I arrived later than usual at the spot on the beach where my Hasidic friend usually dips himself and my heart sank. I thought I had missed him. I saw two men bathing about 200 yards further along the beach and one of them looked like my friend but on every other day he had always been alone. Then he waved and I knew it was him.
“We’re going to miss you” he said as I approached him.
I told him I was going to miss him too and told him that over the last nine days I had grown very fond of him and was very sad to learn that he didn’t know about the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 or the passage about Messiah in Isaiah 53.
I asked if he believed in the coming of Messiah and he replied that he and his Hasidic friends all believe in Moshiach. I asked if he knew when Moshiach would come and he answered typically that no one knew when that would happen.
Had he read the book of Daniel? No.
If my friend read Daniel, he would learn the time of Messiah’s coming because the Talmudic tractate Megillah says that when Jonathan ben Uzziel was about to write a Targum (an interpretive paraphrase) of the book of Daniel, a Bath Kol (a voice from heaven) forbade him to do it because the date of the Messiah is foretold in that book!
Abraham looked surprised. “Yes?”
Chapter 2 verse 44 of Daniel says that in the days of four kingdoms “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed … it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever”. This is the kingdom that Messiah would establish and, according to the great Jewish commentator Rashi, this would happen in the days of the Roman empire.
Yes. And chapter 9 of Daniel says: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks… And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.”
I told him I would like to give him a gift that would help him to study these things and offered him a CD of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) in a variety of languages, including Hebrew and Yiddish, produced by the Society for Distributing the Hebrew Scriptures (http://www.sdhs.co.uk). Abraham said I was very kind and quickly slipped the disk into his inside coat pocket. But more than that, he asked if he could have my phone number. I told him it was inside the CD packaging.
We said our farewells and it was all I could do to keep from dancing up the promenade!
His rabbi and entourage did not look quite as happy to see me but I had only a few moments in which to say something that might remain with them. As they were about to board their minibus, I asked the rabbi if he had some words of wisdom for me before he went home to Stamford Hill.
“Err… yes…”, he said, “Be well and keep well.”
I wished him the same and asked if I could share a word of wisdom with him.
He agreed that I could.
“This is a word of wisdom from the Tanakh (the Old Testament) which is precious to me, Rabbi: ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and Adonai has laid on Him the iniquity of us all’.”
He thanked me.
“You know where that’s from?” I asked.
If he did know, he wasn’t going to tell me so I told him it was from Yeshayahu chapter 53.
Last of all today, I saw Gershon, a pale, gentle red-bearded Hasid. We had spoken a few times during the week and, as usual, he was hurrying to pray after bathing himself. As we walked to his car I asked about the time of Messiah’s coming.
Gershon had read Daniel and he knew about chapter 9 but, he said, the time of Messiah’s coming was a “thorny issue”; it wasn’t as simple as it seemed from chapter 9.
But Rashi said Messiah had to come in the days of the Roman empire.
Gershon was aware of that but, he said, the issue was very complex.
Gershon reminded me of an Orthodox Jew I met some years ago in Golders Green. That man told me that the difference between the Christian understanding of Daniel 9:25,26 and the Jewish one was that Christians take the prophecy at face value whereas the Jewish sages had turned the passage on its head but without doing violence to the meaning!
Gershon reminded me that the difference in the Christian understanding of the Messiah and the Jewish one had been the source of much trouble for the Jewish people. Yet the Christians who persecuted and killed the Jewish people were messengers of God, sent to punish the Jews for their sins.
I told him that I dissociated myself totally from those who persecuted the Jews in the name of Jesus. The New Testament that taught me about Messiah taught me to love Messiah’s people. We wished each other well and he drove off to go and daven.
Please pray for all these people.
Tomorrow I expect to see new faces on the sea front. Pray that I might be wise as I seek to share Messiah with them.