Can a Rabbi Believe in Jesus? What the Shema Can Tell Us.

“Hi, I’m looking for the office of Dr. Benjamin Kaplan,” said the young man.

The man was tall and appeared to be about 30 years old. He wore a black frock coat, a black Homburg hat, and had a full black beard. Instead of typical sideburns he had peyes; they were long, full, and spiral. He wore a smile and looked to be approachable.

Dr. Kaplan’s receptionist, Denise, answered. “You’re in the right place. Are you Rabbi Jonah Greenberg?”

“Yes, I am. I’m Sarah’s friend,” said the Rabbi.

“You must be here for the weekly meeting,” said Denise. “Please, come with me Rabbi.”

*

“Shalom, Rabbi Greenberg,” said Ben Kaplan. “We are so glad that you’re here today. Of course you know Sarah. Let me introduce you to Josh and Matt.”

Ben made the introductions, and the Rabbi took a seat.

“Rabbi, Sarah said that you have some concerns but she didn’t tell me what they were. Do you feel comfortable sharing your concerns with the four of us? Of course you know Sarah is Jewish and I’m Jewish. Josh and Matt are Gentile and are believers in Jesus,” said Ben.

“I’m comfortable sharing, Dr. Kaplan. I want to know about Jesus, or Yeshua as you call him. I’m told that you believe he is God. I don’t understand how that could be. If Jesus is God, then who is my heavenly Father? Certainly He, my heavenly Father, is King of the Universe and He is my God. Do you believe in my Father and King, God of heaven and earth, and LORD of the universe?” asked Rabbi Greenberg.

“I certainly do believe in Him, Rabbi,” answered Ben.

“Do you believe in one God? Do you believe in monotheism, Dr. Kaplan?” said the Rabbi. “Do you know the Shema?”

“Rabbi, I want to tell you something before I answer. I sense that your questions are sincere and that you want to know the truth.

“Rabbi, I know the Shema and I definitely believe in one God. I also believe that Yeshua, who is the Messiah, is God and I believe that my heavenly Father and King is also God. God is One but He is a complex One. He is One God in three persons,” said Ben.

“Now you’re including the Holy Spirit, Ruach HaKodesh. He is God too, Dr. Kaplan?” asked the Rabbi.

“Yes, Rabbi. He is God too, the third person of the one triune God,” said Ben.

“Can you prove this to me?” said the Rabbi.

“I believe I can, Rabbi, and I’d like to begin making the case using the Shema,” said Ben.

“Dr. Kaplan, it would be truly amazing if you could do that by using the Shema. I’m all ears,” said the Rabbi.

“OK, Rabbi. Let’s start by looking at the Shema, first in English and then in Hebrew”, said Ben.

With burning curiosity, Josh exclaimed. “Rabbi, what is the Shema?”

“Josh, the Shema was given to the children of Israel by the LORD through Moses. You will find it in the Tanach in Deuteronomy 6:4, which says:

Deuteronomy 6:4 1. HEAR, O ISRAEL: THE LORD OUR GOD, THE LORD IS ONE.

“Josh, these words, recited morning and evening in the synagogue represent the core essence of what it means to be a Jew. God is One. There is, simply put , no polytheism in Judaism and Moses made that abundantly clear to the Nation of Israel before the people entered the Promised Land.

“Dr. Kaplan, can I use your white board?” asked the Rabbi?

“Of course, Rabbi,” said Ben.

The Rabbi quickly wrote on the board.

“The transliteration of the Shema from the Hebrew is:

Shemah Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad

“And in Hebrew the Shema looks like this,” said the Rabbi.

שׁמע ישׂראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד׃

“So, the Shema essentially defines Judaism. It is the most emphatic statement that God is One. Do I have it right, Rabbi?” said Matt.

“You’ve got it Matt!” said Rabbi Greenberg.

“And I could not agree more!” said Ben Kaplan. “But I want to ask a question at this point. Could One have more than one meaning?”

“What do you mean, Dr. Kaplan?” said Sarah.

Ben stepped up to the white board and rewrote Elohenu and Echad so that they alone were in bold.

“I want you all to please focus on the two words that are now the only ones in bold.

Shemah Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad

שׁמע ישׂראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד׃

“Now let me try to explain. Let’s look at the word Elohenu in bold above, the third word from the end, in both English and Hebrew. No expert in Hebrew grammar would deny that this word is a masculine plural construct noun. So it seems to me that Elohenu is a plural One.

