by Rav Pinchas Winston.
For millennia, Jews have eagerly anticipated the arrival of Moshiach. EXILE AND REDEMPTION
The centrality of Moshiach and the belief in his eventual arrival is part-and-parcel of Jewish belief, as Maimonides emphasized in his classic “Thirteen Principles of Faith”:
I believe with perfect faith in the coming of Moshiach, and even though he may tarry, nevertheless, I will wait for him everyday, that he will come. (Principle #12)
— and a promise from the prophets:
The smallest shall become a thousand, and the least, a mighty nation. I am the Lord, in its time, I will hasten it. (Isaiah 60:22)
According to tradition, the prophet Isaiah was referring to the future arrival of the savior of the Jewish people — Moshiach ben Dovid — Moshiach, a descendant of King David, from the tribe of Yehudah. There are many similar references to his eventual arrival in the Jewish Bible and subsequent commentaries, and this is one of the most-discussed concepts in Torah literature.
To appreciate the importance of Moshiach’s arrival, one must first appreciate that the Jewish people are in exile, as we have been for thousands of years. This is true even with the present-day State of Israel; “exile”from a Torah perspective can occur even when the Jews are living in Israel, as was the case during the Greek Exile (319-139 BCE) which ended with the miracles of Chanukah.
In other words, “exile”, from a Torah-perspective, is defined as “anything short of a complete and perfect Torah society living on the Land of Israel under the leadership of Moshiach.”That will be a time when all nations will accept the existence of God, and the need for devotion to Him.
Until this is an absolute reality, exile will still be a primary theme of Jewish history.
From a non-Torah perspective, events in the Middle East today may be reason for grave concern, but are not necessarily a “portal”to significant change in the spiritual quality of society and mankind. From this perspective, the only hope is that somehow the situation will find rectification, so that the lives of those affected can return to “normal,”a subjective term defined by each individual and society.
The million-dollar question has always been, “When will Moshiach come?”From a non-Torah viewpoint, the concept of “Moshiach”and a spiritually utopian society may be burdensome, even to be feared and avoided, since its goals are so radically different. Indeed, the yearning for Moshiach is usually appreciated only once a person gains a deeper understanding of Torah, its values, and God’s master plan for creation and humanity.
TIMETABLE FOR REDEMPTION
The million-dollar question has always been, “When will Moshiach come?” To that end, calculations have been made throughout history — obviously without success. As well, false messiahs have popped up all over the world throughout history, sometimes to no effect, sometimes causing great despair, and sometimes leaving whole new religions in their wake.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) speaks of two possible dates for the arrival of Moshiach, one is the early date, and one is the last possible moment. Bringing Moshiach “early”means, for the most part, national repentance to the ways of Torah, after which the rest of the world will fall into line.
However, should the Jewish people avoid a return to Torah, then history will be allowed to run its “natural course”until the time that God pre-destined from creation for it to end. And end it must, for creation has much bigger goals to accomplish than we have seen until now. As the Sages say: “This world is but a corridor to the next world”(Pirkei Avot 4:16).
SIX DAYS — SIX THOUSAND YEARS
The first thing to know is that history will last only 6,000 years (Talmud – Sanhedrin 97a). This is because the six millennia are based upon the six days of creation, as hinted to in the following verse:
For one thousand years in Your [God’s] eyes are but a day that has passed. (Psalms 90:4)
— which, in turn, are spiritually rooted in the six Sefirot:
…This is why so much time must transpire from the time of creation until the time of the tikkun (i.e., Moshiach’s coming). All the forces of Gevurot are rooted in the six Sefirot — Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod — which are the six days of creation… and also the 6,000 years of history that the world will exist. And within [the six Sefirot] are the roots of all that will happen from the six days of creation until the Final Tikkun… We find that all that transpires is the result of the sparks from the time of Tohu, Chaos… (Drushei Olam HaTohu 2:151b)
Spiritual DNA influences the direction of history for that particular millennium.This is why events happen in history as they do, when they do. Just like physical DNA determines much of our direction in life, so too, spiritual DNA influences the direction of history for that particular millennium. In the first 1,000 years of humanity, the Divine trait of Chesed (Kindness) gave people long lifespans, though they didn’t deserve it. In the second millennium, Gevurah (Strength/Judgment) brought down Divine justice on mankind through the Flood and the dispersion from the Tower of Babel. Tifferet (Beauty) made Torah possible in the third millennium, the time of Abraham and Moses. And so on…
Today in 2001, we are in the year 5761 from creation, 239 years until Year 6000 — the end of “This World.”This represents slightly less than four percent of all of history as we are used to it. However, though this information in and of itself may not create a sense of urgency, a lot is meant to happen within this remaining thin slice of time, part of which may be already affecting the direction of events around the world, particularly those relating to the Jewish people.
RESURRECTION IN 29 YEARS TIME
One of the most important concepts in Jewish thought is that there was a radical transformation in man as a result of Adam disobeying God’s command not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This resulted in a spiritual distancing of God from man, and an intense “hiding of God’s face,”so-to-speak (hester panim), which in turn resulted in the “physicalization”of mankind and creation.
