Epistle to Yemen/XVI

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Iggeret Teiman, translated by Boaz Cohen, notes by Abraham S. Halkin

Egypt. Likewise, the statement of Moses our Teacher, "When thou shalt beget children, and children's children and ye shall have been long in the land," (Deuteronomy 4:25), embodies a reference to the duration of Israel's stay in Palestine, from the date of their arrival to the exile in the time of Jehoiakim, which was eight hundred and forty years, corresponding to the numerical value of the word WeNoSHaNTeM. Similarly, many other verses could be cited.

To come back to Balaam's prophecy, the verse "After the lapse of time, one will tell Jacob and Israel what God hath wrought," (Numbers 23:23), contains a veiled allusion to the date of the restoration of prophecy to Israel. The statement means that after the lapse of an interval equal to the time that passed from the Six Days of Creation to Balaam's day, seers will again tell Israel what God hath wrought. Now Balaam uttered his prediction in the thirty-eighth year after the Exodus which corresponds to the year 2485 after the Creation of the World, for the Exodus took place in the beginning of the year 2448. According to the interpretation of this chronology, prophecy would be restored to Israel in the year 497015 after the creation of the world. It is doubtless true that the reappearance of prophecy in Israel is one of the signs betokening the approach of the Messianic era as is intimated in Scripture "And your sons and your daughters shall prophecy ... And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth ... Before the great and terrible day of the Lord come" (Joel 3:1, 3, 4). This is the most genuine tradition concerning the Messianic advent. We were admonished against, and strictly prohibited from blazening it abroad, lest some folk deem it unduly postponed. We have already apprised you concerning it, but God knows best what is true.

Your statement that Jeremiah alludes to the advent of the Messiah in the verse "It is a time of trouble unto Jacob" (30:7) is incorrect, for it needs must refer to the war of Gog and Magog which will take place some time after the arrival of the Messiah. Neither the fall of Giron Gate16 nor similar omens portent the oncoming of the Messiah. Some of the supposed prophetic signs are mistakenly ascribed to the sages, while others owe their origin to figures of speech and enigmatic sayings of the rabbis, which should not be taken literally.

You mention that a certain man in one of the cities of Yemen pretends that he is the Messiah.17 As I live, I am not surprised at him or at his followers, for I have no doubt that he is mad and a sick person should not be rebuked or reproved for an illness brought on by no fault of his own. Neither am I surprised at his votaries, for they were persuaded by him because of their sorry plight, their ignorance of the importance and high rank of the Messiah, and their mistaken comparison of the Messiah with the son of the Mahdi [the belief in] whose rise they are witnessing. But I am astonished that you, a scholar who has studied carefully the doctrines of the rabbis, are inclined to repose faith in him. Do you not know, my brother, that the Messiah is a very eminent prophet, more illustrious than all the prophets after Moses? Do you not know that a false pretender to prophecy is liable to capital punishment, for having arrogated to himself unwarranted distinction, just as the person who prophesies in the name of idols is put to death, as we read in Scripture "But the prophet that shall speak a word presumptuously in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die." (Deuteronomy 18:20). What better evidence is there of his mendacity, than his very pretensions to be the Messiah.

How odd is your remark about this man, that he is renowned for his meekness and a little wisdom, as if these were indeed the attributes of the Messiah. Do these characteristics make him a Messiah? You were beguiled by him because you have not considered the pre-eminence of the Messiah, the manner and place of his appearance, and the marks whereby he is to be identified. The Messiah, indeed, ranks after Moses in eminence and distinction, and God has bestowed some gifts upon him which he did not bestow upon Moses, as may be gathered from the following verses: "His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." (Isaiah 11:3). "The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him." (11:2). "And Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins." (11:5). Six appellations were divinely conferred upon him as the following passage indicates: "For a child is born unto us, and a son is given unto us, and the government is upon his shoulder, and he is called Pele, Yoetz, el, Gibbor, Abiad, Sar-Shalom." (Isaiah 9:5). And another verse alluding to the


15That is, 1210 C.E.

16A famous gate of Damascus, cf. Brüll, Jahrbücher, II, 1876, pp. 197-198.

17For a letter on the Imprisonment and Execution of a Pseudo-Messiah in Yemen, see M. S. Adler 4011, Catalogue, p. 153.