Airports are not for the fainthearted. And while the arrivals hall is infinitely easier to handle than the departure terminal there too emotions run high.
I stood waiting to greet my daughter who had been overseas in seminary for the year. The arrivals board indicated that her plane had landed but no passengers had passed yet through the great glass portal that separated us.
I stationed myself among the other parents but I wasn’t being sociable because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the glass long enough to carry on a decent conversation. I didn’t want to miss the first glimpse of my daughter at the doorway.
A sympathetic woman approached to inform me that the passengers were delayed at baggage claim. Still I couldn’t relax my gaze; after all maybe just maybe my daughter’s suitcases were the first ones off the plane! I heard the buzz around me about Pesach recipes but it was of no interest to me at all as I waited and waited with an overwhelming eagerness.
And then suddenly I saw her making her way in my direction. “Faster” I called as she struggled to push the luggage cart through the barrier. “Faster!”
Then and there in the month of Nissan in the very season of geulah I had a taste of what it means for Klal Yisrael to wait for Mashiach. To keep our eyes firmly on the goal. To yearn anticipate and remain eager with every fiber of our being. Not to get distracted by the buzz around us. Not to lose hope even when the naysayers say he’s delayed.
The Twelfth Principle of the Rambam’s Thirteen Articles of Faith states I believe with complete faith in the coming of Mashiach and even if he delays I will still await him every day.
Torah sources teach that there will be four distinct stages of existence: Olam Hazeh (our current world) Yemos haMashiach (the Messianic era) Techiyas Hameisim (Resurrection) and Olam Haba (the eternal World to Come).
Although the term Olam Haba is often employed to refer to the place where the neshamah goes after death to await resurrection this repository of souls is more accurately termed Olam Haneshamos. Olam Haba is the ultimate and eternal state of existence; it’s also sometimes referred to as Olam Has’char the World of Reward.
The last two principles of the articles of faith — belief in Mashiach and in techiyas hameisim—follow naturally from the previous Principle of reward and punishment. After the Rambam establishes that payback takes place in the World to Come he then outlines in Principles Twelve and Thirteen the two stages of world history that will lead to this ultimate World of Reward — the eras of Mashiach and of resurrection.
The Brisker Rav points out that the Twelfth Principle includes two obligations. One is to believe that Mashiach will come and the other is to anxiously await his arrival each day. The Chofetz Chaim writes that “one should think each day that today can be the day.” We express this daily yearning in Shemoneh Esreh with the words “ki lishuas’cha kivinu kol hayom u’metzapim lishuah” and other brachos in Shemoneh Esreh and Bircas Hamazon center around the Geulah as well.
Tehillim (130:6) states “Nafshi laHashem mishomrim laboker shomrim laboker my soul awaits for Hashem more than those who watch for morning who watch for morning.” Rashi interprets the repetitive cadence: “I am among those who look forward anxiously again and again keitz achar keitz deadline after deadline.” In this verse Dovid Hamelech expresses his readiness to continually wait for the Yemos haMashiach the Messianic era even though it seems as if all deadlines have passed.
What Are We Waiting For?
Why is it so crucial that one waits for Mashiach? Why is it not sufficient to know and believe that he’ll come eventually?
To answer this question we must clearly know what we are waiting for. What is the nature of the Yemos haMashiach? Here is how the Rambam describes it: The chachamim and neviim did not yearn for the days of Mashiach so that they’d rule over the world or eat drink and be merry. Rather they looked forward to this time in order to be free to engage in Torah without oppressors or detractors enabling them to earn life in the World to Come. There will be neither hunger nor war and no jealousy or rivalry for there will be bountiful good and delicacies. The entire world will be focused on knowing Hashem.
The name “Melech haMashiach” means “the anointed king.” He will be the king who restores Hashem’s monarchy over the entire world. The Rambam tells how this will happen: Mashiach from the house of Dovid will be wiser than Shlomo and a prophet near the level of Moshe Rabbeinu. He’ll instruct the nation in Hashem’s ways and all the gentiles will come to listen to him. He’ll rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and gather all the exiles of Yisrael. He’ll restore the laws of old bring sacrifices and enact shemittah and yovel. His name will be great among the nations and he’ll bring rectification to the entire world to serve Hashem.
During the Messianic era the natural order of the world will still continue — for example the sun and moon will remain as they do today. As we have stated this era is one of two transitional but crucial phases between the world as we know it today and the eternal spiritual world known as Olam Haba.
Why is a transition phase necessary? The Ramchal tells us that the goal of Creation will only be realized when Klal Yisrael returns to Hashem and He dwells among us. When we achieve this we will have reverted to the original status of the world before Adam Harishon’s sin and rectified his transgression. The purpose of the age of Mashiach for those who merit it is to allow man to attain this state. It is an opportunity to perfect and purify all of existence before the era of Olam Haba.
