WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO? The darkest hours have passed and dawn is breaking, not only for the Jewish people but for all of humanity. This is not just a matter of faith; the brightening of the human horizon is a matter of public record. Consider the following omens heralding the imminent redemption:
Does Moshiach's coming mean no more war, hunger, and oppression? In the past decade the world has cut military spending by over a trillion dollars; food production and consumption are significantly higher; over 90% of countries elect their own governments, and over half the world lives in free market economies.
Does redemption mean healthier and safer lives? In the past 30 years, air pollution is down a third. In the past 20 years, deaths from heart disease are down 50% and US traffic accidents are down 35%. In the past 10 years, medical advances are up 100% and American recycling is up 1000%. Over the past 12 years, the crime rate in New York City is down 60%. 1
However, aside from these positive trends there are different kinds of signs.
By way of analogy, we all know that there is a Jack in a Jack-in-the-box. That's why we buy it and call our child over to turn the crank. That is also why we listen to the music so carefully, and sensitize ourselves to the building tension as the crank winds the spring for the big moment. We even tell our children to watch and anticipate what is going to happen.
In this analogy, we are the children and G‑d is our parent. The Jack is Moshiach and the box is the world at large. G‑d is playing the music and tightening the spring over the last thousands of years. At the same time G‑d communicates through his prophets how we are to behave in order to hasten the coming of Moshiach and redemption.
Of course the children are impatient; it seems like forever. Have you ever traveled with children and heard, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" Perhaps you have told them to wait until a certain time. But, when their impatience strikes again you might have then asked them to look for signs: A hill, a bridge, a road sign, a building.
That is the situation we are in. We are cruising toward the redemption on spaceship earth. The Creator has given us a time frame, and has given us landmarks to watch for while we travel the road to redemption. G‑d tells us these signs through prophecy. The written and oral Torah are full of signs, prophecies about social, political and even environmental changes in the era immediately prior to the redemption.
Prophecy is alive today too. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, has told us as a prophet that Moshiach is here and that the redemption is soon to fully take place. All we need to do is to open our eyes and see the changes in the world that are already occurring. To realize how these changes are a beginning fulfillment of all those ancient prophecies of redemption from the written and oral Torah.
Returning to the Jack-in-the-box analogy, we all feel the tension in the world today. But we also need to listen to the music, to notice the positive things that are happening in the world, things that have never happened until now. The world is changing rapidly. Both the tension and the music have been foreseen. Wait around and watch what is going to happen. But in the meantime, get ready, because this Jack is not going back in the box. He's out for good.
Let us look at some of these prophetic signs and some of the recent changes in the world to see if things add up to redemption conceptually.
Feel the Tension
With the advent of the footsteps of Moshiach, insolence will increase and prices will soar; the vine will yield its fruit, yet wine will be dear; the government will turn to heresy and no one will rebuke them; the meeting place of scholars will be used for immorality; Galilee will be destroyed, Gavlan will be desolate, and those who dwell on the borders will wander about begging from town to town without being pitied; the wisdom of the scholars will degenerate, those who fear sin will be despised, and the truth will be lacking; youths will put old men to shame, elders will rise in deference to the young, a son will revile his father, a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man's enemies will be the members of his household; the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog; a son will not feel ashamed before his father. So upon whom can we rely? Only upon our father in heaven.
Mishnah Sotah, Ch. 9 Par. 15
The Sages of the Talmud looked forward to the coming of the Moshiach with trepidation. Some have even prayed not to witness his coming because of the sorry state of the world at the time. We have lived through the worst birth pangs of the Days of Moshiach and are now gearing up for the good times. Meanwhile, at times it is hard to retain a spirit of optimism because life’s negatives still hurt.
Who can count the terrible and insoluble ills that humanity faces today? Hundreds of millions are starving right now. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods and hurricanes are battering the planet at a quickening pace. The global environment is speedily deteriorating as it becomes more and more evident that no one can stop the degradation of our oceans, the buildup of greenhouse gases, or the depletion of atmospheric ozone. Torah scholars have associated these changes with the prophesied "footsteps of Moshiach." Thank G‑d for that because only a Divine intervention can remedy these immense problems.
Even (and especially) in the richest of societies there is an insidious erosion of family and community values, total alienation and a consequent plague of random acts of violence including children murdering their parents, teachers, and each other.
