Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Vayechi: Can mashiach return from the dead?

A midrash on this week's parsha, Vayechi, addresses the issue of - if you think someone is mashiach, and then he dies, should you still consider him the mashiach.

The midrash understands Bereishit 49:16-18 as referring to Shimshon, a shofet (~judge) from the tribe of Dan.
טז דָּן, יָדִין עַמּוֹ--כְּאַחַד, שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 16 Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel.
יז יְהִי-דָן נָחָשׁ עֲלֵי-דֶרֶךְ, שְׁפִיפֹן עֲלֵי-אֹרַח--הַנֹּשֵׁךְ, עִקְּבֵי-סוּס, וַיִּפֹּל רֹכְבוֹ, אָחוֹר. 17 Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a horned snake in the path, that biteth the horse's heels, so that his rider falleth backward.
יח לִישׁוּעָתְךָ, קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה. {ס 18 I wait for Thy salvation, O LORD. {S}
Besides the obvious that he is a descendant of Dan who ruled his people as a shoftet, the midrash explains the comparison to a snake.

midrash rabba 98:14
יְהִי-דָן נָחָשׁ עֲלֵי-דֶרֶךְ
מה נחש זה מצוי בין הנשים כך שמשון בן מנוח מצוי בין הנשים
מה הנחש נאסר בשבועה כך שמשון בן מנוח נאסר בשבועה
(שופטים טו) וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, שִׁמְשׁוֹן, הִשָּׁבְעוּ לִי
מה נחש זה כל כחו אינו אלא בראשו כך שמשון (שם טז) אִם-גֻּלַּחְתִּי וְסָר מִמֶּנִּי כֹחִי
מה הנחש הזה ריסו מחלחל לאחר המיתה כך (שם) וַיִּהְיוּ הַמֵּתִים, אֲשֶׁר הֵמִית בְּמוֹתוֹ [רַבִּים, מֵאֲשֶׁר הֵמִית בְּחַיָּיו]
הַנֹּשֵׁךְ, עִקְּבֵי-סוּס
(שם) וַיֹּאמְרוּ, קִרְאוּ לְשִׁמְשׁוֹן וִישַׂחֶק-לָנוּ
אמר ר' לוי כתיב (שם) וְעַל-הַגָּג, כִּשְׁלֹשֶׁת אֲלָפִים
אלו מה שהיו על שפת הגג
אבל מה שהיו לאחוריהם ולאחורי אחוריהם אין בריה יודעת
ואת אמרת (שם) וַיֵּרְדוּ אֶחָיו וְכָל-בֵּית אָבִיהוּ, וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֹתוֹ, וַיַּעֲלוּ וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אוֹתוֹ ... בְּקֶבֶר מָנוֹחַ אָבִיו
...
וַיִּפֹּל רֹכְבוֹ, אָחוֹר
יחזרו דברים לאחוריהם
לפי שהיה יעקב אבינו רואה אותו וסבור בו שהוא מלך המשיח
כיון שראה אותו שמת אמר אף זה מת
לִישׁוּעָתְךָ, קִוִּיתִי ה'
אמר רבי יצחק הכל בקווי יסורין בקווי קדושת השם בקווי זכות אבות בקווי תאותו של עוה"ב בקווי
יסורין הה"ד (ישעיהו כו) אַף אֹרַח מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ ה'
קִוִּינוּךָ אלו יסורין
לְשִׁמְךָ זו קדושת השם
וּלְזִכְרְךָ זו זכות אבות
תַּאֲוַת-נָפֶשׁ זו תאותו של עוה"ב
חנינה בקווי (שם לג) ה' חָנֵּנוּ, לְךָ קִוִּינוּ
סליחה בקווי (תהלים קל) כִּי-עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה
מה כתיב בתריה קִוִּיתִי ה'
לפי שהיה יעקב אבינו רואה אותו וסובר בו שגאולה מגעת בימיו
כיון שראה שמת מיד אמר לישועתך קויתי ה
"Dan shall be a serpent in the way"
Just as a serpent is found among the women so was Shimshon son of Manoach found among the women.
Just as the serpent is bound with an oath so was Shimshon the son of Manoach bound with an oath -
(Shoftim 15:12)
יב וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ לֶאֱסָרְךָ יָרַדְנוּ, לְתִתְּךָ בְּיַד-פְּלִשְׁתִּים; וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם, שִׁמְשׁוֹן, הִשָּׁבְעוּ לִי, פֶּן-תִּפְגְּעוּן בִּי אַתֶּם. 12 And they said unto him: 'We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines.' And Samson said unto them: 'Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.'
Just as the serpent all its power is at his head {J: fangs} so too Shimshon: (Shoftim 16:17)
יז וַיַּגֶּד-לָהּ אֶת-כָּל-לִבּוֹ, וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ מוֹרָה לֹא-עָלָה עַל-רֹאשִׁי--כִּי-נְזִיר אֱלֹהִים אֲנִי, מִבֶּטֶן אִמִּי; אִם-גֻּלַּחְתִּי וְסָר מִמֶּנִּי כֹחִי, וְחָלִיתִי וְהָיִיתִי כְּכָל-הָאָדָם. 17 And he told her all his heart, and said unto her: 'There hath not come a razor upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite unto God from my mother's womb; if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.'
Just as the serpent, his poison does damage after his death, so too (Shoftim 16:30)

כט וַיִּלְפֹּת שִׁמְשׁוֹן אֶת-שְׁנֵי עַמּוּדֵי הַתָּוֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר הַבַּיִת נָכוֹן עֲלֵיהֶם, וַיִּסָּמֵךְ, עֲלֵיהֶם--אֶחָד בִּימִינוֹ, וְאֶחָד בִּשְׂמֹאלוֹ. 29 And Samson took fast hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house rested, and leaned upon them, the one with his right hand, and the other with his left.
ל וַיֹּאמֶר שִׁמְשׁוֹן, תָּמוֹת נַפְשִׁי עִם-פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וַיֵּט בְּכֹחַ, וַיִּפֹּל הַבַּיִת עַל-הַסְּרָנִים וְעַל-כָּל-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-בּוֹ; וַיִּהְיוּ הַמֵּתִים, אֲשֶׁר הֵמִית בְּמוֹתוֹ, רַבִּים, מֵאֲשֶׁר הֵמִית בְּחַיָּיו. 30 And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bent with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life.
{Vayechi continues...} הַנֹּשֵׁךְ, עִקְּבֵי-סוּס - "that biteth the horse's heels..."

