THE DAYS OF MASHIACH ARE NOW!
by Tzvi Fishman
During the long generation we spent in foreign lands, Mashiach became a misunderstood concept. Partly due to the pernicious infiltration of Christian doctrines into our collective subconscious, Mashiach was envisioned by many people as a religious superhero who would arrive on the scene in a flash of miracles and wonders, and lead all the Jews out of the ghetto and back to the Promised Land. Helpless and impotent in galut, and constantly at the mercies of the goyim and their governments, we had no way of actualizing our dreams of returning to Zion. Thus, this Superman fantasy of Mashiach seemed to be the only way we could be redeemed from the harsh realities of our lives. When centuries passed in waiting and disappointment, a philosophy of passivity arose. We were to pray and wait, and the Mashiach would do all the work when he came. The demand arose that the Redemption occur all at once, and be complete from the start, and not in a gradual, natural, process of historical development and events which came to completion with the passage of time. When the Zionists began to show initiative and take matters into their own hands to bring the Exile to an end, the proponents of this passive “we can’t do anything” school of thought, rose up in protest. We were to wait in exile, they claimed, until the Mashiach brought us to Israel. Any attempt on our part was trafe!
The author of the book, “Eim HaBanim Semeichah,” Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, was killed in the Holocaust. A noted Rosh Yeshiva and Av Beit Din, he was one of the leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox community in Europe and a vehement anti-Zionist until the events of the Holocaust revolutionized his way of thinking. Realizing that the purpose of the unspeakable persecution and slaughter was to arouse the Jewish People to return to Eretz Yisrael, he publicly admitted the error of his former beliefs and vowed to write a scholarly treatise proving that the obligation to live in the Land of Israel applied in all times. Hiding from the Nazis in an attic in Budapest, without any books at his disposal to aid him, he wrote his powerful argument, quoting hundreds of long Torah sources by heart. Rabbi Teichtal died on a train on the way to the Mathausen concentration camp in 1945. His book, however, was kept safely hidden with a Gentile family and rescued by his children after the war. He writes: “Anyone who says that Mashiach ben David will initiate the Redemption, as the common masses anticipate, is like someone who says that the sun will rise before the dawn. Nonsense!” (Eim HaBanim Semeichah, pg. 269).
The Rambam states:
“In the future, the Mashiach will arise and bring back the Kingdom of David, restoring it to its original sovereignty” (Laws of Kings and Their Wars, 11:1).
Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, the son of Rabbi Kook and head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, would emphasize that the Mashiach’s premier assignment was to restore Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael. And yet, in our time, Jewish sovereignty has already been restored over large portions of Eretz Yisrael due to the bravery and self-sacrifice of the Zionist pioneers. The Rambam writes that Mashiach will do this. How are we to understand this seeming contradiction?
Rabbi Kook explained:
“The Jerusalem Talmud teaches that the Redemption comes about, ‘Little by little, like the dawning of the day,’ (Berachot 1:1). The Redemption unfolds in gradual stages. As major step in the process is the establishment of Jewish sovereignty of Eretz Yisrael. Until our time, it was not clear how this would occur. Now, thank G-d, it is crystallizing and progressing before our eyes with the establishment of the State of Israel. The days of Mashiach encompass a great number of stages, as our Sages reveal in the expression, ‘Two thousand years of Mashiach’ (Sanhedrin 97A and B). This is also implied in the expression which we say toward the end of the Shacharit prayer, ‘The years of Mashiach.’ The ingathering of the exiles, and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael – Medinat Yisrael – are clear steps in the process and revelations of Mashiach. The revelation of the Exile’s End began to appear with the settlement of the early moshavim, as our Sages teach, ‘There is nothing more revealing of the end of the exile than this, as the Prophet says, ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My People Israel, for they will soon be coming,’ (Ezekiel, 36:8). Rashi explains, ‘When Eretz Yisrael gives forth her fruits in abundance, the end of the Exile is near, and there is no surer sign of the end of the Exile than this’ (Sanhedrin 98A). This is clearly happening today. We see the blessing on the Land and on her fruits – grapes, bananas, oranges – each day we hear of greater agricultural success. Just yesterday, the Land was a desert, and today we export fruits to all of the world! This is a quiet miracle of the days of Mashiach. We have to accustom ourselves to see this as the work of Hashem. Likewise, with the great immigration of our People and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over our Land – these are all aspects of Mashiach orchestrated by the Master of the World, the Causes of Causes. The restoration unfolds every day. The Master of the Universe is not idle, God forbid. Today, we are in the middle of the road, in spite of all the complications which will all be worked out over time. Medinat Yisrael is the statehood of the days of Mashiach, which begins with revealed events and concludes with hidden matters like the revival of the dead. There is no contradiction between these two facets of our Redemption, the revealed and the secret. For we are dealing with our unique Divine Nation, with the Statehood of Am Yisrael, a normal State which must weather the all sorts of trials, and with this, a State where prophets will once again roam. The Redemption doesn’t only evolve through obvious miracles. We also experience the quiet miracles of a desert land yielding bushels and bushels of fruit, of cities built on sand dunes and swamps, and of a Nation reborn in the ancient Land. All of this is a part of Mashiach. And it is happening now.”