According to the Zohar, prior to the sin of eating, Man was such a spiritual being that his skin was translucent like light. Our skin today is solid and opaque, which limits our ability to rise above nature and act spiritually as someone made in the image of God ought to.
Though this “physicalized” state of man suits our period of history, it is unacceptable for higher spiritual planes, especially that of the World to Come. Therefore, before humanity can enter that ultimate phase of history, we must reverse the process and return again to the state that Adam enjoyed before everything went wrong.
This period of “rebuilding”is called Techiyat HaMeitim — “Resurrection of the Dead,”a concept that we mention every day in the Amidah prayer. This time period will be characterized by people dying, decomposing in the ground (as part of the atonement process), and then being re-built anew on a much higher spiritual plane. Compared to today, it would be like looking at an angel.
Though many rabbis believe this period will not occur for a long time to come, there are some sources — the Zohar (Midrash Ne’elam – Toldot 140a), and the “Leshem Shevo v’Achlamah”(Drushei Olam HaTohu, 2:4:12:9-12) — that suggest that this period will begin no later than 210 years in advance of Year 6000. That’s 29 years from today!
For us, this is hard to believe. Twenty-nine years is not a lot of time, and the transformation from “this”reality to “that”reality is unimaginable. However, this difficulty in imagining may be unique to our generation, which did not witness how Europe and the entire world were transformed literally overnight, over a short period in the early 1940s.
Kabbalists say that everything will change at breath-taking speed.Furthermore, when God is directly involved in such transformations, they can take place in very short periods of time, like the 10 months it took to bring the Jews from the lowest rung in Egypt to the highest one, culminating in the Jewish slave nation devastating the powerful empire of Egypt.
The Talmud (Brachot 13a) says that the Final Redemption will outdo all previous redemptions, and Kabbalists say that once this happens, everything will change at breath-taking speed. By the time history hits Year 5790, the world may still resemble what it looked like in the past, but at the same time, it may be experientially very different. ‘Paradise’ will not be something dreamed about, but rather lived within.
INGATHERING OF EXILES
The Zohar (Toldot 139a) says that in advance of the 210 years of the Resurrection of the Dead, there is a 40-year period of Kibbutz Galiot, literally the “Ingathering of the Exiles.”As the name implies, it is the period during which all remaining Jews will be brought back to the Land of Israel. And as the number implies, it corresponds to the 40 years the Jewish people wandered in the desert.
In other words, the end of Jewish history perfectly mirrors the beginning of Jewish history in the time of Moses. We began with 210 years of life in Egypt, meant to bring us back to the level of Adam before the sin (though just the opposite resulted), and then, we “wandered”outside the Land of Israel for 40 years. So too, at the end of history, we may experience a process of returning to the land over the course of 40 years, followed by a 210-year period necessary to return to the level of Adam before his sin.
This period of ingathering will have two phases: Pre-Moshiach and Post-Moshiach. During the Pre-Moshiach period, history will still be subject to hidden Divine Providence. There will be limited aliyah (immigration) to Israel, but many situations will force Jews around the world to reconcile their feelings regarding the Land of Israel and redemption.
During that phase, it may look as if not much is happening to help the process of exile-ingathering, when in fact, a hidden winnowing process could be in full swing. Some Jews may feel a yearning to live in Israel, whether they will get there or not, while others may feel disenchanted and neutral to the idea of living on the land.
At that time, the importance of one’s feelings and attachment to the Land of Israel may be virtually unnoticeable to most people. However, many midrashim explain that where a person stood with respect to the concept of living in Israel and their drive for closeness to God will make an important difference during Phase Two.
Phase One, within this 40-year period of ingathering, will come to a conclusion just before and during the arrival of Moshiach ben Dovid. Having come to save the Jewish people from the cataclysmic war of Gog and Magog (if that is the path history takes), and to rid the world of evil, the reality of God, the priority of Torah, and, the centrality of the Land of Israel will become eminently clear.
With the evil impulse (yetzer hara) on the way out of history for good, the era of free will choice will come to an end forever (Talmud – Sukkah 52a). With the end of free will, the opportunity to earn reward and enhance one’s portion in the World to Come will also cease — forever.
PHASES OF REDEMPTION
According to some sources in the Zohar, the official beginning of the ingathering may have been the year 5750 from creation, or 1990 CE. This corresponds to the demise of the Soviet Union and its stranglehold on millions of Jews. This also corresponds to the last quarter of the sixth millennium, which — corresponding to the six days of creation — equals the afternoon just prior to Shabbat, when preparations greatly accelerate life’s pace. Indeed, the world seems to have quickened over the last decade with the advent of cyberspace, and major shifts in world thinking have since occurred.
