How to Act During Zion’s Birth Pangs: Part One

Dear Friends,


The Vilna Gaon was a leading sage of the 18th century, and in his noted work, Even Sheleimah, he writes that the future redemption of the messianic age is called leidah – birth (chapter 11). And he cites the following excerpt from a prophecy of Isaiah concerning the future redemption:  


“Zion went through birth pangs and bore her children” (Isaiah 66:8).


The “birth” of the future redemption begins with the “birth” of Zion’s children. According to the commentator, Radak, the “birth” of Zion’s children refers to the ingathering of all our people in Zion. This prophecy is therefore revealing that at our final and complete ingathering, Zion will give birth to us!


As the above verse indicates, there will be a period of birth pangs before our birth. Radak refers to the prophecies which reveal that these birth pangs will take place when a coalition of many nations will go to war against Zion. Radak finds another reference to this period of birth pangs in the following prophetic message:


“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)

 “Go, my people, enter your rooms.” – According to the commentator, Rashi, this is a call to enter “the synagogues and the Torah study-houses.” During Zion’s birth pangs, we are to spiritually prepare for our “birth” by entering communal sanctuaries where people join together for prayer and Torah study.


In what way do communal prayer and Torah study prepare us for the approaching birth? One possible answer is that our birth will be the beginning of the messianic age when all human beings will return to Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, through prayer and Torah study. In this new age, the unifying Temple in Zion “will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7); moreover, in this new age, “the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem” (Isaiah 11:9), for “Torah will go forth Zion and the Word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3).


As the Radak reminded us, the final birth pangs will take place when a coalition of nations will go to war against Zion. (References to this war appear in Ezekiel, Chapter 38, and in Zechariah, Chapter 14.) When we experience these difficult birth pangs, we should not lose hope, for Hashem will complete the birthing process. Hashem therefore gave us the following reassuring message:


 “Shall I bring to labor and not to birth? …Shall I, Who causes birth, hold it back?” (Isaiah 66:9)

Have a Good and Strengthening Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:


1. The “birth” of our people through a return of all the exiles is both a physical and spiritual return. An early reference to this idea appears in the following prophecy regarding our future exile and redemption which Moshe Rebbeinu – Moses, our Teacher – conveyed to us before we entered the Promised Land:


“It shall be that when all these things come upon you – the blessing and the curse that I have presented before you – then you will take it to heart among all the nations where Hashem, your God, has dispersed you. And you will return unto Hashem, your God, and listen to His voice, according to everything that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and all your soul. Then Hashem, your God, will bring back your captivity and have compassion on you, and He will gather you in from all the peoples to which Hashem, your God, has scattered you. If your dispersed will be at the ends of heaven, from there Hashem, your God, will gather you in and from there He will take you. Hashem, your God will bring you to the Land that your ancestors possessed and you shall possess it; He will do good to you and make you more numerous than your ancestors. Hashem, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, to love Hashem, your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:1-6)


2. Based on the writings of the Prophets, the sages of the Talmud describe the difficult birth pangs just before the birth of the age of Moshiach – the Messiah. The disciples of Rabbi Eliezer therefore asked their teacher: “What should a person do in order to be saved from the birth pangs of Moshiach?” Rabbi Eliezer answered:


“One should engage in the study of Torah and in performing deeds of loving-kindness.” (Sanhedrin 98b)


3. Rabbi Noson Wachtfogel, who passed away in 1998, served as the Mashgiach – Spiritual Guide – for the students at the famous Lakewood Yeshiva, which was founded by Rabbi Aharon Kotler, a leading Torah sage. In the following teaching, Rabbi Wachtfogel reminds us that the future redemption in the age of Moshiach includes the personal redemption of the individual:


“Those in our generation who have experienced suffering and those who are now undergoing crises should realize that these are the birth pangs of Moshiach. They should take strength in the knowledge that these pains and difficulties will not endure for long, because soon they will all be coming to an end. Every day brings us closer to that wonderful moment when Hashem will heal the broken-hearted, and our sorrows and groans shall vanish.”


This teaching from Rabbi Noson Wachtfogel is found in the book:

“The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler” by Rabbi Yitzchok Dershowitz, published by Feldheim:

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