Messianic Yearnings

Introduction: In each of our previous series, we discussed teachings related to the Messiah and the messianic age, for as we shall begin to discuss in this letter, our faith in the future universal redemption is the strength of our people and a gift of hope that we bring to all humankind. We will also begin to discuss the ways in which we are to prepare for the messianic age of spiritual enlightenment and “shalom” – harmony, wholeness, and peace. As the headlines remind us, we need this shalom! May the Compassionate One therefore help us to develop the “art of listening” which will enable us to hear the words of our Prophets regarding the ways to bring true and everlasting shalom to the Promised Land, which is called “the navel of the earth” (Ezekiel 38:12), so that this shalom will spread over the entire earth. In this spirit, it is written, “Torah will go forth from Zion” (Isaiah 2:3), and as the next verse indicates, the Messiah will then guide the nations through the teachings of Torah and lead them to universal shalom:


“He will judge among the nations, and will settle the arguments of many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they will no longer study warfare.” (Isaiah 2:4)


Dear Friends,


Maimonides writes that one of the thirteen principles of faith for the Jewish people is the belief in the coming of the Messiah:


“I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.” (Commentary to Mishnah Sanhedrin, chap. 10)


In the previous letter, we cited verses from chapter 11 of the Book of Isaiah which describe how the Messiah will inaugurate a new age of spiritual enlightenment, and how this enlightenment will lead to shalom for Israel, humankind, and all creatures. Some people have difficulty imagining that one great person could become the "Messiah" and cause a radical change in the world. A study of history reveals, however, that there have been a number of individuals who helped bring about great changes in the world, whether for good or for evil. And given that we now live in a world with instant, international communication, our world is becoming more and more like a global village, which makes it easier to communicate ideas. We should not underestimate the power of ideas, and Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, a noted Torah educator, addresses this issue:


“In modern times, many of the most far-reaching revolutions in thought have been sparked off by Jews: Einstein, Freud, Marx; though all these were far from the Torah tradition. Would it be so far-fetched to think of the coming revolution of the spirit as led by a dynamic personality, steeped, this time, in the spiritual truths of the Torah - with a releasing vision much profounder than Freud’s, with revolutionary ideals much more radical than Marx’s, and with the means at his disposal to swing the world from the dark nightmare of a polluted planet to a brighter future of spiritual creativity?” (“Judaism and the Environment, an essay in “Encounter” published by Feldheim.)


The belief in the coming of the Messiah is deeply embedded within the consciousness of the Jewish people. In his book, “World of Our Fathers,” Irving Howe describes the messianic yearnings of an earlier generation of  Jewish activists on the left. Although their ideology was secular, their yearning, hope, and struggle for a better world was rooted in the ancient Jewish belief that the Messiah will eventually come and inaugurate a new age of justice and shalom. In one chapter (page 454), Howe quotes from a poem by the Yiddish poet, Aaron Zeitlin, which refers to this belief:


“Being a Jew means running forever to God, even if you are His betrayer. Means expecting to hear any day, even if you are a nay sayer, the blare of Messiah’s horn.”


Our faith in the future redemption of Israel and humanity is a gift of hope that we can share with the other peoples of the earth. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a noted 19th century sage, writes:


“The entire world thirsts for redemption. Grief and misery, reigning in both huts and palaces, arouse messianic longings in every heart. It is not only Israel whose redemption depends upon the rebuilding of Zion; and surely, their confident expectation that the redemption will indeed come about is not the least valuable dowry which the Jew brings with him into the community of nations.” (“The Hirsch Haggadah” - pages 282-83)


We are therefore awaiting the arrival of the true Messiah who will inaugurate the new age of enlightenment and shalom. Even though he may tarry, we are not to lose hope, for when the hour arrives for the birth of the messianic age, he will not delay. As the prophet Habakkuk proclaims:


“For there is yet another hazon - vision - for the appointed time; it will speak of the end and it will not deceive. Though it may tarry, await it, for it will surely come; it will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:3)


The Prophets also indicate, however, that we can hasten the arrival of the messianic age through fulfilling the life-giving mitzvos of the Torah. Among the mitzvos that they stressed are the various mitzvos of justice which prevent us from hurting others through words or deeds, as well as the various mitzvos of “tzedakah” which enable us to share our resources with those in need. The Prophets also stressed the mitzvah of Shabbos – a reminder that the earth and its resources belong to the Compassionate One.


We are therefore not to passively await the salvation of the messianic age, for the Compassionate One desires that we actively prepare for this new era, as it is written:


“Thus said the Compassionate One: Guard justice and perform acts of tzedakah, for My salvation is soon to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. Happy is the person who does this and the person who holds on to this: who guards the Shabbos against desecration, and guards his hand against doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:1,2)


In addition, Malachi, the last of our prophets, conveyed to us the following Divine message at the beginning of our exile: The key to our redemption is through remembering the Torah – the Divine teachings which we received at Sinai, and to “live” the teachings through fulfilling the mitzvos. As a result, the Compassionate One will send us Elijah the prophet, the forerunner of the Messiah, as it is written:


“Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant, which I commanded him at Horeb for all of Israel – its statutes and its social laws. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Compassionate One.” (Malachi 3:22,23)



Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings:

1. The Chofetz Chaim, a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, teaches that we can merit to bring about the Final Redemption by internalizing the quality of shalom; however, it is impossible to merit the quality of shalom without first ridding oneself of baseless hatred and refraining from speaking in a derogatory way about others. He writes, “Whoever will strive to rid himself of these sins will have a share in the building of the Third Temple.” (Cited in “The Chofetz Chaim - A Lesson a Day” - a book about the laws of ethical speech published by ArtScroll:  

2. There are those who wonder how we can merit to experience the coming of the Messiah when previous generations that were more righteous than us did not merit this experience. The Chofetz Chaim responds to this concern: “It is true that we are much smaller than our ancestors, but it is known that Hashem attaches to every individual his own merit and that of his ancestors. We are like a dwarf riding on a giant’s back, who sees farther than the giant. So too, our merit joined to that of our ancestors is greater than theirs alone.” (Machaneh Yisrael, Chapter 20 - cited in “The Chofetz Chaim Looks at Eternity” - Feldheim:  )


3. In the Books of the Prophets, there are vivid descriptions of the messianic age and the role of the Messiah. The Books of the Prophets elaborate on themes which are found in the Five Books of the Torah, and within these Five Books, there are some brief references and allusions to the Messiah and the messianic age. The following can serve as one example:



Our father, Jacob, blessed his 12 sons - the founders of the 12 tribes - before he left this world, and he gave Judah the following blessing: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants until Shiloh arrives, and to him will the nations gather” (Genesis 49:10). Rashi and the majority of the commentators explain that “Shiloh” is a name of the Messiah. When the Messiah comes, Judah’s blessing will be fully realized, for all the peoples of the earth will gather around the Messiah - the descendant of Judah.


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