Last week I described some prophecies concerning the wakeup calls that would come to our people when the arrival of Mashiach was near. Unfortunately, we have yet to attune ourselves to the sound of those footsteps.
Had you heard the prophecies of which I wrote when they were first uttered centuries ago, you might have laughed and scoffed. Even if you had read them as recently as 1970, you would have been hard put to believe it, for of all the Muslim countries, the Shah’s Iran was probably the friendliest to Israel and the U.S. But today the impossible has become possible, and events are unfolding so rapidly that we have difficulty absorbing their impact. So how are we to understand it all?
Before I answer that question, I must ask my readers’ forbearance. I am going to repeat some of the things I wrote on this subject a few months ago because I believe it is so absolutely crucial for our people to finally wipe the slumber from their eyes and realize what is going on.
The Yalkut compares our suffering to birth pangs. But birth pangs are deceptive; when the contractions begin, it’s easy to ignore them since they are mild and occur at long intervals. As birth becomes imminent, however, the contractions become more frequent, the pain more intense. And just when it appears the woman can no longer endure the pain, the baby is born and new life enters the world.
Labor pains are what we are now seeing in terms of world events. How long will the pains last? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: please G-d, the birth is sure to take place. In the interim, however, we may ask whether it’s possible to ease the suffering and to protect ourselves from these painful contractions.
Every woman in labor needs help to ease her pain and speed the birth of her child. So too we need help to lessen our pain and hasten the coming of Mashiach. We have been blessed by our sages, who have the perfect formula to assure us an easy and painless birth. “Let he who wishes to be spared the birth pangs of Messiah occupy himself with Torah and gemilas chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and let him be scrupulous about Seudah Shlishis – the third Sabbath meal.”
The first two recommendations – Torah and gemilas Chasidim – are self-explanatory and do not require much elaboration, for he who is committed to Torah and mitzvos and to reaching out with loving-kindness, must, of necessity, become a better, more spiritual person.
But eating a third Sabbath meal is not as readily comprehensible. We are enjoined to have three seudos on the Sabbath: Sabbath eve (Friday night), Sabbath noon (following prayer in the synagogue) and the third seudah in the late afternoon as the Sabbath Queen prepares to depart. Through these three meals, we honor the three Patriarchs, the three sections of our Holy Writ (Torah, Prophets, and the Writings), and we also recall the three Sabbath meals of manna G-d provided us during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).
The final Sabbath seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally means “three meals” rather than Seudah Shlishis – the third meal. Our sages explain that the reason for this is that all three Sabbath seudos are embodied in this one.
This third meal presents a most auspicious time for prayer. And to this day, when I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet voices of my revered father and beloved husband of blessed memory leading their congregations in singing Psalm 23, the psalm that is traditionally chanted at Shalosh Seudos: Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”
The task of the shepherd is a lowly and lonely one. Day in and day out he is destined to wander from place to place seeking pasture for his flock; and yet David did not hesitate to refer to G-d as a shepherd, for he perceived that G-d’s love is so total, so encompassing, that when it comes to caring for His children, nothing is beneath Him.
What a magnificent and fortifying thought – for no matter where life takes us, even if we have to walk in the treacherous valley overshadowed by death, we need not fear, for G-d, our Shepherd, will always be there to lead us to greener pastures, even if at first we do not realize the pastures will be greener.
Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, singing Psalm 23, and discussing words of Torah could have such awesome power that they can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the birth pangs. But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching.
The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontime seudah, we are hardly in the mood for yet another meal. So it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the Third Meal encompasses them all. The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual and, ultimately, that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism – and that is something that our generation, obsessed with materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, has yet to learn.