Rabbi’s Bi-Monthly Message
(from the Newsletter)
The Four Sons of the Seder
By Rabbi Barney Kasdan
*This article first appeared in the Jewish Voice Today magazine
Certainly one of the highlights of the Jewish religious year is the Passover Seder. This is more than just the delicious foods like matzah ball soup and brisket. The main purpose is to retell the story of Israel’s redemption from the slavery of Egypt through the reading of the Hagadah. This booklet gets its name from Exodus 13:8 where Jews are exhorted to “tell” their children about God and his works. A most interesting part of the traditional readings includes four sons who have differing responses to the same story.
One child (not in sequential order for this article) is called the Simple Son (Hebrew – tam). He is described like this because, as he is participating in the Seder meal, he poses a simple question: “What is this?” Perhaps the details of the holiday are new to him and he simply does not understand their significance. Evidently he is not asking out of a rebellious spirit but he is merely confessing his ignorance. The answer is therefore simple for this child explaining that God brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand. This seems to be basically a good kid who has a childlike approach to things. Some adults may wish that this attitude was different but it is often commended in the Bible. Too many people today approach life with an arrogance and self-sufficiency that can actually lead them away from the things of God. Our Messiah Yeshua reminded us that it is often those who have a simple, childlike approach who will enter the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 19:13-15). The Hagadah reminds us that there are many who may be ignorant but who want to know the reality of God.
A second child is called the Wicked Son (Hebrew – rasha). This son is so described because he frames his question in a negative manner: “What is the meaning of this to you?” He seems to doubt that the Seder ceremony relates to him in a personal way but only relates to someone else. In essence, the Wicked Son separates himself from the reality of the redemption story and excludes himself from the group. This is like the person that we may even meet today who says they are “happy for you” concerning your faith but doesn’t see it relating to themselves. The Hagadah has a direct answer for such a person: “It is what God did for me when I came out of Egypt” and even concluding that a person with such an aloof attitude “would not have been redeemed.” At the first Passover, each person was required to personally taste of the Passover Lamb. If not then the Angel of Death would bring judgment. As with the Wicked Son of the Hagadah, there are still people who exclude themselves from God’s way of redemption which comes through the work of Yeshua as the Passover Lamb.
A third child is described as the Son Who Doesn’t Know How To Ask (Hebrew – sh’eyno yodea lishol). This son is not even asking probing questions and perhaps not even seeking. This may seem like a great barrier as one wonders where do you even start with such a person. The Hagadah seems to skip over those concerns and simply gives the Torah exhortation that we have an obligation to tell our children whether they are interested or not. God did some great things for us and we are commanded to proactively tell the story! As the Passover story must be shared with all, so too with the later messianic redemption of Yeshua on that Passover of the first century. There are many people today, both Jews and non-Jews, who would love to know the whole story of Messiah’s work on our behalf. In some of his last words, Yeshua gives the great commission to share this story with all people, even those who may not be asking (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).
The fourth child of the Seder especially stands out as he is called the Wise Son (Hebrew – chacham). This son is commended as he asks the deeper question: “What is the meaning of these customs which God has commanded us?” This child seems to be aware and educated on some of the significance of Passover but still wants to know more. The answer given in the Hagadah is profound as it says to explain to him all the laws even “to the very last detail about the Afikoman.” Those who are familiar with the Seder know that the Afikoman is a central part of the meal which has great spiritual significance. It is the middle matzah (unleavened bread) which is part of the container of three matzahs placed on Jewish tables every Seder. After all these centuries, it is still a mystery as to why we take out the middle matzah, break it and hide it away. After a period of time, our kids search for this hidden matzah and, after it is broken, we share it with all at the table. One possible explanation is found in the name given to this special broken matzah; Afikoman meaning “that which comes last” or even “dessert.” This is logical as the Afikoman is that last thing tasted at the Jewish Seder after the full meal. This fourth child asks a very intriguing question that all believers in Yeshua can identify with. Messiah explained the details as he elaborated to his Jewish disciples how the ceremony all points to him! He would be broken, hidden away for a while and then reappear. He then encouraged us at every subsequent Passover Seder to partake of this Afikoman as a picture of his redemptive work as our Passover Lamb. Many Christians call this Communion or the Eucharist but educated believers also understand that it all comes from the Seder traditions.
