36 Israelites losing their lives. While this is certainly a small number in military terms, the fact that there was any casualty at all was a shock for the nation. The Sages state that, in reality, it wasn’t even 36 soldiers, for “surely it was said, ‘about thirty six men’ [Joshua 7:5] which refers to Yair, the son of Menashe, who was equal to the greater part of the Sanhedrin.”

The Sages state that actually just one person was killed in the Battle of Ai, and he was equal to 36 of the 70 wise and righteous elders of the Sanhedrin. They extract this from the words of the Tanakh itself, which states k’shloshim v’shisha ish, literally translated as “like 36 man”. In other words, the casualty of the Battle of Ai was one man likened to 36. The Sages use the same expression elsewhere, in describing Avishai, the nephew of King David (Berakhot 62b):

…“Satan stood up against Israel and stirred up David to number Israel.” [I Chronicles 21:1] And when he did number them, he took no ransom from them and it is written, “So God sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed.” [I Chronicles 21:14]

… And He said to the Angel that destroyed the people: “It is enough” [I Chronicles 21:16] Rabbi Elazar explained: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to the Angel: ‘Take a great man among them, through whose death many sins can be expiated for them.’ At that time died Avishai son of Zeruiah, who was equal in worth to the greater part of the Sanhedrin.”

The Torah forbids taking a census of the Jewish people. The only way it is permitted to count Jews is if each person gives some kind of “ransom”, such as a half-shekel coin, and the coins are counted, not the people. In an infamous episode from the Tanakh, Satan enticed David to sin by taking a census without collecting any ransom. As a result, a plague struck the nation, taking the lives of 70,000 people, shiv’im elef ish [I Chronicles 21:14].

Following this, God told the Angel of Destruction to stop by saying rav, “it is enough”. The Sages interpret rav to mean “rabbi”—that God actually told the angel to take the life of one righteous rabbi instead. Again, the Tanakh uses the word ish, as if a single person was killed; one man equal to 70,000. This is a beautiful teaching of the Sages, and transforms what one might read as God’s strict, merciless judgement, into God’s kindness and mercy. Although 70,000 may have deserved to die, God took the life of one righteous man instead to spare all the others.

The fact that such people—Yair, Avishai, Nadav, Avihu—are always compared to a greater part of the Sanhedrin, meaning 36 people, is not a coincidence. As we’ve written before with regards to Chanukah (when we light a total of 36 candles), the number 36 is of huge significance in Judaism.

Greater Than Thirty-Six Tzadikim

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b) states:

Abaye said: “The world must contain no less than thirty-six righteous men in each generation who are worthy to receive the Shekhinah, for it is written: ‘Blessed are all they that wait for him’ [Isaiah 30:18]; the numerical value of ‘for him’ [lo, לו] is thirty-six.”

But that is not so, for did not Rava say: “The row [of righteous men] before the Holy One, blessed be He, consists of eighteen thousand, for it is written, ‘It shall be eighteen thousand round about?’” [Ezekiel 48:35] That is no difficulty: the former number [thirty-six] refers to those who see Him through a bright speculum, the latter [eighteen thousand] to those who contemplate Him through a dim one.

In every generation, there must be 36 perfectly righteous people in the world. There are an additional 18,000 very righteous people in each generation. The former can behold the Shekhinah—God’s Divine Presence—clearly, while the latter only dimly. The idea of the 36 righteous people, lamed-vav tzadikim, plays an important role in Judaism, especially in Kabbalistic and Hasidic texts.

The number 36 corresponds to the 36 hours that the Divine Light shone uninterrupted at the start of Creation. It is through this Divine Light that the Tzadikim are able to behold the Shekhinah. And just as this Hidden Light continues to uphold all of Creation, so too are the 36 Tzadikim said to uphold the world, as it is written: “The tzaddik is the foundation of the world” (Proverbs 10:25).

Meanwhile, we know that the Torah, too, is the foundation of the world (see, for example, Avot 1:2). Indeed, we find that there are exactly 36 individual texts in the Tanakh: the Five Books of Moses, nineteen books of Prophets, and 12 Holy Writings. (The 36 texts are usually combined into “24 Books of the Tanakh” for the sake of convenience. So, for example, the “Twelve Minor Prophets” are combined into one book, Trei Asar.) Each of the 36 Tzadikim corresponds to one “hour” of Divine Light, and to one of the Holy Scriptures. As such, they are the 36 pillars of the world. (It just so happens that there are also 36 sins for which the Torah prescribes the death penalty, though we shall leave that discussion for another time.)

From the words of our Sages, we can extract that in addition to these 36, there is one more, even greater individual who is equal to all 36 of them, to the “greater part of the Sanhedrin”. Between the two of them, Nadav and Avihu were greater than the Sanhedrin of seventy elders in their own day, as were Yair and Avishai. And it is such people that, ever so rarely, God chooses to take away to atone for the sins of many others.

The spiritual math is simple: if you have a thousand people, each with a “kilogram” of sin, and one person with 1000 “kilograms” of merit, the merit of the one can be “taken back” in order to neutralize the sins of a thousand. In this way, a great many lives can be spared. The idea makes sense in principle, and a person who is truly the most righteous of his generation would undoubtedly have no problem giving up his or her own life to save a multitude of others.