Certainly, recent events in Israel have dominated world attention, forcing Jews to take sides and make decisions about their vision of Israel’s future. Very little middle ground seems to exist today, with Jews being forced either to the right or the left. This is not incidental or just plain politics; this is a function of the “period of ingathering.”
The transference from Phase One of the ingathering to Phase Two signals the Final Redemption under the leadership of Moshiach ben Dovid. When exactly this will happen is the big question mark in Jewish history, and the subject of many trial calculations and controversy.
However, the Zohar (Bereishit 118a) says that just as the actual birth of a child becomes increasingly obvious with time, so, too, will Moshiach’s arrival eventually become so obvious that even a school child will be able to make the calculation.
What is important to us is that as the moment of transition from Phase One to Phase Two approaches, one can expect miracles to become increasingly more obvious, free will to become increasingly reduced, and world history to become increasingly more precarious.
CALCULATING MOSHIACH’S ARRIVAL
The Talmud records:
Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonaton: “May the spirit of those who calculate the end expire. For they say, “Since the pre-determined time has arrived, and [Moshiach] has yet to come, he will never come!” (Sanhedrin 97b)
Whoever forecasts the date of Moshiach’s arrival has no place in the World to Come. (Derech Eretz 11)
We see that the Talmud is concerned about making calculations regarding the precise day for Moshiach’s arrival, since errors in such calculations usually result in national disappointment, and perhaps, revelations of false messiahs. Furthermore, the Talmud states:
When Rav Zeira happened upon scholars who were engaged [in calculating the date of Moshiach’s arrival], he told them, “I beg you! do not postpone it … for it has been taught, ‘Three things come when the mind is occupied otherwise: Moshiach …'” (Sanhedrin 97a)
Additionally, there is the concern that believing in a specific date will prevent a person from expecting Moshiach earlier than that date, a violation of the principle of “anticipating him any day.” Failure to believe this, says Mamonides, can give such a Jew the status of a heretic (Laws of Kings 11:1).
Yet we see that great rabbis over the ages did attempt to predict the precise date of Moshiach’s arrival. This is because the prohibition has been interpreted differently by many rabbis throughout the ages, as follows:
According to the Abarbanel (15th century Spain), it is only forbidden to make calculations based on astrology, however it is permissible to calculate the date of Moshiach;s arrival based on Biblical sources (Maayeni HaYeshuah 1:2).
Nachmanides says that the prohibition applied only to earlier generations, and now that we are on the eve of redemption (he was writing in the 13th century!), there is no prohibition (Sefer HaGeulah, Ma’amer 4).
Signs all around us foreshadow redemption.The Malbim (19th century Europe) provides an analogy of a father and son traveling a long distance. As they start out, the son begins to ask when they will arrive, and of course the father does not answer. However, as they near the town, the son asks the same question, and this time the father readily answers that it is only a short while before they reach their destination. “So too, as the time of redemption is clearly approaching, we cannot help but notice the signs all around us that foreshadow that redemption. As the end grows nearer, doubts will become smaller, and at the very end, all doubts will be removed… As the time grows closer, uncertainty recedes in the wake of increasingly abundant wisdom” (Introduction to the Book of Daniel).
The Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania), whose commentary offers a formula for calculating the end, entreats those who understand the formula not to reveal it to others:
“…And from here [what I have just written] you can calculate the time of the Final Redemption if, God forbid, we do not merit [to bring it earlier]. However, I have imposed an oath, in the name of the God of Israel, on the reader of this that he should not reveal it.” (Biur HaGra, Safra D’Tzniusa, Chapter Five)
The events of the 20th century were put into perspective by the greatest Sage of our time. Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian wrote:
heard in London from the holy Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, quoting the Chafetz Chaim, that the Sages say the war of Gog and Magog will be threefold. After World War One, the Chafetz Chaim said that this was the first battle of Gog and Magog, and in about 25 years (1942) there would be a second world war, which would make the first one seem insignificant. And then there would be a third battle…
Rav Elchanan concluded that one must suffer the pangs of Moshiach, but the wise man will quietly prepare himself during that time — perhaps he will be worthy of seeing the comforting of Tzion and Yerushalayim.” (Leiv Eliyahu, Shmot p.172)
It is frightening to think that after so many years of pain and persecution, the Jewish people may be on the brink of true redemption. Who will merit to see this awesome reality? The Talmud teaches:
Rava said: When they bring a person for judgment, they will ask: “Did you deal faithfully in business? Did you set aside fixed times for Torah? Did you try to have children? Did you anticipate the redemption…”(Shabbat 31a)
This question is not merely theoretical. It will actually determine the quality of each individual’s redemptive experience. As Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein wrote:
The Exodus from Egypt liberated only one out of five Jews (and some say one out of every 50) because all those who were bound to Egypt and did not want to depart died in the three days of darkness and were not privileged to leave. Only those who desired redemption with all their hearts were redeemed. The Final Redemption, likewise, depends upon our yearning. (Ohr Yechezkel, Emunat HaGeulah)
May we all merit to see the Redemption, speedily in our days.