This year Jews around the world will recount the interesting details of the four sons of the Seder. Different people have differing responses to the same Seder meal. What will your response be? May we be like that Wise Son who seeks the deeper meaning of the holiday customs. As the Scripture says “When you seek Me, you will find Me” (Jeremiah 29:13).
The following is a continuation of the previous articles dealing with a Messianic Jewish perspective on the Tanakh and New Covenant Scriptures.
3 Reasons Why Messianic Jews Believe The Scriptures
by Rabbi Barney Kasdan
#3 Evidence of Confirmation
Besides the strong arguments of the inspiration and preservation of the Bible, Messianic Judaism can look to other evidence that confirms the accuracy of the Holy Scriptures. It has only been since the 19th century that the field of archaeology has become a major source of information for Bible scholars. Especially since the establishment of the modern state of Israel we now have access to incredible discoveries which throw new light on the Scriptures. Recent digs in the Middle East have revealed lost civilizations (e.g., the Hittites), controversial leaders (e.g., the Pilate stone in1961 and Caiaphas ossuary in 1990) as well as inscriptions referring to Bible history (e.g., the Silver Scroll in 1979 and the reference to “Bet David” found in 1993). While there may always be naysayers regarding such discoveries, for Messianic Judaism these continue to illustrate the historical accuracy of the Scriptures from evidence beyond the pages of the Bible. One can only wonder what still lies beneath the dirt of Israel! Many of those working in this exploding field of archaeology (including many non-believers in the Bible’s message) are being forced to objectively reevaluate the external evidence around them. Of particular interest to us are some of the conclusions reached by famous Jewish archaeologist and rabbi, Nelson Glueck. As a former president of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, he took part in many excavations including his well-known work in the Negev. He was even known to use the Bible as a guide to find some of his key discoveries. So it shouldn’t surprise us as one hears Rabbi Glueck’s assessment of the relationship between the Bible and external evidence.
“As a matter of fact, however, it may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. Scores of archaeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries. They form tesserae in the vast mosaic of the Bible’s almost incredibly correct historical memory” (Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, p.323).
Add to this, the capstone of biblical uniqueness; that is, fulfilled prophecy as observed in human history. I remember in 1967, as a secular Jewish kid from Southern California, being captivated by the reports of the battle in the Middle East. As I heard the news broadcast over my eighth grade class public address system, it was as if for the first time it seemed to me that there might be a God doing something! Like so many other Jews, the events of the 6-Day War certainly created a new awareness in me and, in my case, a curiosity to even read the Bible. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized that these events were not just coincidences of geo-political history. I was astounded to discover that there are specific predictions in the Hebrew prophets that there was coming a day when our people would be reestablished in the Land with Jerusalem under Jewish control (cf. Jeremiah 31:1-14; Ezekiel 36:22-28). Many of us who have become Messianic Jews have come to that conviction because of this intriguing quality of the Scriptures. And Israel is not the only subject of biblical prophecy. There are hundreds of incredible predictions in the Bible that no other religious book would dare to even attempt! There are prophecies in the Tenach concerning the fate of our people (Deuteronomy 30), the fall of once powerful empires (Jeremiah 50) and even the current political situation in the Middle East (Zechariah 12).
Of special interest to us Messianic Jews are the numerous detailed prophecies concerning the coming of Mashiach. What other religious book in human history would dare to predict, hundreds of years before the fact, the exact details of their
coming great leader? Buddism is unconcerned with such historicity; Islam does not make any such claims in regard to Mohammed. Yet, in the Hebrew Scriptures, and often confirmed in the rabbinic commentaries, we find various predictions on how we as Jews would recognize the true Messiah. His place of birth is identified (Micah 5:1 in Hebrew), his miraculous works of healing (Isaiah 53:1-6), his surprising suffering before the destruction of the second Temple (Daniel 9:24-27) and his ultimate victory and kingdom (Isaiah 11:1-10). The more one studies in the Tanakh about the specific predictions of Messiah, the more it sounds like the controversial rabbi from Galilee! What is especially striking is that these are not mere internal claims or subjective opinions, but such predictions can be tested by the empirical reality of human history. Certainly these confirmed evidences of history, archaeology and prophecy is one of the strong reasons why Messianic Jews (and millions of other believers) adhere to the Bible as a holy, infallible revelation from the God of the universe.
