Chaim Ingram
Chaim Ingram

Acute Angles: It Isn’t Spelled Out In The Torah – Why Should I Believe It?

Dear Rabbi.   A friend has asked me why a Jew has to believe in Mashiach (the Messiah) and techiat ha-meitim (the resurrection of the dead) since neither of these concepts are mentioned in the Torah.  I didn’t know what to answer him. And why aren’t they mentioned? Can you help?  Cheers.  J. A.

Dear J. A.

First of all, who says they’re not mentioned?

Maybe they are not spelt out in words of one syllable. Nor is Tefilin, Mezuza, Rosh HaShana, cooking milk with meat and certainly not shechita. That’s why we have an Oral Torah.  But I would argue that as far as these basic core beliefs are concerned, there is much, much more than an obscure hint of each in the Torah!

Firstly, Mashiach. (1) Genesis 49:10 states: The sceptre shall not depart from [the tribe of] Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from beneath his feet until Shilo will arrive, and to him nations will assemble. Much commentary has been written on the meaning of the word Shilo, but by far the most telling comment is that of the Baal haTurim (1269-1343) who observes that the gematria (358) of the phrase “until Shilo will arrive” – יבא שילה  – is identical with that of  משיח (Mashiach). Coincidence? I wonder what the odds are that a phrase widely interpreted in context (explicitly translated as such by the ancient Aramaic Targum Onkelos) as alluding to Mashiach also turns out to share the same numerical value!  (2) Numbers 24:17 proclaims: I see him but not now; I behold him but not near. A star shall step forth from [the seed of] Jacob and a sceptre-bearer shall rise from Israel … and transfix the children of Seth [i.e. all humanity]. If this inspired vision of Bilaam isn’t a Messianic prophecy, what is?  (3) Deuteronomy.18:15 sees Moses declare: A prophet from your midst, from your brethren, like me, will G-D your G-d establish for you and you will listen to him. Who is this prophet?  The penultimate verse of the Torah (Deut 34:10) states There has not yet arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses. So we are evidently looking to a future figure who will approximate Moses in level of greatness.  (See Rambam, Teshuva 9:2). Obviously he will need to be a prophet who will uphold the Torah in its entirety as Deuteronomy 28:26 issues a curse on anyone who “does not uphold all the words of this Torah to fulfil them”, and it is inconceivable that Mashiach should be subject to a Divine curse.  (4) Deut 30:4 declares: If and when your diaspora will be at the “ends of the heavens”, from there G-D your G-D will gather you and from there He will collect you …[and] bring  you to the Land which your ancestors possessed, and you shall [again] possess it!. It is reasonable to suppose, especially in the light of Deut 18:15 cited above, that just as our first, Egyptian, exile was redeemed through the agency of G-D’s prophet, Moses, so the ultimate exile will be redeemed through a prophet “like” Moses, i.e. Mashiach!

As for the resurrection of the dead, there is one major statement in the Torah affirming it.  In the song of Ha’azinu which Moses teaches the people at the behest of G-D at the end of his life, G-D is ‘quoted’ as saying Ani amit va-achayeh. “I cause death and I cause life”. If G-D were wishing to tell us that He is the cause of birth and death, the Torah would say ani achayeh va-amit. that He causes life and death. Ani amit va-achayeh must mean, even on a plain, simple level, I cause death and renewed life.

 (Actually we shouldn’t even need the Torah to convince us. We see techiat ha-meitim all around us in nature every spring. Moreover, thanks to medical science, we now know all about the constant renewal of our body cells – about 330 billion of them die and are replaced daily constituting 1 per cent of all our cells so that in 80-100 days we are, in terms of body cells, brand new people! Most surely these are paradigms.)

I do not intend even to touch on the many overt references to Mashiach and techiat ha-meitim in the prophetic books of Scripture as this essay would then run to the size of a book!

So your friend’s question is really: why does the Torah not say plainly “Mashiach will come at the end of days” or “If you keep my Torah you will have a second chance of life after you die”?

I will attempt to answer by means of an admittedly simplistic analogy.  My father z.l. spent his whole working life employed by a single company. He retired with a substantial pension which, thank G-D, kept him and my mother a.h. comfortable to the end of their lives. I am sure that when my father started his employment at age 25, he did not dream he would still be with the same firm at age 65, nor did he give any thought to the size of the pension he would receive forty years later, Rather he took his working life day by day, rose through the ranks, acquired new skills (he became one of the UK’s first computer programmers), triumphed over his challenges and eventually was happy to reap the dividends at the end of his working life that he could not have planned for when he started.  

In Pirkei Avot, (1:3), Antigonos, disciple of Shimon haTsadik, enjoins us ”to be like servants who serve their master not for a sake of a reward”. He risked being misunderstood, and indeed was by two of his students who understood him to be saying “there is no reward” and became the first Sadducees, denying the Oral Torah. Antigonus desperately wished, even at the risk of being misunderstood, to convey the message that the Torah is to be kept lishma, as though there were no ultimate reward for its observance. That there indeed is ultimate reward – the hoped-for Messianic age, the Afterlife and the resurrection of the dead – must not in any way interfere with our observance of the mitsvot of the Torah,

This could be the reason that the Torah does not over-emphasise these matters. They are G-D’s business, not ours. As Rambam states, how and when Mashiach will come is not for us to speculate, just as the details of how the world was created are concealed from us. Our lifetime job is to keep the Torah. Period. G-D will see to the dividends in His own time and manner!

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of four books on Judaism and honorary rabbi of Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing.