“Ani ma’amin I believe with complete faith in the coming of Mashiach and wait each day for him to come.”
When I recently comforted an elderly widow with the standard age-old reassurance that Mashiach will be here soon and his coming will right all wrongs, she sighed, smiled ruefully and remarked rather cynically, “I’ve been hearing that since my childhood days and he still hasn’t come!”
And yet our hope does not fade with time; on the contrary, we’ve become ever more insistent and voice our expectation with increasing urgency, that God redeem us from our bitter exile.
Our yearning reaches an apex at this time of year, when our collective conscience is stirred and we weep at the memory of our painful separation from our Maker.
A Mother’s Love
They were a happy, compatible couple, save for their longing to have a child. When Hashem hearkened to their impassioned pleas, their joy was boundless and the world was theirs.
The expectant period was one of euphoric anticipation. But when the big day finally arrived, the parturient woman found herself in desperate straits – the child would not emerge. The labor was grueling and even the most prestigious physicians hastily summoned could not assure a safe birth.
The woman’s husband eventually was forced to make a heart-wrenching decision: the only way his wife could be saved was if their child was surgically removed, in pieces; for the child to be born intact, its mother’s life would need to be forfeited.
The devoted husband was beside himself with grief. How long they had waited, how many tears they had shed, only to be faced with such a tragic outcome. He nonetheless opted for the survival of his wife, while she, roused by the ensuing commotion, was unremitting in her insistence on deciding her own fate. She would not barter her unborn child’s life for her own. God in His infinite wisdom would do as He saw fit, but she would not consent to having her child’s life terminated.
At her behest, her family and closest friends gathered around her sickbed. With hearts breaking, they listened to the fatigued woman’s words as her life force ebbed away. She spoke tearfully.
“I know death is at my door. Tomorrow at this time I shall no longer be among the living; I will be lying in the ground and you will be lamenting the tragedy of a mother so young who gave her life for her child. You will escort me to my grave, but then you will all return to your homes, and with time you will forget.
“I ask of you now that you give me your word that when my child will mature, you will take him by the hand and lead him to my grave and tell him that his devoted mother’s love for her child superseded all; that her dying wish was that he should never forget her nor fail to recall her great sacrifice. All she craved was for him to be God-fearing and walk in His ways and to say Kaddish on her yahrzeit. And in this way her soul would be at peace.”
If I will forget you, O Jerusalem, may [the strength of] my right hand be forgotten (Tehillim 137:5).
Years later, upon learning of his mother’s selfless devotion, the young orphan fell on his mother’s grave and cried bitterly at the calamity that had befallen them both. He was, from that time on, meticulous in carrying out her desire and made his father proud.
With the passing years, however, his ardor cooled. He would visit the gravesite but would neglect to gather a minyan or say mishnayos for his mother’s soul. His tears gradually abated, and he all but forgot his mother’s love and ultimate sacrifice. His father grew angry with his wayward son whose flame of passion had so diminished.
As God distanced Himself from His children when they sinned in the Holy Land and incurred His wrath, Mother Tzion intervened and begged God to take her and allow her children to live. Thus the beautiful city of Jerusalem and the Bais HaMikdash were laid to ruin – a mother offering herself in order to spare her children. Her only behest was that they remember her yahrzeit – the day of the Churban – and spend all their days heeding God’s commandments, learning Torah and practicing charity and good deeds. In this manner, they would merit to be united once more.
Reb Yehoshua ben Levi once asked Eliyahu HaNavi when Mashiach would come, to which the prophet replied, “Ask him yourself.”
“Where will I find him?” asked Reb Yehoshua.
“By the gates of Rome.”
“How will I recognize him?”
“He sits among the sick and impoverished souls who occupy themselves with the dressing and redressing of their wounds. Mashiach, who sustains his share of painful sores – the result of the sins of the children of Israel – cleans and re-bandages only one wound at a time before proceeding to clean and dress the next one. For in his perpetual hope, and as he waits for the divine call to redeem the Jewish nation, he wants to be ready at a millisecond’s notice and therefore cannot afford to be involved with the redressing of all his wounds at once.”
When Reb Yehoshua neared the gates of Rome, he instantly recognized Mashiach and addressed him with much reverence. “Shalom aleicha, rebbe u’mori.”
Mashiach returned the greeting. “Shalom aleicha, son of Levi.”
Reb Yehoshua dispensed with preliminaries. “When will [you] come to redeem us?”
“Today I will come,” replied Mashiach.
Upon encountering Eliyahu HaNavi again, Reb Yehoshua expressed his disillusionment: Mashiach had said he’d come “today” yet had not materialized. The prophet clarified that Mashiach had alluded to the verse “Hayom im bekolo tishma’u” – “Today [on this day], if you will heed His voice [he will come]” (Talmud Sanhedrin).
So Close Yet So Far
What are we missing? How are we to realize this elusive dream of ours – to have Mashiach appear in our lifetime? How do we “heed His voice”?
According to various sources, and as stated in Megillas Eicha, the [holy] land was devastated “al azvam es torasi” – “because they abandoned My Torah.” God endured our sins of idol worship, sexual immorality and the spilling of blood, but the last straw came when we neglected the learning of Torah. Hashem knew that the light of Torah would have rehabilitated us, and that having cast the Torah aside we didn’t stand a chance.
And yet, at a time when the nation of Israel and its people everywhere stand precariously perched on a precipice from where the likes of Eisav and Yishmael would gleefully push us over in an instant, the Supreme Court in Israel ruled just weeks ago to revoke monetary support of kollel students (married men who study Torah continuously and are guaranteed a minimum income toward their support).
The Israeli justices seem totally unaware that as long as the voice of Yaakov will emanate (from synagogues and yeshivas), the hands of Eisav will be powerless against us.
(One judge dissented on the ruling and wrote, “Torah study is a commandment [and] should be funded by placing on the public the burden of providing an income for Torah students.”)
Live and Let Live?
This most popular mantra of our time is completely antithetical to the Torah and endangers our very existence. To put it bluntly, the modus operandi of non-believing and secular Jews may be hindering our redemption.
In the Shemoneh Esrei prayer we beseech Hashem to rebuild Jerusalem in our days; contemporaneously, the Bais HaMikdash shel Ma’alah – the Holy Temple in the heavenly spheres – is being assembled, our mitzvos and maasim tovim here on earth serving as the building materials for this lofty purpose. Mashiach is slated to come just as soon as the project will be complete.
Constant interference, however, hinders this process, for even as the good deeds of the righteous form the celestial holy edifice, the non-believers’ denial of and disdain for Hashem and His Torah work to dismantle it.
The saintly Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, in a moment of deep spiritual meditation, envisioned a strange house of worship collapsing in the heavens and declared it to be the work of the Chozeh of Lublin, the tzaddik who, with his devout Mincha prayers, succeeded in demolishing the impure structure (Zera Kodesh).
Moreover in Shemoneh Esrei, the blessing of v’lamalshinim (which anathematizes the contemptuous “freethinkers”) appears before the blessing of boneh Yerushalayim to emphasize that the rebuilding of Jerusalem and God’s holy sanctuary are contingent upon the obliteration of the apikorsim (Talmud Megillah).
Culpability of the Righteous
The Master of the Universe has never backtracked on His word when conferring a benefit upon Klal Yisrael, with one exception – as related by the prophet Yechezkel (Talmud Shabbos 55).
After Hashem had enumerated the grievous iniquities of His children to the prophet, the latter discerned the Creator summoning His celestial servants, the malachei chabalah (angels of destruction), and charging them with the assignment of wreaking havoc and mayhem upon the city of Jerusalem.