In considering reasons why Messianic Jews believe the Scriptures, these three stand out; 1) claims of inspiration, 2) diligence in preservation and 3) evidence of confirmation. In an age of growing relativism and confusion, many people think that literal belief in the Bible is a leap in the dark. It is quite the contrary for us followers of Yeshua who have found belief in the Bible to actually be a jump into the light! I suppose I should add a fourth reason which is the transforming power which the Scriptures have brought into our very lives. As the writer to the first century Jewish believers testified,
“See, the Word of God is alive! It is at work and is sharper than any double-edged sword—it cuts right through to where soul meets spirit and joints meet marrow, and it is quick to judge the inner reflections and attitudes of the heart” (italics mine, Hebrews 4:12).
The simple yet profound truth is that the Word of God actually works! The Scriptures are not just a “dead” historical record or merely a list of religious mitzvot. The Bible contains a living message that has dynamic power even today for those who take it seriously. Tens of thousands of Messianic Jews can personally testify to that practical reality in our day. Has it worked in your life? Have you given it a chance? There are some good reasons to believe.
“3 Reasons Why Messianic Jews Believe the Scripture”
By Rabbi Barney Kasdan
One of the foundational principles for Messianic Judaism is our confident faith in the Bible (Tanakh and New Covenant) as the divinely revealed Word from God. Surprisingly, there are many today who profess faith in God but doubt the Bible. This article is an excerpt from a longer teaching where Reason #1 was presented: Claims of Inspiration. The Bible clearly claims to be a unique book communicating the truth of the one God, the creator of all. Psalm 19, Proverbs 30 as well as the frequent use of the statement “Thus says the Lord” were discussed. The next thought reflects the great respect that our people Israel have for the Tanakh.
#2 Diligence In Preservation
Beyond the amazing claims of the Scripture about inspiration, there is another strong reason why Messianic Jews believe the Bible. Many of us have certainly been awestruck by the meticulous preservation of the writings, especially by generations of our own people. Of course, this seems to follow logically the first stated reason why we believe. After all, if the claims of the Tanakh are taken seriously, then it is understandable why Israel took such great precautions to accurately preserve the Holy Text. Indeed, this vital task of copying the Scriptures led to the development of a special class of scholars known as the soferim (scribes). So important was there job to the Jewish community that a whole tractate of the Talmud is dedicated to the specific job description of the copyist (cf. Tractate Megillot). To perform their sacred task, the soferim followed these highly structured procedures, many of which are still implemented to this day. The sofer, at the start of his workday, was required to take the mikveh (water immersion) as a symbol of his spiritual cleansing. Then, equipped with a feather quill and a special ink mixture, the scribe would mark out the straight lines on the kosher parchment. Because he was not allowed to rely on his memory, the sofer would consult a reliable copy of the Scriptures as his model (Tractate Megillot 18b). From there, the scribe was to first read the sentence aloud then to write what was said. Every column, every word, every letter, indeed every space was (and is) vitally important and checked with the utmost diligence. In fact, the word sofer in Hebrew can be understood as more than just a copyist. The Talmud calls them “counters” because they would check their work by actually counting the letters (Tractate Kiddushin 30.1). That is the reason, by the way, that the Hebrew letter vav in the word “gachon” is enlarged in the text of Leviticus 11:42. That vav turns out to be the middle letter of the entire Torah. Such was the precise accuracy incumbent upon these scholars. If a question developed as to a scroll being kosher or not, there was a sure-fire test. A young child would be brought in to read the passage. If the child could read it accurately, then the scroll was deemed kosher for religious purposes. If, by some chance, there was found an error (e.g., chipped or smudged letter) within a parchment, the scroll was to be buried in a cemetery with the utmost respect as it still contained the holy name of God within it.
With such holy respect for the revelation of Tanakh, it begins to sound rather ludicrous to doubt the Scripture. Many people do not like the message of the Scripture but that is a different issue. That is unfortunate as both Tanakh and New Covenant present a uniform message of love, hope and redemption. Of course, some people simply do not like the idea that there may be a living God before whom we will all appear someday. But make no mistake; the same God who has communicated his message to the world is perfectly capable of preserving and transmitting his important love letter. Because of this, we Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles (as well as all Bible believers) have great confidence in Scripture. Have you spent time recently reflecting on this unique Book? As we affirm every Torah service, “It is a Tree of Life to those who embrace it” (Proverbs 3:18).