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Anticipating Moshiach

 

This week’s article will explore one of the fundamentals of Judaism – waiting for Moshiach. How do we wait for him? What did we lose with the destruction of the Temple? Why is awaiting Moshiach so fundamental in Yiddishkeit to the extent that one who doesn’t believe in his coming is considered an apostate? What prevents us from serving Hashem, and what are the tools we can employ to overcome it? What is the root of the difference between Yiddishkeit and the Western Mindset? What is prophecy, and how is it connected to the Beis Hamikdash? What was it that Aristotle, with all his astounding wisdom, could not comprehend, and how do we express that concept in our daily lives? How does Ma’aser Sheni, the Second Tithing, bring to awe of Heaven? The laws of physics and nature apply everywhere under the sun except in one spot. Where was that? And what is the reward for hoping for Moshiach without fail?

Await the Rebuilding of the Mikdash

In these days of mourning, called Bein Hameitzarim – “Between the Straits” – we are obligated to mourn the destruction of the Temple, as well as every single catastrophe that befell our nation as a result of it. Mourning the lack of the Beis Mikdash is the essence of the times but mourning something we never knew or cannot comprehend can be difficult. We don’t know nobody who lived in those times, and a real understanding of the period is mostly left for our imagination. The brief descriptions that appear in the Gemara and Midrashim do little to bring the times to life, and we’re left puzzled: how can we feel the great loss?

Source for the Obligation

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 11:1) writes: “In the future, Moshiach will renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Yisroel. In his days, the observance of all the statutes will return to their original state. We will offer sacrifices, observe the Shmitta and Yovel years according to all their particulars as described by the Torah. Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moshe Rabbenu. The Torah testified to his coming, as Devarim 30:3-5 states: ‘G-d will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you. He will gather you from among the nations… Even if your exile is at the ends of the heavens, G-d will gather you up from there… and bring you to the land….’ These explicit words of the Torah include all the statements made by all the prophets.

Reference to Moshiach is also made when Bil’am prophesies about two anointed kings: the first anointed king, David, who saved Yisrael from her oppressors; and the anointed king who will arise from his descendants and save Yisrael in the end of days. That passage Bamidbar 24:17-18 relates: ‘I see it, but not now’ – This refers to David; ‘I perceive it, but not in the near future;” – This refers to the Moshiach; ‘A star shall go forth from Yaakov’ – This refers to David; ‘and a staff shall arise in Yisroel – This refers to the Moshiach; ‘crushing all of Moav’s princes’ – This refers to David as Shmuel II 8:2 relates: ‘He smote Moav and measured them with a line;’ ‘decimating all of Shet’s descendants’ – This refers to the Moshiach, about whom Zechariah 9:10 prophesies: ‘He will rule from sea to sea.’ ‘Edom will be demolished’ – This refers to David as Shmuel II 8:6 states: ‘Edom became the servants of Dovid;’ ‘Seir will be destroyed’ – this refers to the Moshiach as Ovadiah 1:21 prophesies: ‘Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esav…”.

The Rambam continues and states that one who does not believe in the coming of the Moshiach is considered as one who denied the entire Torah and Moshe Rabbenu. Furthermore, one who believes in his coming but does not await it, also falls in the same category.

Believing Vs. Anticipating

The Chofetz Chaim (Tzipisa L’Yeshua, chapter 2) clarifies the difference between one who believes in the coming of Moshiach and one who awaits his arrival. While believing that Moshiach will, eventually arrive, those who don’t anticipate him feel comfortable in exile. After all, he has everything he needs — a nice house, a good job. Who needs Moshiach to interrupt life? Why is this still considered denial of the Torah and mitzvos? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to describe it, at most, as a transgression or failure to perform a mitzva?

The Real World

Ever since Adam Harishon’s Primordial Sin the world has been plunged into a war of awareness.

Our soul whispers, almost inaudibly, that we are really a neshama, a soul, with a mission in the world. Life is eternal because the soul does not die, and it craves everlasting pleasures – those of the soul. The neshama continuously whispers that truth in our ears, reminding us that the ersatz pleasures this world has to offer are not the real thing — they are not even a substitute.

But our body and physical senses spell out loud and clear the polar opposite, and do everything to mute the whispering soul. How can you argue with what you so plainly see? We see with our eyes our physical body, its limited lifespan, and only fleeting pleasures. We see our physical limitations and believe that’s all there is.