כה וַיְהִי, כי טוב (כְּטוֹב) לִבָּם, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, קִרְאוּ לְשִׁמְשׁוֹן וִישַׂחֶק-לָנוּ; וַיִּקְרְאוּ לְשִׁמְשׁוֹן מִבֵּית האסירים (הָאֲסוּרִים), וַיְצַחֵק לִפְנֵיהֶם, וַיַּעֲמִידוּ אוֹתוֹ, בֵּין הָעַמּוּדִים. 25 And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: 'Call for Samson, that he may make us sport.' And they called for Samson out of the prison-house; and he made sport before them; and they set him between the pillars.
{J: at first glance and almost explicitly a reference to how he brought down the house. Biting the heels and making the rider fall is compared to pushing aside the columns supporting the house, making everyone fall. Alternatively, עִקְּבֵי means not "the heels" but "because of," and סוּס refers to שוש, sos, "merriment." Thus his bite was a result of the merriment. Which is why the prooftext is the portion of the pasuk referring to bringing Shimshon to the house for the purpose of merriment.}
Rabbi Levi said: It is written (Shoftim 16:27):

כז וְהַבַּיִת, מָלֵא הָאֲנָשִׁים וְהַנָּשִׁים, וְשָׁמָּה, כֹּל סַרְנֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים; וְעַל-הַגָּג, כִּשְׁלֹשֶׁת אֲלָפִים אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה, הָרֹאִים, בִּשְׂחוֹק שִׁמְשׁוֹן. 27 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
Those were just those on the edge of the roof {who gathered at the edge and so were able to see Shimshon make sport}
But those who were behind them and behind those who were behind them no creature knows {their number} ... {J: also the word אָחוֹר is used to refer to the other ones behind those at the edge of the roof - לאחוריהם}

Shoftim 16:31: (the next pasuk)
לא וַיֵּרְדוּ אֶחָיו וְכָל-בֵּית אָבִיהוּ, וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֹתוֹ, וַיַּעֲלוּ וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אוֹתוֹ בֵּין צָרְעָה וּבֵין אֶשְׁתָּאֹל, בְּקֶבֶר מָנוֹחַ אָבִיו; וְהוּא שָׁפַט אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל, עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה. {פ 31 Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying-place of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years. {P}
{Yaakov's address to Dan continues:} וַיִּפֹּל רֹכְבוֹ, אָחוֹר - "so that his rider falleth backward"
{literally - "and his rider falls backwards"}
אָחוֹר - The situation returned to the way it was { לאחוריהם }.
For our father Yaakov saw him {Shimshon} and thought that he was the King Meshiach.
Once he {Yaakov} saw that he {Shimshon} died he {Yaakov} said "Even this one has died.
{J: so he knew that Shimshon was not the mashiach and said}
לִישׁוּעָתְךָ, קִוִּיתִי ה - "I wait for Thy salvation, O LORD."
... {other things that one must wait for } ...
Since our forefather Yaakov saw him {Shimshon} and thought about hm that the redemption would be reached in his days
Once he saw that he {Shimshon} died he said "לִישׁוּעָתְךָ, קִוִּיתִי ה" - "I wait for Thy salvation, O LORD."
Thus we see that Yaakov originally thought Shimshon was the mashiach, but if the one you think is mashiach dies, then it is evidence that the person is not mashiach. Yaakov's reaction was not that Shimshon was still the mashiach but that he would return later, coming back from the dead.

This is not to say that mashiach might not be some famous Biblical character - say, King David - who comes back and starts acting in a messianic role. I will not rule this out - this might be, as there are sources that suggest this as a possibility. However, if someone is acting as mashiach, and then dies in the midst of it - well, this is a pretty strong sign that the person, even though his actions implied he was mashiach - was not in fact mashiach.

Unfortunately, historically this has not been the reaction of followers of messianic movements.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yerushalmi Berachos has your answer, its yes and strangely enought I think its reb zeirah who says his name is Menachem (I am not making this up!!!)

joshwaxman said...

Yet this source seems fairly clear that he cannot.

Yes, I am familiar with that gemara. See my several posts on this subject matter. The one to which you refer is:

http://parsha.blogspot.com/2004/12/can-mashiach-come-from-dead-part-3.html

and it is Rabbi Yudan son of Rabbi Aibo, not Rabbi Zera who says this.

And see how one might harmonize these two sources, also in the same post.

Other sources are the mooing cow, also there:

http://parsha.blogspot.com/2004/12/mooing-cow-more-on-whether-mashiach.html

and this

http://parsha.blogspot.com/2004/12/can-mashiach-come-from-dead-part-3.html

also this source sheet:

http://parsha.blogspot.com/2005/01/sources-for-shabbos-mashiach-from-dead.html

joshwaxman said...

also, the sources that speak of Menachem are most likely referring to Menachem ben Chizkiya (as one gemara which darshens this from a pasuk explicitly has it), of mooing cow story fame.

b said...

great post.

joshwaxman said...

thanks

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