Rabbi Max Wertheimer, Germany, Age 78
Born in Germany of devout 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 I drifted from the faith of my fathers.
My parents sent me to America to pursue a classical education at the Hebrew Union College in Ohio. There were major adjustments to be made, but I finished my training in all phases of Hebrew learning. Four years after completing my undergraduate work I received my master’s degree.
Having become proficient in the translation of Hebrew into the vernacular and with a broad knowledge of Jewish history, I was ordained and inducted into rabbinical office.
I served ten years in my first charge, 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 the Pentateuch, and on Sundays I taught from eight in the morning to five in the evening with only an hour’s 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 and Savior. 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 Savior 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 B’nai 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 fared sumptuously every day.
Suddenly, there came a change. My wife became seriously ill and soon died, 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 Spiritism, 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 all 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. As I pondered over and meditated on many passages, one in particular made a definite impression. In the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, I was perplexed by the expression, “. . . My righteous servant,” found in the eleventh verse. This was the only mention of that phrase I could find in either Testament. We have, “David, my servant,” “Isaiah, my servant,” Daniel, my servant,” but here it is, “My righteous servant.”
I said to myself, Who is that righteous servant? To whom does the prophet refer? I argued, Whoever that “righteous servant” of Jehovah is, of one thing I am sure: He is not Israel, because the prophet declares Israel to be a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a leprous nation. The righteous servant of Jehovah must be one who is holy. If it isn’t Israel, who could it be? I decided it must be Isaiah. But in Isaiah chapter 6 I found it could never be the prophet, for he confesses himself to be a guilty sinner and a man of unclean lips in God’s sight. “My righteous servant.” Who could it be?
I began to study the context and in Isaiah 50:6 I found, “I offered my back to those who beat me.” Then I read how the chapter began: “This is what the Lord says.” I asked, Does God have a back? Did he give it to those who beat him? Then I read, “My cheeks to those who pulled out my beard,” and how he did not hide his face “from mocking and spitting.” I asked myself, When did Jehovah have these human characteristics? When and why did he suffer these indignities?
In my confusion, I began to read Isaiah from the beginning. I was stopped at the sixth verse of chapter nine: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Here was a most incomprehensible thing!
I was suddenly faced with the doctrine of the Trinity. What now about our familiar monotheistic slogan, Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai ehad (“Hear 0 Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord”)? Upon that word ehad (“one”), the entire philosophy of Judaism is based. I had been taught by the rabbi.,; that ehad 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 (eshkol ehad). Again it is found when the “men of Judah” stood up as “one man” (eesh ehad). Suddenly, I was struck with the error l had believed and proclaimed all through my ministry. Ehad cannot mean “absolute unity,” but must refer to a composite unity.
Next I began to 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 came to “Joshua” they translated it Yesous, 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 Yehoshua (“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 as Jehovah Yesous you made the atonement for me. I believe you made provision for me! From henceforth I will publicly confess Yeshua as my Savior 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 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 heart-breaking grief and tragedy and give them the satisfying words of the Lord Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though he dies-, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And again, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to 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.