Six figures promptly came into view at the upper portals of the Bais HaMikdash, each yielding an armament in preparation for warfare. In marked contrast, a seventh figure among them was outfitted in linen garb affixed with a dangling scribe’s notepad; this was the angel Gavriel.
As the seven took their place next to the copper altar in the holy Temple’s courtyard, Hashem removed His Holy Presence from His inner sanctuary and remained at the periphery of the Kodesh Hakodashim (Holy of Holies), signifying the onset of God’s withdrawal from the Bais HaMikdash.
“I escaped [from my children who caused me anguish] and became like a lone bird on a rooftop” (Tehillim 102:8).
The angel Gavriel was ordered by God to search the city of Jerusalem and to brand the foreheads of all its inhabitants with the letter taf; the righteous were to be marked with ink, the evildoers in blood, so that the angels of destruction could distinguish between them. The six malachei chabala were to trail the angel Gavriel and mete out swift and merciless penalty.
Before the onslaught could be carried out, the Midas HaDin (attribute of strict judgment) interposed itself to dispute the preferential treatment extended to the righteous. God explained that the tzaddikim were genuinely bewailing the deplorable conduct of the masses and deserved His compassion – whereas the Midas HaDin countered that the righteous, as spiritual leaders, had failed in their function to vehemently oppose the deeds of the transgressors.
Hashem argued that any exhortation by the tzaddikim would have gone unheeded, but the Midas HaDin was uncompromising and maintained that as mere mortals the tzaddikim could not ascertain such a fact beforehand and were thus remiss in their obligation to defend the honor of their Creator.
The objection of the Midas HaDin was sustained; the Master of the Universe reversed His original directive of sparing the righteous and commanded the malachei chabala to dole out punishment to the tzaddikim as well.
And so it was that even those who upheld the Torah did not escape the wrath of Heaven due to their dereliction of duty in dispensing appropriate mussar, which was incumbent upon them even at the risk of suffering verbal or physical assault in the process.
The Rest of Us
In this world of ours there surely are enough rebbes (spiritual leaders) to go around. That being said, individual choice does not give anyone license to malign or ridicule someone else’s preference – not to mention that to speak lashon ha’ra in the name of chassidus is hypocrisy of the first order.
Not long ago I was privy to an amusing incident that occurred between two middle-aged men – one a born and bred old-school Satmar chassid (an upstater), the other a recent ba’al teshuvah with Lubavitch leanings (an out-of-towner). The implausible pair had developed a comradeship after a chance meeting through a mutual acquaintance.
SC embarked on the hour-long drive to the borough of Williamsburg in Brooklyn to personally convey best wishes to a ba’al simcha. BT, who happened to be visiting New York at the time, decided he would tag along. Reaching their destination was half the hassle as they still needed to find a place to park in the notoriously overcrowded enclave.
While the two repeatedly circled the streets in search of a parking spot, BT received a call on his cell phone. “In Williamsburg,” he said into the cordless, obviously in reply to his caller’s query.
“What am I doing in Williamsburg?” BT repeated his caller’s next question. As he hesitated momentarily in his answer to this one, SC behind the wheel was quick to pick up the slack. “M’zich mer a rebbe” – “We are searching for a rebbe,” he offered impassively. (Williamsburg, a nucleus of vibrant chassidism for over half a century, has, to say the least, no shortage of rebbes.)
BT, an erudite fellow hardly ever at a loss for words himself, found his friend’s satirical remark hilarious. In fact, the unlikely duo considered the tedious time spent in their quest for a parking space a small price to pay for the enjoyment of each other’s company.
As the reader may have gathered by now, each appreciates the other’s wit, humor and intelligent contribution to the relationship – but, most importantly, they respect each other’s vastly dissimilar lifestyles (within an Orthodox framework).
Now if only the rest of us could get on so famously.
“The salvation is close for those who fear Hashem . Kindness and truth will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss . When truth will sprout from the earth, righteousness will peer from Heaven .” (Tehillim 85).
Rachel Weiss is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.