Zion Needs the Messiah!

 Dear Friends,

Regarding the recent election in the State of Israel, journalist Griff Witte, from the Washington Post Foreign Service, wrote:

“Yet as Israelis go to the polls Tuesday to choose a new government, the national mood is anything but confident. Instead, there is widespread anxiety over the threat Israel sees in Iran’s developing nuclear program. There is exhaustion with the Palestinian conflict, which has no end in sight. And there is grim resignation that none of the candidates on the ballot appears to have the answers to the country’s complex problems.” (From “Israelis Head To Polls, Anxiety and Fatigue Rule,” Washington Post, February 10, 2009).


The mood has not really changed since the elections. There is disillusionment with the current political leaders of Zion, whose various political and military solutions have failed to bring us redemption. This disillusionment should increase our yearning for the spiritual leadership and vision of the Messiah, of whom it is written, “A redeemer shall come to Zion and to those of Jacob who turn back from defection” (Isaiah 59:20). As a classical commentator, Ibn Ezra, explains, this verse is referring to the Messiah.


As we shall discuss, our Sacred Scriptures reveal that the Messiah will be a great sovereign and teacher who will inspire Israel and all the nations to serve Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, and thereby inaugurate an age of universal enlightenment, unity, and shalom. Some people have difficulty imagining that one great person could become the Messiah and cause a radical change in the world. The late Rabbi Aryeh Carmell was a noted Torah educator who had an inspiring influence on my life, and he addressed this issue in the following passage in an essay titled, “Judaism and the Environment”:


“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?”


According to a teaching of Maimonides, the belief in the coming of the Messiah is one of the thirteen principles of our faith (commentary of Maimonides to Mishnah Sanhedrin, chap. 10). The following statement is the well-known summary of this teaching of Maimonides:


“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.”


The belief in the coming of the Messiah is deeply embedded within the consciousness of the Jewish people. Even those of our people who view themselves as “secular” have been affected by this belief. For example, the book, “World of Our Fathers,” by Irving Howe, describes the messianic yearnings of an earlier generation of Jewish socialists and progressive activists who strayed from the path of Torah. Although their ideology was secular, their yearning, hope, and striving for a better world was rooted in the ancient Jewish belief that the Messiah will eventually come and inaugurate a new age of universal justice, unity, 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.”


A description of the messianic age of redemption and the role of the Messiah is found in Chapter 11 of the Book of Isaiah, and it opens with the following passage:


“A staff will emerge from the stump of Jesse, and a shoot will sprout from his roots. The spirit of Hashem will rest upon him – a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and reverence for Hashem. He will be imbued with a spirit of reverence for Hashem; and he will not need to judge by what his eyes see nor decide by what his ears hear. He will judge the destitute with righteousness, and decide with fairness for the humble of the earth. He will strike the world with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked one. Righteousness will be the girdle round his loins, and faith will be the girdle round his waist.” (Isaiah 11:1-5)


In the above passage, it states: “The spirit of Hashem will rest upon him – a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and awe of Hashem.” This verse clearly indicates that the Messiah is an enlightened human being who is in awe of Hashem, but who is not Hashem. This verse serves as a reminder that we are not to deify any human being, including a great Jewish human being.


It also states: “He will strike the world with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked one.” According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, this verse reveals that the power of the Messiah will come from “the rod of his mouth” – the strength of his teachings. Through these teachings, explains Rabbi Hirsch, the conscience and power of goodness within the wicked one will be awakened; thus, “the wicked one has certainly been killed, but in his place, a fresh pure human being has arisen anew.” (Commentary on the Haftoroth)


The Prophet then describes an era of universal shalom and spiritual enlightenment:


“The wolf will live with the sheep, and the leopard will lie down with the kid; and a calf, a lion whelp and a fatling together, and a young child will lead them. A cow and bear will graze and their young will lie down together; and a lion, like cattle, will eat hay. A suckling will play by a viper’s hole; and a newly weaned child will stretch his hand towards an adder’s lair. They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of Hashem as water covering the sea bed.” (Isaiah 11:1-9)


With the arrival of the Messiah, adds the Prophet Isaiah, Hashem will bring all our people home:


“It shall be on that day that the Master of All will once again show His hand, to acquire the remnant of His people...He will raise a banner for the nations and assemble the castaways of Israel; and He will gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (verses 11,12)


The above prophecies reveal what the Messiah will accomplish after he arrives. We are therefore awaiting the arrival of the true Messiah, when all of these prophecies will be fulfilled. 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. In this spirit, 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)


Shalom – for Zion and the world,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Teachings and Information:


1. There are those who wonder how our generation can experience the coming of the Messiah when previous generations that were more righteous than us did not merit this experience. The Chofetz Chaim, a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, 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, Last Section, Chapter 20 – cited in “The Chofetz Chaim Looks at Eternity” – Feldheim Pub.)


2. Within the Books of the Prophets, there are vivid descriptions of the messianic age and the role of the Messiah. One well-known example is Isaiah’s vision of “the end of days” when the Messiah “will settle the disputes of many peoples” and “they shall 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).


3. Within the Five Books of the Torah, we find the following brief references and allusions to the Messiah:


A. Our father, Jacob, blessed his 12 sons – the founders of the 12 tribes – before he died, and in his blessing to Judah, he mentions the future arrival of Shiloh. Jacob adds that “his will be an assemblage of peoples” (Genesis 49:10).


The ancient Aramaic translation of the Torah, known as Targum Onkelos, refers to Shiloh as the Messiah; moreover, Midrash Yalkut Shimoni says that this is referring to the “King Messiah.” This is also the interpretation cited by the classical commentator, Rashi. As Rashi explains, the peoples will gather around the Messiah, and Rashi refers us to the following related Divine promise regarding the Messiah:


“It shall be on that day that the descendant of Jesse who stands as a banner for the peoples, nations will seek him, and his restful tranquility will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10)


B. “I shall see him, but not now, I shall look at him, but not in the near future. A star has issued from Jacob and a scepter-bearer has arisen from Israel” (Numbers 24:17). According to a classical biblical commentator, Ramban (Nachmanides), this verse is a prophecy concerning the Messiah. Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, also interprets this verse in a similar manner (The Laws of Kings 11:1).


C. “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.” (Deuteronomy 30: 3-5)

According to Maimonides, the above verses are referring to the redemption which will follow the arrival of the Messiah; thus, Maimonides states regarding the Messiah: Anyone who does not believe in him or does not wait for his coming, denies not only the validity of the other Prophets, but also the validity of the Torah and Moses, our teacher (The Laws of Kings 11:1).


4. The following is a link to a short video of a Modzitzer Chassidic commemoration and celebration which was held after the conclusion of Simchas Torah in Bnei Brak, Israel. The video reveals that there were Religious Zionists who came to this Chareidi Chassidic gathering. The video begins with the Chassidim and their guests singing in a dark room the song of faith in the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah). The melody was composed during the Holocaust by Reb Azriel David Fastag, a Modzitzer Chassid. The singing of this song is dedicated to those who perished in the Holocaust.


The video concludes with a unifying and joyous dance in a light-filled room, as they sing a joyous Yiddish song about the approaching geulah (redemption) with the coming of Moshiach:  http://youtube.com/watch?v=D-DIIf7zkUQ

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