Jun 22, 2018
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He saves those whose spirit is crushed. (Psalm 34:18)
There have been some high profile suicides lately, people like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, people who from all appearances have everything going for them. Unfortunately there have been MANY suicides of late, and the rate is increasing. Suicide, in fact, was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States in 2016, claiming the lives of nearly 45,000 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. For some reasons, Montana has the country’s highest suicide rate, and suicides by military veterans are a significant contributor. They account for more than 20 percent of Montana’s suicides, and veterans have a suicide rate more than twice that of nonveterans.
Certainly depression is a big factor, but we may well ask what causes so much depression. Is it all biochemical, or has the revolution of rising expectations come up against some impenetrable ceilings of limited opportunities? Are more people hopeless? People do need hope.
Back in the 1600s in the Ottoman empire, which was at its powerful peak, there rose up in the eastern Mediterranean area a talented rabbi and practitioner of the mystical kaballah. According to a popular interpretation of a text in the book called The Zohar, 1648 was to be the year of the redemption of the Jewish people by the Messiah. So Sabbatai Zvi that year declared himself to be the Messiah. There was proof positive for the Jewish people…it was 1648 and here was the Messiah. He was a great preacher and attracted a large following wherever he went….the Messiah had come at last. All this made the Ottoman Sultan, who had not been consulted about this, just a little uneasy. The Jewish people were an important minority in his multicultural empire. So when Sabbatai Zvi came to Istanbul in 1666, Sultan Mehmed IV had his grand vizier bring him in for questioning. The questioning produced the answer that Sabbatai was fomenting revolution. So he was generously offered the choice of execution or conversion to Islam. OK, said Sabbatai Zvi, and the long awaited Messiah converted to Islam and retired with a nice pension.
There went hope out the window for a huge number of Jewish people, who had been counting on him. This was especially true of Jewish people in Eastern Europe, who were not nearly as prosperous and worldly-wise as the Mediterranean Jews. All seemed lost.
Then in the early 1700s in the western Ukraine, along came the Bal Shem Tov, the “Master of the Good Name,” Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer. Although he was a descendant of King David, he never claimed to be the Messiah. He taught a Judaism that focused on finding God within and seeing God and his workings in the world around you. He saw that pleasure in the legitimate good things of life could lead the true believer to God. He developed quite a following and travelled through Poland and the Ukraine healing the sick and disturbed. He is the founder of the Hasidic movement in Judaism. God restored the hope and faith of his people through the Baal Shem Tov.
The darkness of Sabbatai Zvi’s collapse led to the light of Baal Shem Tov. There is lots to be disappointed in in life, lots of Sabbatai Zvis. If we put our hope and faith in any human being, we must know that no one is free from fault or sin. If our hope and faith are in God, then he will always show the way forward.
“Man goes about as a mere phantom; they hurry about, although in vain; he heaps up stores without knowing for whom. And now, LORD, for what do I wait? You are my only hope.” Ps 39:7-8