The "Birth Pangs"

The following introductory teaching is from the Vilna Gaon, a leading sage of the 18th century:

The redemption is called "morning" as it is written, "Morning is coming" (Isaiah 21:12). And it is also called "birth" as it is written, "Zion went through her labor and gave birth to her children" (Isaiah 66:8). Just as the darkest part of the night is the period just before dawn, and just as a pregnant woman has her most painful days just before delivery, so will the exile become most unbearable just before the redemption. (Even Sheleimah, Chapter 10 - Redemption)

 Dear Friends,

Jewish tradition speaks about the "birth pangs" of the messianic age that is waiting to be born. What do we do when the birth pangs start to get severe? The Prophet Isaiah responds to this question in the following verse:

"Go my people, enter your rooms and close your door behind you; hide for a brief moment until the fury has passed." (Isaiah 26:20).
How are we to understand this advice? The words of the Prophet have a deeper spiritual meaning; however, someone lacking spiritual understanding may decide to interpret Isaiah's advice in the following simplistic manner:
"Enter my room? What a great idea! The world will soon be reborn, and in order to avoid the birth pangs, I will enter my room, put on some music, and try to relax. Eventually, the new birth will take place, and I will then leave my room and join the celebration."
This interpretation is based on a mistaken assumption. This individual imagines that he and the world are two separate entities; thus, when the world is experiencing birth pangs, he can "relax" until the world is finally reborn. What he doesn't realize is that he too is part of the world; thus he too needs to be reborn. Isaiah is therefore  telling him to enter his "room" and engage in various spiritual exercises that will both alleviate the birth pangs and hasten the birth of the new world, including the world within himself. In this spirit, the classical commentator, Rashi, cites the following explanations of "enter your rooms":
"Enter the synagogues and the study-houses. Alternatively, think about your deeds in the chambers of your heart. In this manner Rabbi Tanchuma expounded it."

We are not to isolate ourselves from others during this difficult period. We are to join with others in prayer and Torah study, as these holy endeavors expand our consciousness and make us more aware of how we can hasten the "birth" of the messianic age. We should therefore reflect on our behavior in the chambers of our hearts, so that all our words and deeds will lead to the birth of the new age of enlightenment, unity, and shalom. As a result, we will avoid words and deeds which reinforce ignorance, disunity, and strife.

Our tradition also teaches that we can experience a "taste" of this future age through celebrating and keeping Shabbos, for the wonderful future that is to come is called, "the day that is entirely Shabbos and contentment for life everlasting" (Mishna Tamid 7:4).

The age of the future Shabbos will be born, and the severe birth pangs should not cause us to lose hope. As the Compassionate One proclaimed to us: "Shall I bring to labor and not to birth? Shall I, Who causes birth, hold it back?" (Isaiah 66:9)

May we soon experience the day that is entirely Shabbos and contentment for life everlasting.
May we all be blessed with a Good Shabbos.
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)
A Related Teaching:

Based on the writings of the Prophets, the sages of the Talmud describe the difficult and painful birth pangs that the world will experience just before the birth of the messianic age. The disciples of Rabbi Eliezer therefore asked their teacher: "What should a person do in order to be saved from the birth pangs of the Messiah?"
Rabbi Eliezer answered: "One should engage in the study of Torah and in performing deeds of lovingkindness" (Sanhedrin 98b).


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