The days of Moshiach are both an end and a beginning - the end of everything that's bad about life and the beginning of complete fulfillment of everything good. Thus war and strife are on their way out while peace and cooperation are on their way in. Pettiness and greed are on the decline just as broadmindedness and generosity are on the rise.
The question must be asked, how in tune is my current lifestyle with these changes? Am I an agent for change or aging in chains? Ours is a period of transition and as such is characterized by both positive and negative trends. Society at such times is unstable and small things can set off major repercussions, especially now that all systems are so globally linked. Consequently each individual has a tremendous opportunity for enormous positive impact on the world as a whole.
One may imagine that an individual life or, even less, one single deed could not make a significant difference for the entire world. Both Judaism and modern science teach otherwise. According to Jewish Law, one is obliged to look at his own life and indeed the continued existence of the entire world as if it is hanging in a perfectly even balance. One small deed will tip the scale for the individual and the entire world, either to salvation or to destruction. 1 People of faith have always felt that this is so, but now (especially according to chaos theory and the science of non-linear dynamic systems) it is a well-known fact that tiny variations soon lead to huge and even unpredictable changes.
So we are effective, at least potentially. But how important is it for us to jump into the fray and try to make positive changes in the world? Some people may claim that since the redemption is already in process and salvation is imminent, we may then sit back and take a snooze. Technically this may be true, for the redemption will surely come whether we are ready or not. But on a moral level it is unthinkable. Imagine, you are holding in your very hand the key to universal love, health, peace, prosperity, truth, justice, goodness and kindness. Would you withhold it? Would you expend ten seconds unlocking redemption? How about 20 seconds? If we could simply keep in mind the truth of our power to effect a positive change, no doubt we would all be working flat out to achieve redemption as the top priority in our lives.
Imagine that you did something wonderful in G‑d's eyes and He decided to bring about the complete redemption of the world one minute sooner. One minute less suffering for you and one for me that makes two minutes. Now consider how many minutes of suffering that makes for 6 billion people: Over Ten thousand man-years.
Now let's look at tomorrow. Picture a redeemed world. We've done our good deeds, G‑d has responded, it's a wonderful life and there's no more suffering, just joy. Will we then be able to end human misery? Nope, nobody's suffering, will we be able to illumine the darkness of ignorance and depravity? Too late, the light is already on. Will we be able to bring about a good and kind world? Been there, done that! Soon it will be too late to save the world because the world will have been saved already!
I don't know about you, but I want to take part in saving the world, especially now that there's so little time left. It's the best game in town. Guaranteed to win. There is no minimum investment, and now that Moshiach is on his way, very quick returns.
* * *
What exactly should we be investing? Together with the spiritual and ethical ideals of the Torah, G‑d gave us specific actions to observe, actions, which establish these ideals within the material world. These actions are the mitzvos, the commandments of the Torah. The Hebrew word, mitzvah, relates to the word tzavta meaning connection. Every mitzvah is an act of connection linking us to the Tradition from Sinai, to our spiritual essence, to G‑d Himself.
The Tradition from Sinai distinguishes between the mitzvah obligations of the Jew and the mitzpah obligations of the Gentile in making the world a good and G‑dly place. The Jew can and must do more. Jews are obliged in 613 specific commandments, while all peoples of the world have been commanded in the Seven Noahide Laws, universal principles with practical application in daily life.
The nations of the world have a key role according to Judaism, to establish a healthy spiritual and moral environment in society at large, so that the revelation of G‑d's presence will be welcomed by the world as the foundation of goodness and truth that it truly is.
In the time to come, the Sages tell us, there will be no more commandments per se. The positive actions the Torah requires will continue, but all will do them readily and willingly. The separation between commander and commanded will not be there, as human will becomes an expression of Divine will.
In such a context, good deeds of the future era will not be as precious, because the opportunity for evil will simply cease to exist. On the other hand, all the good deeds that ever have been done throughout all of history will have been rewarded and will, moreover, become revealed as the life force illumining the eternal life of the world to come.
Of course, we are not there yet. Although we do have many signs and foretastes of redemption, the gap between where we are and where we want to be is a gaping chasm. Temporary, yes, but gaping nonetheless. There is no denying that there is unspeakable and unrelenting misery for many thousands of people on a daily basis.
It is not enough to know that we can make a difference. We must truly feel that we must make a difference. In addition to the mitzvah actions that we do there needs to be an additional ingredient, an urgency to get the world and ourselves out of its sorry state and into its full health and vigor.
The Sages tell us that it is our very impatience with exile that actualizes the redemption. It is comparable to the case where an employer owes the employee his wages but is not in default until after the employee demands his pay. Similarly, says the illustrious saint and scholar of a century ago, the Chofetz Chaim, we must demand the redemption once its time has finally come.
The central prayer of the Jewish liturgy is comprised of 19 blessings, around half of them addressing redemption directly and the rest indirectly. One of these blessings, in reference to Moshiach, pleads, "May the sprout of David your servant speedily flourish, because we await your salvation all the day... "The question raised by the saint and scholar, the Chida, is why does the prayer say 'because'? If the Jews have merit, they will be redeemed even without waiting; and if they don't have merit, how could waiting help? From this he concludes that our very yearning for redemption has enough merit to make it happen.
In the course of his or her day, an observant Jew makes over a hundred references to Moshiach and redemption in the daily prayers and Grace After Meals. Jews face Jerusalem when they pray because of the Divine presence at the temple mount that will be again revealed with the third temple in the messianic era.
One may think, this is all well and good for the ultra-Orthodox, etc., but of what relevance is anticipating redemption for the average person who does not consider himself to be so religious?
