Last week we looked at some of the signs that tell us we are living in what our sages call “ikvesa deMeshicha” – the footsteps of Mashiach.
We also learned that the time immediately preceding the arrival of Mashiach is likened to the birth pangs of a woman in labor. Our sages tell us there are three things we can do to protect ourselves from these painful contractions:
“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].”
Learning Torah and engaging in gemilas chasadim are easy to understand, but what is so important about the eating of a specific meal?
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 but rather 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 that of course is our ultimate purpose: to become spiritual beings and free ourselves from the shackles of materialism.
The Messianic period will be very much like Shalosh Seudos, when we sit at the table neither to satiate our physical hunger nor to glory in our material achievements but to celebrate our spiritual attainments.
In order for that to happen we will have to divest ourselves of all the icons we cherish. Therefore our hallowed institutions, the bastions of strength in which we place our trust, will have to fall away. We are actually witnessing that painful disintegration. The corporate world, government, religious institutions, science and medicine – all have all failed us. Worse, terrorists and suicide bombers have become a staple of our existence, and no army or police force is capable of shielding us from them.
How long will these birth pangs last? Until we recognize the simple truth that we can rely on no one but our Heavenly Father.
Let us not despair. There is an amazing Midrash that recalls three great biblical figures, Reuven, Aaron, and Boaz – who, according to our sages, would have done even more had they only known the Torah would record their deeds.
How can we understand this? How can it be that such spiritual giants would have needed the additional incentive of being inscribed in the Torah to conduct themselves more nobly?
It has often occurred to me that there is a deep lesson to be gleaned from this Midrash – a lesson that can be a great source of spiritual strength to us during these troubled and troubling times.
When Reuven discovered the pit into which his brother Joseph had been cast was empty, he was overcome by grief and cried out, “The lad is gone! And I – where can I go?” But had Reuven known that Joseph was on his way to Egypt to prepare the path for the family of Jacob, a path that would eventually lead the nation to Sinai, he would have rejoiced.
When Aaron went to greet Moses who was returning to Egypt, his heart fell, for he feared for the life of his younger brother. Had he only known that Moses was coming to redeem the nation, he would have greeted him with an orchestra.
Had Boaz, from whose fields Ruth gleaned, known that one day Ruth would become his wife and the great-grandmother of King David, he would have jubilantly made her a festive meal.