Fishers of Men – Yeshua’s Messianic Midrash

The other day while preparing for this past Sabbath’s drash, I came across something which was—at least for myself—very exciting. I discovered a midrash of Yeshua of which I had not known.

Although my entire life I have been very familiar with Yeshua’s words in Matthew 4:19 in which he calls his disciples to be “fishers of men,” it has never had the impact as it has since my discovery.

When Yeshua tells his disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he is doing a remez on Jeremiah 16:16-18 in which the “fishermen” are literally fishers of men. However, in reading Jeremiah in context, it appears that these fishermen are a curse upon Israel. They will hunt down the men of Israel and haul them off into captivity.

Behold, I shall send many fishermen—the word of Hashem—and they will fish them out, and afterwards I shall send many trappers and they will trap them from atop every mountain and every hill and from the crevices in the rocks. For My eyes are upon all their ways; they are not hidden from before Me, and their sin is not concealed from before My eyes. I shall repay them first for the repitition of their [forefathers’] sin and transgression, for having desecrated My land; with their disgusting abominations and their detestations they have filled up My heritage.

However, in Yeshua’s use of the term “fishers of men” in regard to his disciples, he alludes to this passage in a different manner. His use is in the positive, rather than the negative sense. Instead of his disciples bringing their catch into captivity, they will bring them back from exile (first from spiritual exile). Yeshua does a very sophisticated remez in that he ties the terminology to both the proper context (by contrast) and to the previous statement by Jeremiah. He connects the “fishermen” with the return of the exiles, rather than the drawing away of the exiles, focusing on the previous verses which state:

However, behold—days are coming—the word of Hashem—when it will longer be said, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but rather, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands where He had scattered them,” and I shall return them to their land, which I gave to their forefathers. (Jeremiah 16:14-15)

Yeshua opts for an alternative reading in which it can be read:

However, behold—days are coming—the word of Hashem—when it will longer be said, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but rather, “As Hashem lives, Who took out the Children of Israel from the land of the North and from all the lands where He had scattered them,” and I shall return them to their land, which I gave to their forefathers. I shall send many fishermen—the word of Hashem—and they will fish them out, and afterwards I shall send many trappers and they will trap them from atop every mountain and every hill and from the crevices in the rocks. (Jeremiah 16:14-16)

No longer are the “fishers of men” those who would take Israel into captivity, but those who would end the exile through bringing the good news of the Kingdom and true t’shuvah through Mashiach HaTzeddik. May we be good fishermen and bring about the end of the exile in our lifetime.

Law of Liberty

“So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the Law (Torah) of liberty.” (James 2:12)

“R. Elazar said further: “It is written [Exod. 32:16]: ‘Engraved upon the tables,’ which means, that if the tables had not been broken the first time, the Law (Torah) would never have been forgotten by Israel, for a thing that is engraved cannot be obliterated, and R. Aha bar Jacob added, “that no nation on earth could have power over them; for it is said ‘engraved upon the tablets.’ Do not read “Charuth” (engraved) but “Cheiruth” (liberty).” Talmud (b.Eruvin 54a)