We are constantly surrounded by enormous problems of an insoluble nature - problems that we continue to address but with ever more obvious futility. In the environmental arena, such problems include atmospheric ozone depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, and the population explosion. In the economic realm we have the constant highs and lows of the business cycle and the burden falling on the poorest of world citizens. In societal terms, we are seeing the family dissolve under a 70% divorce rate, and alarming alienation of the youth, with children murdering their parents, teachers and classmates in cold blood.
Does anyone imagine that he has a solution to these problems? Does anyone have some clever remedy to make anyone of these problems go away? Even the non-religious see that if there is to be a happy resolution to these issues, it would have to come from beyond the system, from beyond the natural course of things.
For the Jew, especially in Israel, there are even more acute problems than Jews face anywhere else, and this touches on the very issue of physical survival. The attempt to trade land for peace with the Palestinians over several decades has resulted in thousands of Israeli deaths and a constant threat to the civilian public from their 'negotiating partners' who remain firmly sworn by their national covenant to the total destruction of the State of Israel. It is increasingly clear to the Israeli public that here too, any happy resolution to this issue would have to come from beyond the system, from beyond the natural course of things. Thus even among non-observant Israelis, the popular bumper sticker slogan is "Hapitron Hayachid, Moshiach Ben David", which loosely translates as "Moshiach is the only solution."
* * *
Torah tells us that man is the purpose of creation. It also tells us the purpose of man, which is to bring Moshiach. Therefore someone who lives exclusively in order to bring Moshiach is really the epitome of humanity, and the crown of creation.
In the very forefront of Moshiach awareness and yearning for redemption has been the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His first and his last goals have been Moshiach and redemption and this has been constant throughout his leadership. This has two aspects. From our point of view, the main thing is that G‑d should send Moshiach already to complete the promised redemption. But from G‑d's point of view, we should prepare ourselves for this. The Rebbe has worked in both directions, encouraging both G‑d and man to accommodate each other.
In the late 70's, the Rebbe founded Tzivos Hashem, the children's 'army', in which each child is a soldier dedicated to vanquishing the enemy (one's own evil inclination), and through Torah and mitzvos, preparing oneself and the world for Moshiach. In the early '80's, momentum picked up as the summer camp song "We want Moshiach now!" was turned into a Lubavitch theme song by the Rebbe himself.
Although the Rebbe's Torah discourses cover every possible topic, the theme of Moshiach and redemption became more and more pronounced with time. Some of the Rebbe's detractors denounced the Rebbe as crazy and this was reported to the Rebbe by one of his secretaries. His response, "I am crazy; crazy for Moshiach!"
On one occasion, the late illustrious Torah scholar and Chief Rabbi of Canada, Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung of blessed memory, came to the Rebbe and asked him what his intention has been with all the emphasis on Moshiach. After all, there are 13 Principles of Faith of which belief in Moshiach is only one. The Rebbe responded obliquely, asking Rabbi Hirschprung if he would be able to arrange a substantial loan to a certain individual living in Montreal. Immediately Rabbi Hirschprung offered to arrange an interest-free loan, even suggesting that with one phone call, he could have the money that very day. Then the Rebbe asked if the loan could be made on the condition that the borrower pays it back when Moshiach comes. Rabbi Hirschprung stood dumbfounded for several seconds. Only then did the Rebbe explain that what he wants is that Moshiach should be so thoroughly integrated in our daily life and thoughts that a suggestion like this should not seem odd.
After 40 years of sending emissaries around the world to promote Judaism (particularly among assimilated Jews), the Rebbe made a shocking announcement in his keynote address to the International Convention of Emissaries in November of 1991. He told them that their job was over; indeed the overall job of the Jews in the Diaspora was over. Now all that was left to do was to actually "Welcome Moshiach" so that he could complete his mission and take the Jews out of exile and into true and complete redemption. In that talk 2, the Rebbe made it clear that every activity that every Jew does throughout his/her entire day must be permeated and suffused with the consciousness of how this leads to Moshiach.
What does it mean to welcome Moshiach? It sounds so simple, and in a way it is. It is as simple as welcoming G‑d into your life. The idea may be simple, but implementing it may be work. It may even be a lot of work. But work is a relative term. To illustrate, picture two men walking uphill carrying bags of stones on their backs. One man is frowning and one man is smiling. The only difference is that the happy man happens to know that the stones are diamonds, while the other person does not know and therefore only feels the weight.
Paving the way for redemption is not a burden when you know what you are working towards and that it will happen very, very soon.
Even for those who have never seen the Rebbe face to face, who have never been privileged to receive a dollar, a book, a piece of cake, a matzah, or a cup of wine from his holy hand, there is still access. There are books, audio tapes, videotapes.
A businessman once complained to the renowned Kabbalist and Lubavitcher Chassid, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, that he misses the Rebbe, that he cannot connect with the Rebbe and that he cannot access the Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh, alluding to the five progressively higher levels of the soul, told him, "You want to access the Rebbe? The nefesh is at the ohel, the ruach is in 770 [Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch World Headquarters], the neshama is in the writings, the chaya is in the Rebbe's outreach campaigns, and the yechida [the ultimate essence of the soul as it is united with the essence of G‑d] is in the Moshiach campaign.
There is no turning the clock back nor do we want to. On the contrary we can't wait until the clock moves forward and we have Moshiach and redemption in their entirety. In the meantime let us resolve that we will continue to keep the Moshiach as the primary purpose and foundation of our lives. We will continue to speak about him, think about him, and act for his sake, constantly. Our intensity will not wane nor will our focus waver.
And we will succeed. The One Above will see our readiness for redemption and our sincere acceptance of Moshiach and He must certainly respond, in the blink of an eye, at which time the whole world will unite in welcoming the Moshiach in complete harmony.
1. Maimonides, Laws of Return [to G‑d], 3:4
2. Shabbos Parshas Cahyei Sarah, 5752.