A Jewish friend told me that he asked different rabbis over the years the meaning of Isaiah 53. These are a few of their answers:
1. Leave it alone, it’ll drive you meshuga (crazy).
2. It can have a hundred meanings.
3. You’re making trouble for yourself.
The following is a possible subtext of the respective responses (actual responses appear in brackets).
1. Don’t make me meshuga. (Leave it alone, it’ll drive you meshuga).
2. It can have hundreds of meanings except the one that says it’s about the Messiah atoning for the sins of Israel. ( It can have a hundred meanings).
Contrary to the vapid rabbis above, there are rabbis who say that Isaiah 53 is about the Jewish people, not as sinners who need redemption, but exactly the contrary, that is, as redeemers suffering for the goyim (nations). In the articles that follow, I argue that this meaning is at best untenable. Here are the first six verses of Isaiah 53.
1. Who has believed our report. And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2. For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.