Thoughts on Judaism

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Moshiach is Born

In Jewish tradition, today is the day that Moshiach was born. The known principle is that G-d provides the cure when He creates the sickness. In the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva saw a fox on the ruins of the Har HaBayis and he laughed. He said that this sign, mentioned in Aicha, was a harbinger of Moshiach. The principle of Moshiach was central to the Rishonim and earlier in their writings. The Rambam summarizes it together with the "Ikkarim" of the faith. That means that just as we believe that Torah is Emes and that Navi is Emes and that G-d is one, we also must believe that Moshiach will arrive and that the dead will be revived. Not only that, but I would argue that there is no way to mysticize, spiritualize or redefine this as anything other than what it literally means.

Not only must we believe in the coming of Moshiach, but according to Rambam, we must "wait" for him "every day". Though he has never come before, we expectantly wait for him today, tomorrow and into the future that he will come. Normally, we geeky science types would be miffed, but the Rambam, king of the geeky science types, prewarns us. Science is based on repetitive and reproduceable experience, and he specifically states that "af al pi shehismahmayah", even though he delays, we must expect him to come. Even though, we have no experience to compare it to, we have to believe in this supernatural event, the hope that lights the end of the tunnel of Judaism.

But, does not the Rambam quote the Gemorra in stating that there is no difference between now and the "days of Moshiach" except the "subjugation of the nations"? Yet, he immediately follows this with the Ikkar that one must believe in the revival of the dead, clearly a miracle that has never happened and would be readily evident. So it is obvious that the Rambam believes that there are stages in the events. Moshiach comes and is recognized by Chazaka, he removes the subjugation, he builds the Temple and gathers the people, and then the real fun begins. One cannot believe in Techiyas HaMaisim without believing in miraculous events. (Mishna Torah, Hilchos Melachim U'Milchamosayhem 11 and 12)

It is precisely because of this that a rationalist can believe with whole faith in the coming of Moshiach and in Techiyas HaMaisim. When we say that something is "possible" in science, we speak from experience with the physical laws of the world, and project what we expect based on our experience. With Moshiach, there is no "experience", except from millenia ago with David and Shlomo. Hence, he envisions a first stage that is comparable to David and Shlomo, without foreign subjugation, and later stages with miracles that have never been seen before. As a rationalist, one can accept the miracle because admittedly, it will violate known protocols of the physical world.

In many ways, it is easier to believe in Moshaich and Techiya than it is to believe in other problematic stories in the Torah and Navi. Stopping the sun which has global implications, a global flood with dozens of unlikely miracles that are not even mentioned, talking animals related as if they happen every day are difficult to reconcile because the miraculous nature of these things is not emphasized in the story. In the matter of Moshiach, it is miraculous from beginning to end. By removing all pretense of it being a natural event, the scientific observer no longer has a compass on which to get bearings. That is why we must believe it with "Emunah Shlaimah". Though it may be a natural progression of events, the coming of Moshaich in concept, is miraculous, without precedent. And its results are also without precedent by definition.

I will leave it to those wiser than I to discern whether they have seen the signs mentioned in the prophets in recent events or whatever. These are self contradictory. If we are to wait for Moshiach every day, how can we discern signs that he is coming Wednesday and not Thursday? Of what meaning is this to us? According the Rambam, a Jew believes with perfect faith that Moshiach is coming today, not because we saw the sign mentioned in Aicha or Zecharia or that one person or another made some pronouncement. May we merit this miracle speedily in our days.

P.S. Please stop putting silly things on invitations to weddings, like, if we will not all be spiritied to Yerushayim on the wings of Moshiach by then chas v'shalom, the wedding will take place, Im Yirtze Hashem in the main ballroom of the huge hotel at ______. This shtick is getting old ad naseum.


  • I confess to being confused by your dislike of what you call shtick. Rabbi Sonnenfeld זצ"ל documents this kind of language being spoken by ordinary baalebostes a century ago. "What are you preparing tonight?" - "Well, by tonight Moshiach will surely be here; if not ח"ו, then... lentils".

    You do not seem to have any inherent objection to the idea (I hope), what bothers you is that it is a shtick. And if it is, so what? Do we think twice before going to the restaraunt and pig out, if we "mean" it for real or not? Or when we buy a newspaper and read the not-necessarily-holy contents? Why, when it comes to emphasizing an attitude which, after 2000 years of exile, is sadly foreign to us (IMHO, precisely a reason to emphasize it!), do we suddenly remember to start to think about "emes", to the exclusion of "shtick"?

    By Blogger Nathan, at 1:22 AM  

  • "spoken by ordinary baalebostes a century ago"

    That is the point precisely. How many witticisms are repeated for over a century and remain witty? It is no longer witty, nowadays it is just as obnoxious as the false humility shtick. (Puts on falsetto voice) Well, according to my limited understanding, nothing that I am, I think ... (Ad Kan "put on" falsetto) Frankly, if the person is limited in understanding and is nothing, who cares what they think? But it is fashionable to be nothing, especially among people who think highly of themselves. (And yes, we have all heard the 100 year old witticism on this too.)

    By Blogger Rebeljew, at 6:37 AM  

  • However, it is accepted practice - in all of the "Torah" world - to use lexicon like לענ"ד, and so on and so forth. And this, IMHO( :-) ) is a good thing. With obvious limits, the use of language that conveys how I understand that I should feel, is not an improper thing. As wise people have said, אחרי המעשה נמשכים הלבבות.

    (I emphasize with limits; the difference between the analogy you bring and what we find by Jews without exception, is the perception behind these לשונות; if they are being used with the knowledge that I am not quite "holding" by them, this is one thing; the falsetto voice you refer to generally means the guy thinks he's fooling you too).

    By Blogger Nathan, at 10:05 AM  

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