Don’t Believe What You See

We recite the Shema twice daily in which we express the truth of the soul: “Hear, O Yisrael: The Lord is our G-d; the Lord is one” (Devarim 6:4). It is not enough to know the truth. We must drive it into our bones, make it our only reality, and ensure that our guiding light and awareness is led by this truth. And because our physical eyesight tell us the opposite, we customarily cover our eyes while reciting it – to remind us of the fallacy our eyes trick us into believing.

At the end of the Shema we remind ourselves of a prohibition: “…You shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray” (Bamidbar 15:39). Without suppressing our natural tendencies we’ll find ourselves following our physical senses. Therefore we must tune out to the senses’ message and make sure we know the true reality.

While there was prophecy in the world and the connection to the spiritual was plainly apparent, expressing servitude to an entity outside of one’s self was a given. Humanity was obsessed with gods and deities, racing to express their spirituality with all their senses. However, the existence of One G-d that cannot be accessed through the five sense was beyond human comprehension.

Once prophecy ended and the world was plunged into a cloud of darkness, when humanity could no longer access the light and insight that prophecy allowed, Greek philosophy took the center stage. Now, it was nature, and its laws that ruled the world, and G-d’s directing Hand was relegated into the dark backstage recesses. Now, it was no longer G-d that humanity was focused on, but Greek philosophy and The Sciences. Those became humanity’s new god.[1]

Struggling Against Western Mindset

Western philosophy places emphasis only on the present and external existence. While the last hundred years have taken it to a frightening degree, it has always been the focus of western society, the heart of the struggle between Judaism and the Western mindset.

The Ramban (Vayikra 16:8) writes: “The Greek [Aristotle/the Greek philosophy] who negated anything besides what is possible to sense, was haughty enough to say that anything he didn’t reach with the power of reason is false.” The western mindset, which is based upon the philosophy of the Greeks, claims that whatever cannot be proven scientifically simply cannot exist. Judaism, however, knows the backstage secret. There is life beyond the laws of nature. It is the life of the soul — eternity.

Prophecy

The Rambam (Ma’amar Al Hanefesh, Kovetz Teshuvos V’Igros, p.44, Leipzig 5619) writes that Aristotle achieved definition of the basic animalist life force (nefesh). However, the neshama – the most spiritual aspect of the soul, cannot be accessed without prophecy. In another letter (Pe’er Hador, chapter 143) the Rambam writes that Aristotle reached the highest possible understanding of the natural world based on human perception, but failed when it came to the sublime knowledge and perception required to access the Infinite – knowledge of G-d and prophecy. In other words the Rambam explains that only prophecy allows one to access perception of G-d.

The only way to properly serve G-d and really connect to Him is through prophecy, as we read, “He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live” (Devarim 8:3). Prophecy is the true life-giving force.

External vs. Internal

This also explains the importance Judaism sees in proper attire. Clothing serve to help us access our inner world and spirituality by reminding us that there’s more to a person than what meets the eye. By covering up parts of our body we project to others, and to ourselves, that we are not simply sophisticated animals — but rather multilayered, and primarily spiritual beings, albeit dressed in a human body. This also explains why clothing is rent as a sign of mourning the deceased – since their physical dress is no longer, so too we, rend our physical clothing. The same is for shoes – the body is the vehicle connecting the soul to the physical world, and with shoes a human being can walk in the world. Upon the death of a loved one we signify the death of his body with removal of shoes – his physical “shoe” is no longer, so, too, we – remove our shoes as a sign of mourning.

The face, though, is the only part of the body that can somewhat reflect the soul. That is why, while all other parts of the body must be covered, the face is not — it is through the face that the soul can express itself.

Destruction of the Temple

When Yirmiyahu Hanavi describes the Temple’s destruction he writes: “…There is no more teaching; moreover, her prophets obtain no vision from the Lord” (Eicha 2:9). The Torah and prophecy were the destruction’s main casualty. As long as there was prophecy, the Torah was complete. There were no disputes because everything was crystal clear. Once prophecy ended, the Torah’s clarity was gone, and it gradually became rife with disputes.

