The Missionary Masks and the Purim Response:

Dear Friends,

As we know, large and well-funded Christian missionary organizations are increasing their efforts to persuade Jews with little or no Torah education to become Christians through accepting Jesus as both their Lord and Messiah. The missionaries realize, however, that even many secular-oriented Jews feel that a Jew who adopts another religion has betrayed his people and his heritage, so many missionaries have adopted the following strategy to attract Jews: They call Christianity, “Completed Judaism,” and they call Jews who accept the Christian religion, “Messianic Jews” or “Jews for Jesus.” They also refer to Jesus by a Hebrew name, and they organize missionary congregations which use Jewish symbols and sing Hebrew songs.

They are aware that the Jewish people have an aversion to idolatry, including the worship of a human being, so when many of these missionaries first approach Jews, they temporarily hide the fact that they deify Jesus; instead, they focus on their belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah, even though Jesus did not fulfill any of the prophecies regarding the arrival of the Messiah which are described in Chapter 11 of the Book of Isaiah, such as the establishment of world peace with universal spiritual enlightenment, and the ingathering of all the exiles of Israel.

I refer to their deceptive strategy as, the missionary masks, for their Christian agenda is concealed behind a deceptive veneer of Jewish symbols and associations. Some Jews who have accepted the Christian religion claim that they are not assimilating, since they observe a number of traditional Jewish rituals and celebrate the Jewish holidays, even though these observances and celebrations are dedicated to Jesus. These lost Jews fail to realize, however, that their acceptance of Christianity is a grave form of assimilation, for the deification of a human being is totally foreign to the sacred spirit of the chosen people that are to only serve Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, and thereby inspire the nations to only serve Hashem. Even when some of our people sinned during the biblical period by engaging in idolatry, the one form of idolatry that they did not engage in was the deification of a human being.

Our inner aversion to worshiping a human being helped to prevent our assimilation among the Christian nations during our long exile, and this aversion is based on the following statements which are found in the second of the Ten Commandments:

“You shall not have other gods before Me…You shall not prostrate yourself to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:3,5).

This is the famous prohibition against all forms of idolatry, and the commentator, Ramban, explains that the worship of human beings is also a form of idolatry. This commandment therefore refutes the Christian doctrine concerning the deification of Jesus.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers a related Torah insight which deepens our understanding of how the above commandment refutes this Christian doctrine. In his commentary on the words, “You shall not have other gods before Me,” Rabbi Hirsch writes that “before Me” means “before My Presence.” Rabbi Hirsch then adds the following Torah teachings:

“God’s Presence encompasses the world and its fullness, the vast expanses and further development of the universe, in every season and at every moment; His Presence also pervades our inner lives and all our emotions. Besides Him, there is no other god, and we should not give credence to even the slightest possibility of another god’s existence. This negates the doctrine of shituf (a deified partner with God), whose proponents think, that without denying God’s existence, another deity can be placed at God’s side, sharing His Divinity. They forget that, by placing another deity at God’s side, they completely nullify the concept of God.”
[ note: Rabbi Hirsch referred to Sefer Ha-Mitzvos Gadol, Prohibition 1]

The following quotes from our Sacred Scriptures can serve as additional examples of the many Torah teachings which refute this Christian doctrine:

“God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19).

“Know it today and take it to heart repeatedly that Hashem alone is God; in heaven above and on earth below – there is none other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39)

“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One! (Deuteronomy 6:4)

“I, only I, am Hashem, and there is no Savior aside from Me.” (Isaiah 43:11).

There is a story in the Book of Esther which expresses the spirit of the above verses. The story begins with a mention of the rise of Haman, a descendant of Agag, King of Amalek. The Amalekites were always known for their hatred of our people; in fact, they attacked us soon after we left Egypt (Exodus 17:8). The following passage from this story describes how Haman’s hatred of our people was evoked when Mordechai, a leading Torah sage of his generation, refused to bow down to Haman:

“After these things King Achashverosh promoted Haman, the son of Hammedasa the Agagite, and advanced him; he set his seat above all the officers who were with him. All the King’s servants at the King’s gate would bow down and prostrate themselves before Haman, for this is what the King had commanded concerning him. But Mordechai would not bow down or prostrate himself.” (Esther 3:1,2)

“Mordechai would not bow down or prostrate himself” – For Haman had made himself into a god. (Commentary of Rashi, based on Midrash Rabbah)

The Book of Esther then describes how Haman was enraged when Mordechai, the Jew, did not bow before him. Haman realized that Mordechai’s refusal to worship him was based on the spiritual beliefs of the Jewish people, for they only worshiped the One Creator of the universe. Haman therefore decided to punish all the Jews, as it is written:

“So Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the entire kingdom of Achashverosh – the people of Mordechai” (3:6).

