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Maccabees Martyrs, Messiah and Defeating the Yetzer Ra

Maccabees Martyrs, Messiah
Defeating the Yetzer Ra
James Scott Trimm

We read in 4th Maccabees concerning the martyrs under Antiochus Epiphanies:

[7] I could prove to you from many and various examples that reason is dominant over the emotions,
[8] but I can demonstrate it best from the noble bravery of those who died for the sake of virtue, Eleazar and the seven brothers and their mother.
[9] All of these, by despising sufferings that bring death, demonstrated that reason controls the emotions.
[10] On this anniversary it is fitting for me to praise for their virtues those who, with their mother, died for the sake of nobility and goodness, but I would also call them blessed for the honor in which they are held.
[11] For all people, even their torturers, marveled at their courage and endurance, and they became the cause of the downfall of tyranny over their nation. By their endurance they conquered the tyrant, and thus their native land was purified through them.
(4Macc. 1:7-11)

[24] When they saw that he was so courageous in the face of the afflictions, and that he had not been changed by their compassion, the guards brought him to the fire.
[25] There they burned him with maliciously contrived instruments, threw him down, and poured stinking liquids into his nostrils.
[26] When he was now burned to his very bones and about to expire, he lifted up his eyes to God and said,
[27] "You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law.
[28] Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them.
[29] Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs."
[30] And after he said this, the holy man died nobly in his tortures, and by reason he resisted even to the very tortures of death for the sake of the law.
[31] Admittedly, then, devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.
(4Macc. 6:28-29)

[17] The tyrant himself and all his council marveled at their endurance,
[18] because of which they now stand before the divine throne and live through blessed eternity.
[19] For Moses says, "All who are consecrated are under your hands."
[20] These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation,
[21] the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified -- they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation.
[22] And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an expiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted.
[23] For the tyrant Antiochus, when he saw the courage of their virtue and their endurance under the tortures, proclaimed them to his soldiers as an example for their own endurance,
(4Macc. 17:21)

These martyrs were a type [allegorical symbol] of the Messiah.  They brought redemption to Am-Yisrael (the People of Israel) by overcoming the Yetzer Ra (Evil Inclination).

To begin with, it is important to understand the two inclinations.  We read in Genesis 2:7:

And YHWH Elohim formed (YETZER) man of the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath (NISH'MAT) of life;
and man became a living soul (nefesh).
(Gen. 2:7)

In the original Hebrew of this verse, the word YETZER (which can also mean "freewill" or "inclination") is spelled with two YUDs (Y's) when it should be spelled with one.  The Talmud observes:

R. Nahman b. R. Hisda expounded:
What is meant by the text, Then the Lord God
formed [va-yetzer] man? [The word va-yetzer] (Gen. 2:7)
is written with two yods, to show that God created
two inclinations, one good (tov) and the other evil (ra).
(b.Ber. 61a)

It has been taught: R. Jose the Galilean says,
The righteous are swayed by their good inclination, as it says,
My heart is slain within me. (Ps. 109:22)
The wicked are swayed by their evil inclination, as it says,
Transgression speaks to the wicked,
methinks, there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Ps. 36:1)
Average people are swayed by both
inclinations, as it says, Because He stands at
the right hand of the needy, to save him from them
that judge his soul. (Ps. 109:31)
Raba said: People such as we are of the average.
(b.Ber. 61b)

We read in the Wisdom of Ben Sira:

It was He who created man in the beginning.
And He left him in the power of his own inclination (Heb: yetzer).
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water:
Stretch out your hand for whichever you wish.
(Sira 15:14-16)

We read in 4Maccabees:

21 Now when Elohim fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
22 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
23 To the mind he gave the Torah; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.
(4Macc. 2:21-23)

As Philo of Alexandria wrote:

"For these passions are the causes of all good and of all evil; of good when they submit to the authority of dominant reason, and of evil when they break out of bounds and scorn all government and restraint."
(Life of Moses 1; VI, 26)

These martyrs mentioned in 4Maccabees were types of Messiah, because they physically redeemed their people by overcoming the Yetzer Ra in their martyrdom.  They, thru the Torah in their minds, used reason to overcome their emotions. 

