What the Prophet Said
8th Century B.C.E.
Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he shot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of a dry ground; he had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him. He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was takeen away, and with his generation who did reason? For he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. And they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich his tomb; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.
What the Rabbis Said
2nd Century C.E.
Behold my servant. Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peopled, and their complexion beyond the sons of men.
The Messiah–what is his name?…The rabbis say, the leprous one; those of the house of Rabbi say, the sick one, as it is said, “Surely he hath borne our sickness.”
(The Babylonian Talmud)
6th Century C.E.
He is speaking of King Messiah: “Come hither” draw near to the throne “and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,” this refers to the chastisements, as it is said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.”
(Ruth 2:14 commentary from The Midrash Rabbah)
Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the Eternal will create Him [the Messiah] as a new creature.
(Eleazar ha Kalir, from the Machsor)
1270 – 1300 C.E.
In the hour in which they tell the Messiah about the sufferings of Israel in exile, and about the sinful among them who seek not the knowledge of their Master, the Messiah lifts up his voice and weeps over the sinful among them. This is what is written: He was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). Those souls then return to their places. In the Garden of Eden there is a Hall which is called the Hall of the Sons of Illness. The Messiah enters that Hall and summons all the disease and all the pains and all the suffering of Israel that they should come upon him, and all of them come upon him.
(The Zohar 2:212a)
This passage, the commentators explain, speaks of the captivity of Israel, although the singular number is used in it throughout. Others have supposed it to mean the just in the present world, who are crushed and oppressed now…but these, too, for the same reason, by altering the number, distort the verses from the natural meaning. And then it seems to me that…having forsaken the knowledge of our teachers, and inclined “after the stubbornness of their own hearts,” and of their own opinion, I am pleased to interpret it, in accordance with the teaching of our Rabbis, of King Messiah.
(Rabbi Moshe Kohen Iben Crispin of Cordova, Spain in response to Rashi’s interpretation of Isaiah 53)
16th Century C.E.
I may remark, then, that our Rabbis of blessed memory with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet [Isaiah] is speaking of the King Messiah.
(The writings of Rabbi Moshe Alsheikh of Safed)
According to the opinion of Rashi and Ibn Ezra, it relates to Israel at the end of their captivity. But if so, what can be the meaning of the passage, “He was wounded for our transgressions”? Who was wounded? Who are the transgressors? Who carried out the sickness and bare the pain? The fact is that it refers to the King Messiah.
(From the commentary of Jewish educator Herz Homberg)