Special for Shavuos 5758 - Part One

In Advance of Moshiach

On the holiday of Shavuos, we read Megillos Rus, which is the famous story of the Moabite princess who converted to Judaism and became the prototypical righteous convert. Not only did she merit to become part of the Jewish people, but she became an important ancestor of Dovid HaMelech, and therefore, Moshiach.

At first glance, one might think that the holiday of Sukkos is a more appropriate time to read this story, since it is then that we tend to get somewhat Messianic. However, reading the story of Rus on the day that we accepted Torah at Mt. Sinai is an important way of connecting up what is the official beginning of Jewish history, with what will be the official end of Jewish history, at least as we now recognize it.

* * *

Anyone who believes in Moshiach is waiting for Moshiach. The Talmud says our waitig for Moshiach is one of the issues that will determine our portion in the World-to-Come:

When a person is brought to judgment they will say to him, "Did you deal faithfully in business? Did you fix times for learning Torah? Did you try to have children? Did you look forward to the arrival of the redemption? ..." (Shabbos 31a)

But if He [G-d] and we are waiting, what prevents him [Moshiach] from coming? The Attribute of Justice. If the Attribute of Justice prevents him, then what is the use of our waiting? To receive reward for waiting, as it says, "Happy are those who wait for him." (Yishaya 30:18)

We have heard the stories of the Chofetz Chaim, who left his Shabbos coat out all week long in anticipation of having to change his clothing quickly to greet Moshiach, who surely was just moments away. We have read about how the Chofetz Chaim, upon hearing a tumult in the street ran down to greet what must surely have been the news of the arrival of the Moshiach, only to faint upon seeing that it had only been the arrival of his son-in-law that had been the cause of joy. The pre-war generations knew how to fulfill the Rambam's thirteenth and final principle of faith:
"I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Moshiach, though he may tarry."
How imminent is Moshiach's arrival? The question has been asked in every generation, and every once in a while, it has been answered as well:
Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi met Eliyahu (the prophet) standing at the entrance of a cave of Rebi Shimon bar Yochai and asked him ... "When will Moshiach appear?"
He answered, "Go and ask Moshiach himself."
"But where can he be found?"
"At the gate of Rome."
"And by what sign [can I recognize him]?"
"He is among the poor people afflicted with wounds. All the afflicted poor open the bandages of all their wounds, fix them and dress them. He opens one bandage, fixes the wound, and dresses it, and then goes on to the next one, for the reason that when he might be called, there should be no delay [until all the wounds are dressed]."
I went to him, and said, "Peace be upon you, my master and teacher," and he answered, "Peace be with you, Bar Levi."
I asked him, "When will the master appear?"
He answered, "Today."
I then went back to Eliyahu and asked regarding all the Moshiach said, and told him that he said, "Peace be with you, Bar Levi."
Eliyahu then said, "I can assure you and your father of a share in the World-to-Come."
"But he made a fool of me," I told Eliyahu, "because he said that he would come today."
Eliyahu answered and said, "The expression 'today' means the same as it does in this verse, 'Today, if you will listen to His voice.' (Tehillim 95:7) (Sanhedrin 98a)
This answer is both heartening and disheartening. It is wonderful to know that Moshiach is walking the earth in every generation, at least in potential. It is difficult to accept, however, that so many generations have come and gone and still, Moshiach has not revealed himself. Why should it be any different in our generation?

Elsewhere, the Talmud tells us just how close Moshiach was to coming and heralding the final redemption:

The Holy One, Blessed is He, was about to make [King] Chizkiah the Moshiach and Sancheriv [who attacked Jerusalem], Gog and Magog, when the Attribute of Judgment said before The Holy One, Blessed is He, "Master of the Universe! Dovid, the king of Israel, who recited many songs and praises, You did not make Moshiach. Chizkiah, for whom You have performed great miracles, and for which he did not recite song, You want to make Moshiach?" (Sanhedrin 94a)
History testifies to the result of that debate. Moshiach seems so close, and yet so far away. It was 667 years from Chizkiah (533 BCE) until the potential Moshiach, Bar Kochbah (135 CE), who tried to save the Jewish people from the hands of the Roman Empire; in the end, he failed dismally and disgracefully. Since then, another 1,863 years have passed, with only a false messiah, Shabtai Tzvi (1648), to show for our efforts; the destructive effects of his charade are felt to this very day. Just the mention of Moshiach sends chills up and down the backs of many Jews who know of Shabtai Tzvi's antics.

However, what our generation has going for it is history, and historical precedent. First of all, we are living in the year 5,758, 242 years in advance of the end of history as we know it. On the other hand, Rebi Akiva, who at first took Bar Kochbah seriously only to later abandon him, lived in the time of the second Temple, almost 2,000 years before the year 6,000. In his lifetime, the period called "The Heels of Moshiach" was only beginning; in our lifetime, it is coming to an end.

Furthermore, when you consider some of the statements recorded in the Talmud some 1,500 years ago, one can't help but wonder if we are the living fulfillment of those fearsome predictions made about the period in advance of Moshiach's arrival. They include:

Rebi Yochanan said: In the generation that Ben Dovid will come, talmidei chachamim will decrease, and the eyes of the remainder will protrude from sighing and sorrow; many chastisements and many evil decrees will be renewed; one will not cease before another begins.

The rabbis taught: The Shmittah period in which Ben David will come the following verse will be fulfilled in the first year, "And I caused it to rain upon one city, and upon another city I caused it not to rain." (Amos 4:7). In the second year, slight famine will be sent. In the third year, a great famine from which men, women, and children, pious and deed-doing people will die, and Torah will be forgotten by those who learned her. In the fourth year, some will be satiated, and others will not be. In the fifth year, there will be great satiation, with eating, drinking, and joy, and Torah will return to those who learned it. In the sixth year, voices [speaking of the Moshiach's imminent arrival] will be heard, and in the seventh year, there will be war [Gog u'Magog]. In the year after the seventh, Ben Dovid will come. Rab Yosef said, "Many Shmittah cycles have come and he did not arrive!" Abaye answered, "Were there voices in the sixth year followed by war in the seventh year? Secondly, did they follow this order?"

Rebi Yehuda said: The generation in which Ben Dovid will come ... The wisdom of the scribes will be corrupted; men fearing sin will be hated; the leaders of the generation will have the nature of dogs; and truth will be lacking ... He who turns away from evil will be regarded by the public as being foolish.

Rebi Nehorai taught: The generation in which Ben Dovid will come the young will embarrass the old, and the old will rise for the young; a daughter will rebel against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, the leaders of the generation will have the nature of dogs, and a son will feel no shame when criticized by his father.

Reb Nechemia taught: The generation in which Ben Dovid will come, insolence will increase, respect will be missing ... and all the governments will turn to false beliefs (minnus); criticism will be of no avail.

Ben Dovid will not come until informers increase ... And hope in the redemption is renounced. (Sanhedrin 97a)

Frighteningly enough, what we take to be part-and-parcel of everyday life, the Talmud sees as ominous signs heralding Moshiach's arrival. Everywhere you go, parents and teachers talk about the increased "chutzpah" of the younger generations. Governments act contrary to Torah, and certainly people who yield to the Torah and fear transgressing it, are, today, derided by countless others. And how many people take criticism properly today?

One could "sweep" these signs under the proverbial carpet, or one could at least wonder if they should not be taken for granted. This is something to think about until we discuss next week's installment: Conditions for Bringing Moshiach.

Have a great Shabbos,
Pinchas Winston

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