The Messianic era will promote the accomplishment of these lofty goals. Avodas Hashem will be easier and more natural due in part to the absence of hunger persecution war and other disruptions and also because “the knowledge of Hashem will fill the world ” and His presence and
dominion will be an undisputable reality. Our attitude toward life decisions will resemble that of Adam Harishon who although he had free will was naturally inclined to identify with Hashem’s Will and make proper choices. (How Adam nevertheless sinned is a discussion beyond the scope of this article.)
What do You Yearn For?
Clearly waiting for Mashiach signifies far more than the happy anticipation of better times. A person’s yearnings are a reflection of his priorities and goals. When we’re eager for Mashiach it indicates that we recognize that our present life is not ideal that we’re dissatisfied with our distance and disconnect from our Creator. This is why one of the initial questions to the soul at judgment after death is “tzipisa l’yeshuah did you await salvation?” Before the precise accounting of his deeds and misdeeds theHeavenly Courtestablishes the individual’s attitude toward life itself.
As Rav Shimshon Pincus puts it waiting for Mashiach is not only about envisioning the future. It’s about our present lives. A Jew who yearns for Mashiach is one whose life is dedicated to coming closer to Hashem one who wants the entire world to recognize Him and one to whom nothing else has significance. This is why the Rambam included this Principle among the Thirteen Fundamentals which as we have explained shape our relationship with Hashem and His Torah and are the prerequisites for earning a place in Olam Haba.
The Gemara indicates that the first three stages of world history — This World the Messianic era and Resurrection — will last a maximum of 6000 years. There are different scenarios and timetables for the order of events preceding Mashiach’s arrival depending on our merits and other factors. This is why our Sages caution against trying to decipher clues from Biblical passages to determine when Mashiach will arrive for this can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.
The End of Exile
What are the factors that will bring Mashiach? How will the galus end?
The Torah promises (Devarim 30:1-3): “You will return unto your hearts among the nations where Hashem sent you and you will return to Hashem and heed His voice…then Hashem will return with your captivity and have mercy on you and gather you from all the peoples where He dispersed you.”
In this passage Hashem promises us that there’s a purpose to our sufferings in foreign lands and that we’ll eventually do teshuvah and merit redemption. On the other hand the Vilna Gaon and other commentaries indicate that the final Geulah is not dependent on teshuvah but on Hashem’s chesed and on the covenant He forged with our Avos. The Leshem suggests that when the time arrives we may merit salvation by virtue of the tzaddikim among us even if our multitudes haven’t repented.
If we arise to this task on our own our homecoming will be less painful but even if we don’t Hashem will never give up on us and He’ll employ many methods to awaken us. This is the concept of Chevlei Mashiach the birth pangs of Mashiach which are intended to purify us to bring us to a higher level of prayer and teshuvah and also to bring us to disillusionment in all forces other than Hashem’s will.
Interestingly this process seems to follow the pattern of our summer calendar: As Rav Dessler notes the destruction of Tammuz and Av bring us to mourning; mourning sparks yearning and spurs the teshuvah of Elul; teshuvah results in the atonement and subsequent joy of Tishrei. Thus galus contains the seeds of geulah.
The Vilna Gaon writes that the travails of galus are compared to the discomfort of pregnancy and the Chevlei Mashiach to the pain of childbirth. The metaphor is clear. Galus is not an endpoint but a necessary — and sometimes painful — preparation for a new beginning. And while labor and birthing pains are sharper and more frequent than those of pregnancy they herald imminent birth.
Chazal have identified various signposts of Chevlei Mashiach. These include: increased chutzpah rebellious children severe unemployment and inflation acts of terror immorality sanctioned by the government harsh decrees and the passing away of wise and good men. The Arizal writes that these events represent the final spiritual cleansing of all souls and the settling of accounts before the Yemos haMashiach.
In light of these indicators it’s no wonder that our gedolim have identified our days as the Ikvesa D’Meshicha the “footsteps of the Messiah.” His footfalls are approaching as he strides through the barriers that separate us.
One crucial difference between my airport episode and Mashiach’s arrival is that my eagerness didn’t actually accelerate my daughter’s arrival. In contrast waiting for Mashiach and living our lives in a manner that indicates we’re preparing for his arrival is a powerful means to bring him closer.
Let’s locate ourselves in this picture. Are we standing in the arrivals hall or did we lose track of the itinerary? Are we watching anxiously or are we distracted by trivia? Are we calling “Faster faster ” or are we mute and passive?
Most of all let us fully recognize why we’ve come here in the first place. Are we prepared to hasten to greet and to embrace the restoration of Hashem’s glory and the return of the world to an exalted plane of existence?
Sources include writings of Rav Shimshon Pincus Rav Yitzchok Kirzner Rav Yaakov Weinberg Rav Zechariah Fendel Rav Ezriel Tauber Rav Bentzion Epstein and Afterlife by Jonathan Morgenstern
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