As mentioned above, the cause of Haman’s anger is found in the following words from the Book of Esther: “Mordechai would not bow down.” If, however, we read these words in the original Hebrew – Mordechai lo yichra – we notice that the phrase is actually written in the future tense; thus, a more literal translation is, “And Mordechai will not bow down.” Why was the phrase written in the future tense? Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Freifeld, who lives in my neighborhood (Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem) shared with me the following answer of a great sage known as the Sefas Emes, who was also the leader of the Gerrer Chassidim:

The verse is alluding to the idea that there will always be a courageous “Mordechai” among our people in each generation “who will not bow down” – who will refuse to give up our faith in Hashem, despite the various attempts to force us to abandon Hashem and His Torah. (From the Sefas Emes’s talk on Purim in 5,643)

Many Jewish men and women took on the courageous role of Mordechai in later generations, especially during the rise of Christianity. Although Christianity was influenced to some degree by Judaism and its belief in the One Creator of the universe, Christianity also engaged in the pagan practice of deifying a human being. The Christians thought that they could win over the Jewish people to their religion, for Christianity deified a Jew. The Jews, however, were the people of Mordechai, the Jew who remained loyal to Hashem; thus, they refused to deify a human being, even if he was one of their own. When the Jews were offered the choice, “the cross or death,” many of them went to their death proclaiming, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One!”

There is a custom to chant Psalm 22 on Purim – a psalm which opens with the following words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” According to tradition, this psalm has prophetic references to the lonely and courageous role of Queen Esther, who risked her life for her people (Esther, Chapter 4). There is also a tradition that Esther chanted verses from this psalm as she went to meet with the King during the first stage of her plan to save her people from Haman. These traditions are cited in the Talmud (Yuma 29a and Megillah 15b), and in the midrashic commentaries on this psalm. Towards the end of this psalm, we find the following prophecy regarding the messianic age:

“All the ends of the earth will remember and return to Hashem, all the families of nations will bow before You.” (Psalm 22:28)

In the messianic age of universal enlightenment when all human beings will bow before Hashem, we, the people of Mordechai, will be vindicated. The nations that once despised us for our refusal to adopt their beliefs will then want to join us in serving Hashem. As the Prophet Zechariah proclaimed in the Name of Hashem, God of the hosts of creation:

“In those days it will happen that ten men of all the languages of the nations will take hold, they will take hold of the garment of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ ” (Zechariah 8:23)

There is an allusion to the ultimate vindication of our people in the following passage from the concluding section of the Purim story:

“Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large gold crown and a robe of fine linen and purple; then the city of Shushan was cheerful and joyous. The Jews had light and joy, bliss and honor.” (Esther 8:15,16)

May we be blessed with the light, joy, bliss, and honor of Purim.

Shalom, Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

Postscript:

According to the Torah, all forms of idolatry, including the deification of a human being, are forbidden to us regardless of where we live; however, idolatry in the sacred Land of Zion has an added negative dimension, since the Land was specifically given to us for the fulfillment of the Torah – the Divine Teaching. As Moses told our people before we entered the Land:

“See! I have taught you statutes and social laws, as Hashem, my God, has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 4:5).

In this spirit, Ramban describes the “lofty level” of the Land of Zion by saying that “the Palace of Hashem is there” (commentary to Genesis 19:5). Idolatry therefore has no place in the Palace of Hashem which is destined to serve as the spiritual center for all humanity, as it is written:

“It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2,3)


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen is the author of "The Universal Jew". He directs the e-mail Torah study program: Hazon Our Universal Vision.

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