Without a Beis Hamikdash we lack the proper understanding of Hashem and our direct connection with Him. Now, it’s all a struggle. Hashem’s directing Hand is no longer readily apparent, and we have to make a conscious effort to uncover it-to make knowledge of Him a reality. By means of Torah study, which teaches us about Hashem and the true reality of the world, we can train our minds and remain connected to this reality. Mitzvos, too, are a vehicle to remind us of it, so the more effort we put into them, that much more we are aligned with the world’s true reality[2].

Ma’aser Sheni

When the Torah instructs us of the mitzva of Ma’aser Sheini (the Second Tithing) we read: “And you shall eat before the Lord, your G-d, in the place He chooses to establish His Name therein, the tithes of your grain, your wine, and your oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and of your sheep, so that you may learn to fear the Lord, your G-d, all the days” (Devarim 14:23). For four years out of the seven-year cycle, 9% of our produce must be consumed in a state of purity in Jerusalem, where Torah study and spirituality are the reality. The mitzva is specifically explained in the Torah – to serve as a vehicle to teach us to fear G-d. How does this occur? What’s the connection?

The Tosefos (Bave Basre 21a) explain that when one remains in Jerusalem for an extended period of time until he finishes consuming his Ma’aser he is free to spend his days in the Mikdash, observing the kohanim in service, and experiencing first-hand the holiness and Torah. The pasuk writes “…For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Yeshayahu 2:3). Spending time in Jerusalem with the Mikdash facilitates Torah study. Avos D’Rabbi Natan tells us (2:48): ‘Nine portions of Torah were taken by Jerusalem, and one – to the rest of the world.”

Supernatural

But Beis Hamikdash is not only the place to merit prophecy or to establish a connection to G-d. It is the spot where earth and heaven connect, where the natural meets the supernatural. The laws of physics are not binding in this place of connection. The Holy Ark, which was housed in the Holy of Holies, had specific dimensions (otherwise it would not have met the Torah’s requirement) — but didn’t take up any space. (The distance from the two ends of the ark to the adjacent walls added up to the entire width of the Mikdash!) And when millions of people crowded into the Mikdash courtyard on holidays, when all were bowing and confessing their sins each enjoyed the privacy of his own four cubits!

Everything in the Mikdash spelled life, even inanimate objects (see the article for Parashas Naso that appeared on these pages). The Navi (Melachim I, 10:17) describes how Shlomo Hamelech placed “…Three hundred shields of beaten gold… the king placed them in the house of the forest of Lebanon.” The Gemara (Yoma 39b) explains that the Mikdash is called “the Forest of Lebanon” because its very existence caused the inanimate to bloom (Gold leaves grew on a tree-money grew on a tree!).

The place from which Torah emanated continuously, where G-d’s Word was breathed into prophets — where the physical met the metaphysical, was the antithesis of the physical world. The laws of nature stopped at the gates of the Beis Hamikdash.

Not Waiting

Serving Hashem andcomprehending what we recite twice a day in the Shema helps us understand how terribly difficulty it is to reach and maintain a clear perception of the real world. The physical and the entire world scream the opposite. A Jew’s mission is to shut his eyes and repeat again and again: there is nothing but G-d. “Shema Yisroel.”

Whoever does not believe in it; one for whom this is not the real world, is considered by the Rambam an apostate who denies the Torah and Moshe Rabbenu. In denying the real world he divorces himself from the essence of Judaism. This person no longer strives to connect with G-d — he has surrendered to the physical world. And today, all that leaves us tethered to G-d and the understanding of the real world is Torah and mitzvos, as well as the centuries-long yearning to reinstitute the past connection through the Mikdash and prophecy.

Reward

Chabakuk the Prophet describes the reward for awaiting the coming of the Moshiach — when the world will realign itself with the true reality, and our senses will no longer be at battle with our souls: “Though it tarry, wait for it, for it shall surely come; it shall not delay” (Chabakuk 2:3). He encourages us not to give up despite the centuries that have gone by, and for those who wait, Yeshayahu promises (64:3): “And whereof no one had ever heard, had ever perceived by ear, no eye had ever seen a god besides You perform for him who hoped for him.” And Daniel ascertains: “Fortunate is he who waits and reaches…” (12:12).

May we merit waiting, and furthermore — seeing the realization of those prophecies, speedily in our times, amen.

 

[1] See Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz, As Dawn Ends The Night, Targum Press, 2018.

[2] See Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, The True Story, Israel Bookshops, 2021, introduction.

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