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HOW A RABBI FOUND PEACE
Personal Testimony of Dr. Max Wertheimer
Former Rabbi of Temple Israel in Dayton, Ohio
Born in Germany, of orthodox Jewish parents, my first fifteen years were saturated with training in Orthodox Judaism. Then I began my studies toward a career, and was apprenticed to a manufacturer, doing office work. Although I continued to read the prayers and attend synagogue, my worldly associates led me into sinful pleasures and drifted from the faith of my fathers.
My parents sent me to America to study in the Hebrew Union College in Ohio. There were major adjustments to be made, but I finished my training in all phases of Hebrew learning, completed my undergraduate work and received, my Master's Degree.
Having become proficient in translation of Hebrew into the vernacular, and with a complete knowledge of Jewish history, I was ordained and inducted into the rabbinical office. In my first charge I served ten years, receiving many tokens of affection from my flock. I contributed much to their knowledge of the social, industrial and economic problems of the day. I spoke on monotheism, ethical culture, and the moral systems of the Jews. On Sabbath mornings I gave addresses on Pentateuch and on Sundays I taught from eight in the morning to five in the evening with only an hours break for dinner.
I became popular as a public speaker and was often asked to speak in Christian churches. Well do I recall the day when I proudly stood before an audience of professing Christians and told them why I was a Jew and would not believe in their Christ as my Messiah Saviour. I gloried in the Reform Judaism that acknowledged no need of atoning sacrifice for sin, a religion of ethics which quieted qualms of conscience through a smug self-righteousness.
In that audience sat a humble, elderly woman who prayed, "O God, bring Dr. Wertheimer to realize his utter need of that Saviour he so boastingly rejects! Bring him, if necessary, to the very depths in order that he may know his need of my Lord Jesus Christ."
What did I need of Jesus? I was perfectly satisfied with life. My wife was young, attractive and accomplished. I was rabbi of the Bnai Yeshorum Synagogue, lived in a beautiful home, enjoyed a place of prominence in the community where I spoke in every denominational church, was honorary member of the Ministerial Association, served as Chaplain in the Masonic Lodge, and faired sumptuously every day.
Suddenly there became a change. My wife became seriously ill, and soon dead, leaving me a distraught widower with two small children. I could not sleep. I walked the streets striving to find something that would make me forget the void in my life. My dreams were shattered. Where was comfort to be found? I called on the God of my fathers, but the heavens seemed as brass. How could I speak words of comfort to others when my own sorrow had brought me to despair? I delved into Spiritualism, Theosophy and Christian Science only to find them futile and hopeless.
I decided that I must resign and take time to think things through. I was perplexed about one thing in particular: Where was the spirit and soul of my loved one who had made my existence so sweet? What had become of her faculties, the intents and purposes of that active keen mind? I turned to the Bible for an answer.
Again I studied Judaism, but it answered no questions, it satisfied no craving in my heart. Then I began to read the New Testament comparing it with the Old. In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah I I was perplexed by the expression ""..my righteous servant?" I found he was going to bear the iniquity of Israel. I decided it could not mean Israel, for the prophet spoke of them as a sinful nation, laden with iniquity. Who was it?
I began to study the context and in Isaiah 50:6, I found, "I gave My back to the smiters." Then I read how the chapter began: "Thus saith Jehovah." I asked, does God have a back? Did He give it to the smiters? Then I read he "gave his cheeks to them that pluck off the hair," and how he hid not His face "from shame and spitting." I asked myself, when did Jehovah have these human characteristics? When and why did He suffer these indignities? I was further perplexed by Psalm 110:1.
In my confusion I began to read Isaiah from the beginning. I was stopped at the sixth verse of chapter nine: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulders: His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Here was a most incomprehensible thing!
I was suddenly faced with the doctrine of the Trinity. What now about our popular monotheistic slogan, "Sh'ma Isroel, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai, Echod." Upon that word "Echod" (one) the entire philosophy of Judaism is based. I had been taught by the rabbis that echod means absolute unity. I began to study that word and found to my amazement it was used of Adam and Eve, who became one. It was used again when the spies returned from Canaan with a cluster of grapes (Eshol Echod). It was used again when the "men of Judah stood up as one man" (Ish Echod). Suddenly I was struck with the error I had believed and proclaimed all through my ministry. Echod cannot mean absolute unity, but a composite unity.
Next I began o search for the name of Jesus in the Old Testament. In my study I found that 275 years before Christ King Ptolemy Philadelphus summoned men from Palestine and commanded them to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into the Greek vernacular. They took the Pentateuch first, and when they translated it the book of "Jesous," written with a circumflex over it, to show that there had been a suppression of the Hebrew that could not be expressed in Greek. When Joshua went into Canaan with the other eleven spies, he was called Yehoshuah" (Jehovah is Savior). That is exactly what the word "Jesus" means.
I could hold out in unbelief no longer. I was convinced of the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. I cried, "Lord, I believe that Thou as Jehovah Yesous has made atonement for me. I believe that Jehovah Yesous died for me. From henceforth I will publicly confess Yeshuah as my Saviour and Lord." Thus, after months of searching, I was convinced that Jesus was the righteous servant of Jehovah, (Jehovah-tsidkenu), "The Lord our righteousness."
While I had served as a rabbi I had yearned to give the bereaved some hope and comfort, but I could not give what I did not possess. Now I could approach those in heartbreaking grief and tragedy and give them the satisfying words of the Lord Jesus, "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die." And again, "Verily, Verily I say unto you; He that heareth My Word, And believeth on Him that sent Me, hath (possesses now) everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
There is but one eternal life, and one source of eternal life; that is God's Son. What a great and glorious message we, His redeemed ones, are commissioned to deliver today.