And yet, the idea is sometimes hard for modern Jews to digest because it has been hijacked, abused, and taken to an illogical extreme by Christians.

The Death of the Messiah

All of Christianity rests on the idea that Jesus, the supposed messiah, died for the sins of the world. We have already addressed the issues with Christianity on several occasions (see here, here, and here) so there is no need to do that again. What needs to be understood is where the idea comes from, and what it originally meant. The Talmud (Sukkah 52a) records the following:

What is the cause of the mourning [at the End of Days, as described in Zechariah 12:12]? Rabbi Dosa and the other Rabbis differ on the point. One explained: “The cause is the slaying of Mashiach ben Yosef” and the other explained: “The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.” It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Mashiach ben Yosef, since that agrees with the Scriptural verse, “And they shall look upon Me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son” [Zechariah 12:10]. But according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?

Rav Yehudah explained: “In the time to come, the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the Evil Inclination and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill, and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a hair thread. Both the former and the latter will weep; the righteous will weep saying, ‘How were we able to overcome such a towering hill!’ The wicked also will weep saying, ‘How is it that we were unable to conquer this hair thread!’ And the Holy One, blessed be He, will also marvel together with them, as it is said, ‘Thus says the Lord of Hosts: If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it shall also be marvellous in My eyes.’” [Zechariah 8:6]

First, we must remember that according to tradition there are two messiahs (or possibly one messiah in two phases): Mashiach ben Yosef, and then Mashiach ben David. The former dies amidst the great battles of the End of Days. For this, the people at that time will mourn. Zechariah describes a great mourning like no other, with all the families of Israel in tears. This is enough to debunk Jesus’ identification with Mashiach ben Yosef: Jesus did not die in battle, and was not mourned by all of Israel (quite the contrary). The fact that Jesus’ “father” was named Joseph means nothing, for Jesus supposedly did not have an earthly father anyway.

Now, the more important event that will happen at that same time, with the death of Mashiach ben Yosef, is the destruction of the Evil Inclination. This is, after all, the very purpose of having an “End of Days” to begin with: to destroy evil for good and usher in a perfect world. When Evil will be crushed, the people will weep. As our Sages explain, those who overcame evil and did good will weep because they will be amazed at how they were able to conquer the great temptations, while those who were evil will weep because they will realize how weak they were in falling to mere temptation. Again, Jesus’ death did not end Evil on Earth. On the contrary, one might argue that even more horrible evils were done since then, many of which were done, ironically, in the name of Jesus!

Finally, the Talmud goes on to say what will happen to Mashiach ben Yosef next:

Our Rabbis taught: The Holy One, blessed be He, will say to Mashiach ben David (may he reveal himself speedily in our days!), “Ask of me anything, and I will give it to you,” as it is said, “I will tell of the decree… this day have I begotten you, ask of me and I will give the nations for your inheritance.” [Psalms 2:7-8] But when he will see that Mashiach ben Yosef is slain, he will say to Him: “Master of the Universe, I ask of You only the gift of life.” He would answer him: “As to life, your father David has already prophesied this concerning you, as it is said, ‘He asked life from You, You gave it to him…’” [Psalms 21:5]

After his death, Mashiach ben David requests of God to bring Mashiach ben Yosef back to life. It is important to remember that this is followed by a Resurrection of the Dead of all righteous souls, not just the messiah’s. From the wording of the Talmud, we might conclude that there is indeed just one messiah: Mashiach ben Yosef dies and is resurrected as Mashiach ben David. (We can extract this from the fact that ben David seems to be asking for life for himself, and God replies that it had already been granted to you.)

In the case of Jesus, he was apparently resurrected, but then supposedly ascended to Heaven, and hasn’t been heard from in two millennia. This is not how prophecy describes the coming of Mashiach. He is supposed to come once, at the End of Days, and needs no “second coming”. He comes once, and then reigns on Earth as king of Israel. Nowhere does it state that he will come and disappear for any long duration of time. He comes once, fights great battles that engulf the whole world (as described in detail by Ezekiel and Zechariah, among other prophets), dies for the sins of Israel specifically, and to destroy Evil once and for all (similar to the way the Arizal describes the deaths of Nadav and Avihu served to remove the zuhama), is mourned by all of Israel, and is then resurrected, finishes the great wars, brings peace to the world, reigns as king of Israel, regathers the Jews to the Holy Land, rebuilds the Temple, facilitates a Resurrection of the Dead, and completes his task once a perfect world is re-established.

There is no more need for him after that. He is not a god, and is never described as such. He is not supposed to be prayed to, or worshipped. He is a man. And although Scripture describes him as a child of God (as in the Psalm above), it clearly describes all of Israel as children of God (as in Deuteronomy 14:1, for example).

To summarize, the concept of unique righteous people dying to atone for the sins of others is an ancient Jewish one, and a valid one. Christians adopted it, to an extreme (ie. not to a specific generation of Jews, but for all mankind for all time), to describe Jesus. This is not surprising, for as we’ve written before, the character of Jesus was carefully constructed from Jewish texts, both Scriptural and extra-Scriptural. This is how some Jews unfortunately succumb to Christian missionaries who bring “proof” from Jewish texts. These prove nothing but the eventual coming of the true messiah—may we merit to see him soon.