For oppressed people there are the additional problems, the ravages of war and terrorism. The entire populace of Israel is at risk as their suicidal government continues to release convicted terrorists and hand over land to a people whose national covenant calls for the destruction of Israel.
There is no solution to these problems and even if there was, who has the power to heal such pervasive calamities? Clearly any remedy must come from Above. As it surely will, just like the Biblical prophets attest.
But it is not enough to know that Moshiach is coming ... He must actually come NOW! The world is in terrible need. How much death and suffering must humanity endure before the glorious Divine promises are fulfilled?
The biggest problem facing us is not calamity. It is complacency. Our Sages have told us that it is our very impatience with the way things are that will catalyze their remedy. In Judaism, the transition between the evils of today’s world to the wonderful world of tomorrow is termed going from exile to redemption. There are two aspects of this. One is that the world must change. The other is that we must change, and the first change we have to implement is a change in perspective, in how we see the world.
We must train ourselves to see human misery as an anomaly, a terrible yet transient, abnormal state of affairs that can and must give way to a normal life of goodness, kindness, health, prosperity and G‑dliness revealed in the world. So what if thousands of years of experience have ingrained in us an exile mentality? The truth is that redemption is eternal, while exile is temporary. If one compares the infinite duration of redemption to the thousands of years of suffering, it is clear that the normal state of affairs is the way it will be in the true and complete redemption through Moshiach.
This is the basis of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's call to storm the gates of heaven and clamor for Moshiach to come already. From the Rebbe's perspective, through his spiritual perceptivity and prophetic capacity, the future redemption is already a reality. The Rebbe has compared our current situation to having a locked box before us with a treasure inside. To unlock the redemption, we have been given a key, which is to cry out, "Ad Mosai?" How long must we wait? We want Moshiach now! We don't want to wait!
If we focus on the need to eradicate the bad in ourselves and in the world, we will be motivated to act quickly. There is even greater motivation with the awareness that the redemption is literally at hand, a hairsbreadth away, ready to be catalyzed by any one good act.
This leads us to the second and more positive kind of sign that there is in the world today. These are the indications that the ice of exile has broken and that things are warming up. Day is dawning. Perceiving the signs of redemption is a way to live with the times. Moreover it is redemption in and of itself, for it liberates the mind from its own exile and redeems the spirit.
In this way we come to celebrate the coming redemption even before it is fully revealed. It may seem premature to the rational mind to celebrate the redemption while there is still so much suffering. It may also seem inconsistent with crying out to G‑d for relief. Still, our sages have taught us that the joyful anticipation of redemption is merit enough to make the redemption happen 2 because it demonstrates true and unbounded faith in the imminent fulfillment of the promises of G‑d.
Nonetheless, is it possible for a person to scream and cry and at the same time to sing and dance? In general, no, although our Sages discuss a state of being where joy is lodged in one side of the heart while tears are lodged in the other. 3 This state of being is rarely achievable for the average person, so practically speaking there is time enough for both states of mind, sometimes one and sometimes the other.
Let us return to some of the reasons to celebrate.
When one looks through the eyes of Torah at the big and little changes that are happening around us, it is clear that as bad as things may look, all the pieces are about to fall into place in a most beautiful, harmonious 4 and timeless way. In fact, many of those pieces have fallen into place already.
To carry the music analogy a little further, the composer has written the score long ago and has published it for whoever can read music. Now the world is finally playing the opening notes of the symphony of redemption. Listen carefully.
The Tradition from Sinai presents a future featuring elevated consciousness and geopolitical cooperation. For over 2000 years these predictions were not even remotely imaginable, but now we are finally seeing how feasible such things are.
Thousands of years ago, as recorded in the holy book of Zohar, the Sages foretold of an era starting in the year 5600, (corresponding to 1840 CE) where spiritual and worldly knowledge will flood human consciousness prior to the ultimate redemption. This closely matches the timing of the discoveries which form the basis of modern science. This is true in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. This period also marked the publishing of the seminal works of Chassidism, the spiritual discipline focused on the knowledge of G‑d, the purpose of man, and the ultimate redemption.
Thousands of years ago, when plagues decimated populations, average life expectancy was short, and death was final, the Sages foretold an era of health, longevity, and eventually eternal life. Nowadays medical miracles abound, the average lifespan is lengthening, and revival of