Light from the Sidra

Simchat Torah ('Rejoicing of the Law')

Torah: Numbers. 29:35-30:1 (29:40). Haftarah: 1 Kings 8:54-66

Glory in the house

Simchat Torah is one of those festivals that are not actually found in the Bible. The rejoicing that was stipulated by God for the seventh month was for the ingathering of the harvest, not for the Torah. Solomon dedicated his temple at the festival of Sukkot and, according to the Haftarah, he extended the event for a second week. But the rejoicing at that time was not for the Torah but for the Shekinah, the glory of God that filled the temple when his house was dedicated.

The last person to see the Shekinah was the prophet Ezekiel after Judah went into exile in 587 BCE. The glory of God appeared to him by the banks of the river Chebar in Babylon. YHWH had gone into exile with his people but, unlike Israel, his Shekinah did not return from exile. There is no record in the Hebrew Scriptures of the glory of God ever returning to his temple.

The Haredim who sway and dance at the Western Wall in Jerusalem do so not because the Shekinah is there but because the glory has departed. They work themselves into an emotional state in order to feel a little of the joy that was experienced by the temple worshippers when God was present.

Nevertheless, a remarkable promise was given through the prophet Haggai in chapter 2:6-9 of his prophecy: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord Almighty. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the Lord Almighty.’

A similar promise is found in Malachi 3:1: ‘“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.’

In these prophecies, Israel’s God declares that he will fill the second temple with glory. The glory of the second temple, he says, will be greater than that of Solomon’s temple and he, the God they were seeking, would come suddenly to the temple as ‘the messenger of the covenant.’

What covenant was that? Not the covenant made with Israel at Sinai because, as God told Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31: 32, Israel broke that covenant. Israel needed a new covenant, a greater covenant than the one established through Moses. The ‘messenger of the covenant’ must therefore have been the messenger of the New Covenant that YHWH promised in Jeremiah 31:31-37:

‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares YHWH, ‘when I will cut a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I cut with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,’ declares YHWH. ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares YHWH: ‘I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, “Know YHWH,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares YHWH. ‘For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.’

Those glorious promises, however, raise some very important and crucial questions: When did the glory of God fill the second temple? At what point did the glory of the second temple exceed the glory of Solomon’s temple? When did YHWH come to his house as the messenger of the covenant?

If those prophecies failed to materialise, the Jewish people have two false prophet in their Holy Scriptures because, according to Deuteronomy 18:22, the mark of a true prophet is that whatever he prophesies will come to pass.

Although the second temple was enlarged and became one of the great wonders of the ancient world under Herod the Great, the glorious architecture of Herod’s temple was no substitute for the presence of the Shekinah. On Tisha B’Av in 70AD, the magnificent second temple was burned to the ground on the very same date on which the armies of Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Solomon’s temple.

If Haggai and Malachi were true prophets then, at some point when the second temple was standing, God’s Shekinah must have suddenly appeared as the messenger of the covenant in the temple.

Furthermore, the book of Daniel in the Tanakh, chapter 9:24 states that atonement would be provided while the second temple was standing and, in verse 27 that the Messiah would die before the temple was destroyed. Was Daniel a false prophet?

An event is recorded in what are known as the four Gospels which ties these four strands in Haggai, Malachi and Daniel together. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21:12-13, Jesus enters the temple and drives out those who are buying and selling in the temple precincts. He overturns the tables of money-changers and the seats of the sellers of pigeons, declaring: ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’

By quoting Isaiah 56:7 in which God declares that the temple was his house of prayer for all people,’ and Jeremiah 7:11 in which God asks if the house that was called by his name had become ‘a den of robbers’, he was in effect declaring himself to be the God Israel was seeking. The messenger of the New Covenant was in their midst. In a stupendous statement, Jesus was declaring himself to be the Shekinah the Jewish people had waited five long centuries for!

Of course, that sounds like blasphemy. Who did Jesus think he was? God?

For fifty years or more, Jewish scholars have been ‘reclaiming’ Jesus as a great Jewish moral teacher, a Rabbi, a Torah observant Jew, maybe even a prophet. But how could a mere man make the claims Jesus made? He would have to be meshugganeh or a ligner. Either that or he really was the God of Israel who had come suddenly to his temple!

I freely admit that it appears absurd to believe Jesus was the God of Israel and that the man who cleansed the temple at Passover in 33CE was the embodiment of the Shekinah; that his presence filled the temple with a glory greater than that of King Solomon’s temple. But if you chose to reject him as a madman or a liar, just bear in mind the alternatives: either there are at least three false prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures or else YHWH is a god who promises glory but delivers only ashes.

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