“And Echad, the last word in each sentence, means One but it is often a complex one,” said Ben. “Let me give you some examples. I’ve italicized the pertinent words.”

Genesis 2:24 (ESV) Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Numbers 7:27 (ESV) one bull from the herd, one ram, one male lamb a year old, for a burnt offering;

Numbers 13:23 (ESV) And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs.

Exodus 26:6 (ESV) And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains one to the other with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be a single whole.

“There are a great many other examples I could give today but I want to give just one more because in a way, it especially agrees with the use of Echad in the Shema. The verse speaks of the future time of the Messianic Kingdom:

Zechariah 14:9 (ESV) And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.

“Rabbi, you are an expert in the Hebrew language, so I don’t know that I have any explaining to do to you. But for the benefit of my students, I’m going to explain. Each word printed in italics in the above verses is echad in Hebrew and has the cardinality of one whether it be the word one or whether it be the word single. In each verse the single unit described is made up of more than one component yet it is still single or one. A husband and wife become one flesh. One bull, one ram, and one male lamb, become one offering. Many grapes comprise a single cluster. Components of the tabernacle combine to make a single whole. And lastly the LORD who is going to be King over all the earth, is a plural One and His Name, Hashem, is a plural name.

“There are hundreds of examples like this in the Tanach. But what about a one that has no complexity. What about a single unit that can have no distinguishable separate components?” said Ben.

“Dr. Kaplan, you are talking about the word yachid and it is used very infrequently in the Tanach. Let me give you an example and I will identify this word, in English and in Hebrew, in italics to make it easy for your students to follow.

Genesis 22:2 (ESV) He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Genesis 22:2 (Hebrew OT)

ויאמר קח־נא את־בנך את־יחידך אשׁר־אהבת את־יצחק ולך־לך אל־ארץ המריה והעלהו שׁם לעלה על אחד ההרים אשׁר אמר אליך׃

“So when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, his one and only son, God used the word yachid, “ said Rabbi Greenberg. “Do you agree with me Dr. Kaplan?”

“Yes!” said Ben.

Matt had a question. “Didn’t Abraham have two sons at this point? Didn’t he have both Ishmael and Isaac as sons? So why is Isaac, Abraham’s one and only son?”

“Dr. Kaplan, do you mind if I answer that question?”

“Not at all Rabbi,” said Ben.

“Matt, Isaac was the son of promise, the son who God gave to Abraham through Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Through Isaac came Jacob and through Jacob came the 12 tribes of Israel. And it is through one tribe, the tribe of Judah and later through King David that God promised that the Messiah would come. This line of inheritance could come through one, and only one, son. That is the reason that Isaac was Abraham’s one and only son,” explained the Rabbi.

“What a great explanation, Rabbi. Now I have a question for you. When the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, formulated his 13 Cardinal Principles of the Jewish Faith he said that God is an absolute indivisable unity. But if that is the case, would not God have used yachid in the Shema rather than echad? Why didn’t the Rambam, Maimonides, say that?” said Ben. “Surely what Maimonides said has influenced many millions of Jews over the centuries,” said Ben.

“You know, that is a very interesting question, Ben. May I call you Ben?” said the Rabbi.

“Please do call me Ben. And I’ll call you Jonah if that is OK with you,” said Ben.

“Absolutely, Ben!” said the Rabbi.

“Well, I think we’ve established something today. The Shema refers to God as echad and that means that God could be a complex single God, a complex unity. I do not see this as contradicting any basic tenets of Judaism.

“But there is another word in the Shema that we must investigate. That word is Elohenu and as we noted earlier it is a plural noun. What might that signify?

“Sarah, before our next meeting, I’d like you to go online to www.biblicalresearch.info and see what Dr. David L. Cooper had to say about the Shema. Would you do that please?” said Ben.

“I can’t wait to do it Dr. Kaplan! And if you don’t mind, I’m going to ask Josh and Matt to help me with that assignment,” said Sarah.

“Great Sarah.

“Jonah, could you join us for our next meaning? And would you close us in prayer today” asked Ben.

“I look forward to that next meeting, Ben,” responded the Rabbi. “And let me pray the Aaronic benediction over all of you right now.”

The Rabbi recited the blessing from Numbers, chapter 6.

24 The LORD bless you and keep you; 25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“Thanks, Jonah! See you all next week,” said Ben.

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  1. Jewish Publication Society Tanakh, 1917 version.