The Gemara discusses the subject of Mashiach and the turbulent events of his time: “Ullah said, Let him come, but don’t let him see me. And Rava also said, Let him come, but don’t let me see him. Rav Yosef said, Let him come and let me be privileged to sit in the shadow of his donkey’s dung” (Sanhedrin 98B).
Rabbi Chaim Druckman explains that Ulla and Rava, true giants among the Rabbis of the Talmud, did not want to live in the time of Mashiach because of the great difficulties foreseen for that era. Rav Yosef did want to live then in spite of the challenges, even declaring that it would be a privilege to sit in the shadow of the dung of Mashiach’s donkey. The donkey (chamor) symbolizes materialism (chomriut), represented the over preoccupation with materialism predicted for the time of Mashiach’s arrival. “It is important for us to adopt Rav Yosef’s heroic stance and not to be engulfed by panic or despair. This is especially important for those involved with Torah whose task it is to raise up the national spirit” (Step By Step, pg.132).
The Giant of Torah, the Gaon of Vilna, assures us that the setbacks preceding the Mashiach’s arrival all pave the path for the salvations to come: “Take into account that in the time of the Mashiach’s footsteps every difficulty will be a source of another element of salvation. Salvation will sprout from amidst the tribulation. The Sages of the Talmud teach us (Berachot 5A)that Eretz Yisrael is obtained through suffering, but afterwards we will possess it completely. Heaven forbid if we think of retreating when hardships arise along with obstacles which stand in our way. Be assured that Yaakov will be saved as a result of the troubles, and starting from a situation of forced constriction we will reach the broad expanses of attachment to G-d” (Kol HaTor 1:13).
The Gaon of Vilna exhorts us to never lose hope. Harsh events must never weaken our faith. We are living in the midst of Redemption. Our Sages describe the Final Redemption as a series of ups and downs, first revealed then hidden, again and again: “My lover is like a gazelle (Shir HaShirim 2:9). Just as a gazelle is visible and then hides, is visible and then hides again, so the first redeemer will be seen and hidden and then seen again… In the same way the last redeemer will be revealed and then hidden again.” (Shir HaSharim Rabba 2:3).
Rabbi Druckman writes: “Even when the last redeemer begins to show himself, when the Redemption begins to appear, it will be hidden again. The increased amount of troubles leads us to yearn for salvation. They are the harbingers of the Redemption’s arrival. Even after the process is underway there will be ups and downs. The setbacks are painful, but they are the ‘birth pangs of the Mashiach.’ We will experience great advances precisely out from these times of trials. We must not lose faith because of the setbacks, always remembering that they are a part of the process. The redeemer might be hidden for a moment but he will immediately return and be seen.”
Rabbi Druckman concludes his discourse on setbacks with a vital note for our times. Setbacks, he reminds us, occur not only if we are caught unprepared by an enemy attack – setbacks can occur when the unity of the nation is weakened from fraternal turmoil. “Even if our brothers think differently than we do; even if we are convinced that they are wrong; and even if their actions harm us – in the end the struggle is between brothers and it must be kept under control. As Rabbi Kook taught, the struggle against mistaken and evil ideologies in our midst is by increasing light. He wrote: ‘Pure and righteous people do not complain about evil – they enhance righteousness. They do not complain about heresy – the disseminate faith. They do not complain about ignorance they increase wisdom’ (Arfilei Tohar, pg.39).
When it comes to the war of ideals and values within the Israelite Nation, we must enhance the light of faith and strive to strengthen the light of Torah. May we merit to see the full sunrise of our Redemption soon.