7:1 For like a swift ship captain, thus was the mind of the aged Eleazar. By way of the steering of the fear of Eloah, his thought was leading, over the great sea of torture and emotions.
7:2 And while threats and tortures of the Tyrant were coming upon him, and tumultuous waves of tribulation.
7:3 And in no way did he turn the rudder from fear of Eloah until he voyaged and arrived to the haven of victory that does not die.
7:4 No city besieged ever held out against mighty vassals coming against its walls and its various parts like this. He was dressed in all the armor. For while his soul was suffering, consumed by torture, and by tribulation, and by burning, he conquered the tribulation because of his mind was fighting with the shield of truth.
(4th Maccabees 7:1-4)

How Messiah Defeated the Yetzer Ra

This correlates with the redemption of Messiah through his defeat of the Yetzer Ra. In tractate Sukkah the Talmud records that there was a debate between Rabbi Dosa and other Rabbis concerning the meaning of Zechariah 12:12.  The Talmud says:

What is the cause of the mourning [mentioned in Zech 12:12]?
R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point.
One [Rabbi Dosa] explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph,
and the other [the Rabbis] explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.

It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for his only son (Zech. 12:10).

But according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Yetzer Ra (Evil Inclination), is this [it may be objected] an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep? — [The explanation is] as R. Judah expounded: In the time to come the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the Evil Inclination and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill, and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a hair thread. Both the former and the latter will weep; the righteous will weep saying, ‘How were we able to overcome such a towering hill!’ The wicked also will weep saying, ‘How is it that we were unable to conquer this hair thread!’ And the Holy One, blessed be He, will also marvel together with them, as it is said, Thus says the Lord of Hosts, If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it shall also be marvelous in My eyes.
(Sukkah 52a)

However, when we understand the how the destruction of the Yetzer Ra is achieved, we will see that there is in reality no conflict between the view of Rabbi Dosa (not only Rabbi Dosa, but the Targum Jonathan to Zech. 12:10 which agrees with Dosa's view) and the view of the Rabbis.

Another exposition of the text, ' My beloved is like a gazelle ‘:
Israel, explained R. Isaac, said to the Holy One, blessed be
He: ' Sovereign of the Universe! Thou hast told us that Thou
wilt come to us first.’ ' My beloved is like a gazelle ‘; as the
gazelle appears and then disappears, so the first redeemer
appeared and then disappeared. R. Berekiah in the name of R.
Levi said: Like the first redeemer so will the final redeemer be.
The first redeemer was Moses, who appeared to them and then
disappeared. For how long did he disappear from their sight?
R. Tanhuma said: Three months; accordingly it is written, And
they met Moses and Aaron, etc. (ib. V, 20).2 The final
redeemer will also appear to them and then disappear.
(Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 11:2)

We read in Exodus:

13 And Moshe said unto the people, Fear you not. Stand still, and see the salvation of YHWH, which He will work for you today! For whereas you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall see them again, no more, forever.
14 YHWH will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
(Ex. 14:13-14 HRV)

Therefore we have a picture of the “salvation of YHWH” in Exodus 14:19-29

19 And the angel of Elohim, who went before the camp of Yisra’el, removed, and went behind them. And the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them.
20 And it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Yisra’el. And there was the cloud and the darkness here, yet gave it light by night there: and the one came not near the other all the night.
21 And Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea. And YHWH caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all the night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.
22 And the children of Yisra’el went into the midst of the sea upon the dry earth, and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
23 And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them into the midst of the sea; all
Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
24 And it came to pass in the morning watch, that YHWH looked forth upon the host of the Egyptians, through the pillar of fire and of cloud, and discomfited the host of the Egyptians.
25 And He took off their chariot wheels, and made them to drive heavily, so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Yisra’el, for YHWH fights for them against the Egyptians.
26 And YHWH said unto Moshe: Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians; upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.
27 And Moshe stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its strength when the morning appeared. And the Egyptians fled against it, and YHWH overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.
28 And the waters returned and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea: there remained not so much as one of them.
29 But the children of Yisra’el walked upon dry land, in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
(Ex. 14:19-29 HRV)

Philo writes of this:

