I met Jake when his mother was dying of cancer. A billboard-charting performer, he had left his guitar in his mother’s hospital room. I picked it up and began to sing to her. Sadly, the Almighty took her from this world shortly thereafter, but over the shivah, Jake and I struck up a friendship that would endure for years to come. In fact, my first studio recording was thanks to Jake’s assistance and generosity.
Jake went back to California and now and then we would drop one another a line. His sister, Shirl, lives in town and so over the years, she would keep me abreast of his life. He has continued to have a successful performance career and he has become a world-renowned music producer.
Unfortunately, the latest update has been heartbreaking. I am told that Jake has found Jesus and believes that he can have the “best of both worlds.” He can accept Jesus as his savior without renouncing his Judaism.
He keeps calling Shirl and trying to get her to see the light. Thank G-d, she has been strong. But Jake never ceases pleading with her, “Why have the Jews always been so stubborn in our rejection of Jesus?”
Chizkiyah offers a teaching by Rabbi Yirmiya who quoted Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) as saying, ‘My merit could atone for all the sins of my generation. Together with my son Elazar, we could atone for all the sins of past generations. Add to the mix King Yotam ben Uziyahu, and we could atone for the sins of all humankind from the beginning until the end of time!’
This bold statement is Rashbi’s response to Christianity. While it is a powerful piece of the Talmud, it was deliberately uttered in an obscure fashion and left unexplained for most of history. Clarifying Rashbi’s intent would undoubtedly have meant death or exile for the Jewish community wherever we found ourselves. But his implied message is unambiguous.
Firstly, as opposed to Christianity, which preaches that Jesus needed to endure ‘suffering’ in order to atone for the people’s sins, Rashbi tells us that one can atone for others based on ‘merit’. Thus, Judaism’s picture is much more positive. The more merit one accrues, the greater salvation one brings to the world.
Secondly, Rashbi teaches that no one individual is responsible for every other human being for all time. Certainly, in each generation, there may be a tzadik hador – the leader of the generation, as was Rashbi in his day. But beyond that, one needs to share the ‘burden.’ There are many righteous individuals in history and it is hubris to accredit oneself with the sole ability to ‘save humanity.’
Thirdly, who does Rashbi choose to join him in his quest? His son. Rashbi’s message is that you may be the greatest, most righteous human being to have walked the earth, but you are still human. You have parents, father and mother, and they are mortal human beings. My son may be an incredible person, but he is still a “son of man.”
And then who is his final choice for the team? Yotam who? While Yotam was one of the kings of our people, he was a relatively minor character in history. But that’s precisely the point. You don’t need to have your name splashed in the headlines to make a difference.
Yotam was the most humble of the Jewish kings. When his father Uziyahu took ill, he assumed the leadership of the kingdom. Nevertheless, while his father was alive, he refused the royal title, continuing to credit his old man with the top job. Rashbi’s message in choosing Yotam is that if you want to save the world, you must humble yourself before the King of the universe and realize that we are merely vehicles to do His bidding.
You can be the savior of all humanity! You don’t need to suffer; instead, you must strive to maximize your merit by doing as much good as possible! You may have mortal parents, but you are a child of G-d! As long as you always humble yourself before Our Father, Our King, He will use you as a vehicle to save the world!