| Face to Face |

The Footsteps of Mashiach   

Salvation sprouts from decline



name isn’t just a label, it’s an identity. This is particularly true with names mentioned in the Torah; often they suggest characteristics unique to the bearer of the name. In sifrei Yirmiyahu and Zecharyah, Mashiach is called “Tzemach,” which is also the way he’s referenced in our brachah of Shemoneh Esreh, “Es tzemach Dovid avdecha meheirah satzmiach.” “Tzemach,” a plant, is a strange moniker for Mashiach; names alluding to deliverance and redemption would seem more appropriate.

When we plant a seed, it undergoes a process of decomposition. Exposure to water and soil causes the seed to fester and decay, and from this state of apparent disintegration, a new seedling emerges. Rav Chaim Friedlander (Sifsei Chaim) explains that the process of Mashiach’s arrival will follow an identical progression.

Ikvesa D’Meshicha, the Footsteps of Mashiach, is the period when Mashiach’s arrival is so imminent that we, as if, hear the echo of his approaching footfalls. Paradoxically, at this time conditions in the Jewish world will decline, and it will appear that we’re regressing away from a state of redemption, rather than approaching it. Conditions will continue to deteriorate until they reach a state that seems to portend utter disaster. And then, like the seed that seemed at the point of decay, only to yield a tender shoot, the destruction will sprout salvation. Ultimately, Geulah sprouts from decline.

This is the Tzemach we call upon in our tefillah, “Es tzemach Dovid.” We ask Hashem that the process of deterioration that presages the Geulah come to an end, and He bring Mashiach in its wake.


A Gradual Process

Tzemichah, sprouting forth from decay, shares another analogy with Mashiach’s arrival. “Ein haGeulah… ba’ah b’vas achas, ela kim'a kim'a (Midrash Tehillim).” Rav Chaim Friedlander (ibid.) explains that Redemption doesn’t present at once, rather it develops incrementally. Contrary to our visions of Geulah as sudden and swift, the Redemption is expressed as “Magdil yeshuos malko. His salvation escalates, intensifies.

Intuitively, this makes sense. A shift from a state of utter desolation to exultant Redemption may be too extreme to bear, and perhaps some of us wouldn’t survive the shock. Instead, the transition will be a gradual, subtler process, with space for us to regulate at each stage. The “kim'a, kim'a” depiction of Geulah recalls the gradual metamorphosis of seed to plant, the process of growth in stages, until it climaxes as a plant in full bloom, or in the ultimate tzemichah of “es Tzemach Dovid.”

Daybreak offers us another metaphor for the “kim'a kim'a” element in Geulah. If we were to suddenly move from the darkest part of night to brilliant, illuminating daylight, our eyesight would suffer from the abrupt intensity of the sun’s rays. Instead, Hashem gradually, gently, segues from darkness to dawn. Bit by bit, the blackness of night recedes to a softer dusk; almost imperceptibly, dimness fades to early morning gray. And only once the sky has shifted from opaque shadows to softest of light do we see the sun’s rays, the karnei shemesh, streaking across the sky, heralding sunrise.

Despite the fact that the Geulah will unfold “kim'a kim'a,” gradually allowing us to acclimate ourselves to it and assimilate it slowly, nonetheless we ask that Hashem “meheirah satzmiach,” that He speed up this process so we may reap the benefits of Mashiach without delay.


A Horn and a Ray

Another facet of our brachah relating to Malchus Beis Dovid and the Geulah is the metaphor of “keren,” an animal horn, as demonstrated in the words “V’karno tarum l’yeshuasecha” and in the tefillah of Rosh Hashanah, “utzemichas keren Dovid avdecha.” The kings of Klal Yisrael were anointed with oil dripped from a keren; this rite was a celestial indication of enduring rulership. Shaul Hamelech, anointed with a vessel, not a horn, was denied continued leadership. “V’karno tarum” is an appeal for the enduring, eternal reign of Melech Hamashiach.

A keren, when imagined as the horn of a bull, conjures strength and might. This is yet another representation of the durability and permanence of leadership we anticipate with the arrival of Mashiach.

Additionally, an animal develops horns as it grows into adulthood, a gradual process of years. Indeed, an animal’s horns are an excellent indicator of its age and strength, every inch testament to months and years of steady, abiding growth. This conjures the gradual process of “kim'a kim'a,” a hallmark of the Geulah. Like the budding horns of a maturing animal, the reign of Dovid will strengthen and intensify until it reaches the pinnacle of might with the arrival of Mashiach ben Dovid.

Another definition of the word keren is ray, as in “karnei shemesh,” sunrays. Keren is another commonality sunrise shares with the “kim'a kim'a” principle. Not only does sunrise recall Geulah in a conceptual sense, it shares the linguistic component of keren as well.


Anticipating Salvation

The mishnah at the end of Maseches Sotah paints a discouraging portrait of the era preceding Mashiach’s arrival. Among other things, there will be an abundance of chutzpah (insolence); expenses will disproportionally increase; authority and governance will be steeped in heresy; immorality will become commonplace; fear of sin will elicit disgust, and the world will be devoid of truth. This will be one of the most grueling periods in Jewish history, when physical, financial, moral, and political challenges will coincide with an alarming dearth of Torah-true values, to bring us to our knees.

Do any of these descriptions ring true? In a real sense, the mishnah is describing our current space in history. And, according to the principle of “tzemichah,” the physical and spiritual landscape will only deteriorate further. However, the mishnah offers a reprieve: “V’al mah yesh lanu l’hishaein? Al Avinu shebaShamayim. And through the encompassing storm, who will we rely upon? Our Father in Heaven. Emunah — in Hashem, in His ability to rescue us, in the actuality that He will indeed do it — is the order of the day. “Ki l’yeshuasecha kivinu kol hayom — we await Your salvation all day long” is both the closing line of our brachah and the answer to surviving the process of “es tzemach Dovid.”

Ki l’yeshuasecha kivinu kol hayom” is also our answer to one of the most important questions we will ever encounter. The Gemara teaches (Shabbos 31a) that in the Next World, when we’re summoned to account for our deeds in This World, we’ll be asked several key questions relating to our financial behavior, childbearing, Torah study, and pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Likely, our Heavenly reward hinges on answering these questions satisfactorily. One of these questions relates to our brachah: “Tzipisa l’yeshuah? — Did you yearn for the ultimate Redemption?”

Will we be capable of answering this question in the affirmative?

When we say “ki l’yeshuasecha kivinu kol hayom” with the requisite focus and intention, we fulfill our obligation, every day, to await Mashiach’s arrival.

May he come, even today.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 884)

Oops! We could not locate your form.