(2.265) Again, when you see, amid the wars and disasters of life, the merciful hand of God and his favorable power held over you and standing in defense of you, be silent yourself; for that champion stands in no need of any assistance. And there are proofs of this fact recorded in the sacred writings; such, for instance, as the verse, "The Lord will fight for us, and ye shall be Silent." (Ex 14:14.)
(2.266) And if you see the genuine offspring and the firstborn of Egypt destroyed, namely desire, and pleasures, and pain, and fear, and iniquity, and mirth, and intemperance, and all the other qualities which are similar and akin to these, then marvel and be silent, dreading the terrible power of God;
(Philo; Dreams Book 2; 40; 265-266)

So Philo sees an allegory here where the “Egyptians” represent “desire, and pleasures, and pain, and fear, and iniquity, and mirth, and intemperance, and all the other qualities which are similar and akin to these.” In other words Philo sees the Egyptians as representing the sin-nature which the Rabbis call the Yetzer Ra, the Evil inclination.

 So Philo sees an allegory here where the “Egyptians” represent “desire, and pleasures, and pain, and fear, and iniquity, and mirth, and intemperance, and all the other qualities which are similar and akin to these.” In other words Philo sees the Egyptians as representing the sin-nature which the Rabbis call the Yetzer Ra, the Evil inclination.  The first redeemer (Moses) delivered us from the Egyptians, but the second redeemer (the Messiah) would deliver us from the Evil Inclination.

Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman) (1194-1270 C.E.) wrote one of the most authoritative Torah commentaries in Rabbinic Judaism. He says on this topic:

And YHWH your Elohim will circumcise your heart (Deut.
30:6) It is this which the Rabbis have said, "If someone comes
to purify himself, they assist him" [from on High]. The verse
assures you that you will return to Him with all your heart and
He will help you.

This following subject is very apparent from Scripture: Since
the time of Creation, man has had the power to do as he
pleased, to be righteous or wicked. This [grant of free will]
applies likewise to the entire Torah period, so that people can
gain merit upon choosing the good and punishment for
preferring evil. But in the days of the Messiah, the choice of
their [genuine] good will be natural; the heart will not desire
the improper and it will have no craving whatever for it. This
is the "circumcision" mentioned here, for lust and desire are
the "foreskin" of the heart, and circumcision of the heart
means that it will not covet or desire evil.

Man will return at that time to what he was before the sin of
Adam, when by his nature he did what should properly be
done, and there were no conflicting desires in his will, as I
have explained in Seder Bereshit.

It is this which Scripture states in [the Book of] Jeremiah
31:30], Behold, the days come, says YHWH, that I will make a
new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of
Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their
fathers ..etc. But this is the covenant that I will make with the
house of Israel after those days, says the Eternal, I will put my
Law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it.
This is a reference to the annulment of the evil instinct and to
the natural performance by the heart of its proper function.
Therefore Jeremiah said further, and I will be their Elohim,
and they shall be My People; and they shall teach no more
every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying:
'Know YHWH; 'for they shall all know Me, from the least of
them to the greatest of them.

Now, it is known that the imagination of man's heart is evil
from his youth and it is necessary to instruct them,
but at that time it will not be necessary to instruct them
[to avoid evil] for their evil instinct will then be completely
abolished. And so it is declared by Ezekiel, A new heart
will I also give you, and a new spirit will I put within you;
and I will cause you to walk in My statutes . (Ezekiel 36:26)

The new heart alludes to man's nature, and the [new] spirit to
the desire and will. It is this which our Rabbis have said : "And
the years draw nigh, when you shall say: I have no pleasure in
them; these are the days of the Messiah, as they will offer
opportunity neither for merit nor for guilt," for in the days of
the Messiah there will be no [evil] desire in man but he will
naturally perform the proper deeds and therefore there will be
neither merit nor guilt in them, for merit and guilt are
dependent upon desire.
(Ramban on Deut. 29:6)

Thus we learn that the death and defeat of the Yetzer Ra is the direct result of the work of Messiah. The mourning in Zechariah 12:12 is for the the death of the Messiah, but the death of Messiah also results in the death and defeat of the Yetzer Ra, thus Rabbi Dosa and the other Rabbis can actually be understood to agree.

And now we see how the Martyrs of 4th Maccabees are a type of the Messiah. because they also overcame the Yetzer Ra in their martyrdom.

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