RABBI WINSTON'S WEEKLY PARSHA PAGE

Special for Shavuos 5758 - Part Three

The Days of Moshiach

In spite of the Talmud's warning, there are predictions made for the arrival date of Moshiach, albeit vague ones:
Eliyahu said to Rav Yehudah the brother of Rav Sala the chasid: The world will continue for no less than eighty-five jubilee periods, and in the last jubilee period, Ben Dovid will come.
The latter asked, "Will he come at the beginning or the end?"
He answered, "I don't know."
"Has this time already passed, or will it come?"
Again he answered, "I don't know." (Sanhedrin 97b)
Further, the Talmud brings another story:
Rav Chanan bar Tachalifa sent a message to Rav Yosef: I met a man who possessed scrolls written in Assyrian script and in the holy language. When I asked him how he obtained it, he answered, "I sold myself to the Roman army and among the Persian treasures, I found it." And it is written in it that the world will remain like an orphan for 4,291 years after creation; many years in which there will be wars of large creatures, and many years in which there will be the war of Gog and Magog; the remainder of the days will be of the Moshiach. (Sanhedrin 97b)
All predictions aside, there is some clarity about what the world will be like once Moshiach does arrive:
There is no difference between This World and the Days of Moshiach except for the oppression of nations. (Brochos 34b)
That's it? The only real difference between this period of history and the next will be "world peace"?

The truth is, if 5,758 years of history have proven anything at all, it is that world peace is no "short order"; world peace is as elusive today as ever before. And though the Talmud downplays the wonder in this achievement, it is actually a sign of a major change that will begin in the period referred to as "Yemos HaMoshiach"-the Days of Moshiach.

If one considers what stands in the path of achieving this ultimate goal, it is the yetzer hara (evil inclination). Selfish and proud tendencies are at the root of most of the fighting among men; these bad traits and others like them emanate from the yetzer hara. Thus the Talmud writes:

In the Time-to-Come, The Holy One, Blessed is He, will bring the yetzer hara and slaughter him before the righteous and the evil ... (Succah 52a)
With no yetzer hara, peace on earth can finally reign. This information is also important for understanding the difference of opinion as to whether or not mitzvos will still be performed in Moshiach's time.

According to one side of the discussion in the Talmud, in Moshiach's time mitzvos will no longer be in effect (Niddah 61b; Avodah Zara 4b; see Rashi), and therefore it will also be a time when one can no longer incur guilt, or gain merit (Shabbos 151b). The Talmud elsewhere states that the books of the Prophets and Writings will no longer be relevant (Yerushalmi, Megillah, Halacha 5).

However, there is another point of view, and the Rambam holds like this opinion that says that these books will not become irrelevant; Yad, Hilchos Megillah, 2:18); it would stand to reason that mitzvos will also still be relevant in Moshiach's time, especially in light of what the following Midrash writes:

In this period of history, if a man goes out to collect figs on Shabbos, the figs say nothing at all. However, in the Time-to-Come, if a man collects figs on Shabbos, the figs will yell at him, "Shabbos!" (Midrash Shochar Tov, Mizmor 73)
Furthermore, is not a mitzvah an eternal concept? If mitzvos are eternal, then how can they ever be irrelevant? The Kabbalists answer this question and resolve the disagreement: yes, mitzvos are eternal, and yes, we will not do them in the Moshiach's time ... as mitzvos.

Let's not forget what the Talmud says elsewhere:

I created the yetzer hara, and I created Torah as its antidote. (Kiddushin 30b)
In other words, mitzvos come to challenge us, to make us confront our yetzer hara in order to channel its energies in the direction of G-d. On this side of history, mitzvos are "unnatural" to perform, which is why there is such resistance among Jews to do tshuva. Take away the yetzer hara, and mitzvos become the most natural thing in the world to do, because the body is better able to follow the soul's lead. This is what the Talmud means when it says:
In the Time-to-Come, The Holy One, Blessed is He, will bring the yetzer hara and slaughter him before the righteous and the evil. To the righteous it will appear like a high mountain, and to the evil it will appear like a thread of hair. Both will cry; the righteous will cry and say, "How were we able to overcome this high mountain?" The evil will cry and say, "How were we not be able to overcome this thread of hair?" (Succah 52a)
In other words, after the yetzer hara is "dead," even those who had been guided by it in this part of history will finally see it from the soul's point of view.

In other words, when we say that mitzvos will no longer be applicable in Moshiach's time, we mean that no one will have to be "commanded" to do the right thing anymore; it will be the will of the yetzer hara-less person all the time to do the will of G-d. In Moshiach's day, mitzvos will be performed, but as natural acts of life.

This progression of becoming increasingly spiritual will continue on throughout the days of Moshiach, as a preparation for the spiritual reality of the ultimate world, "The World-to-Come." In the beginning of Moshiach's time, miracles will abound, but nature will still be apparent. However, as history as we know it progresses toward its ultimate end in the year 6,000 from creation, nature will become less prevalent, and eventually non-existent. Hence the Talmud states:

In the future, the Righteous will revive the dead. (Pesachim 68a)
Eventually, all the spiritual and physical flaws we have battled against ever since Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, will be rectified. The result will be a body that becomes increasingly more like a soul, like Moshe appeared when he came down from Mt. Sinai after G-d's revelation (Shemos 34:29). The Kabbalists refers to it as "skin of light" (kesones ohr).

Not only this, but the spiritual quality of the days of the week will also change, each one being imbued with a different type of holiness. According to this, Sunday will have the quality of Pesach (no, you will not have to clean for chometz every Saturday night, since chometz represents the concept of the yetzer hara, which will no longer exist!); Monday will be like Rosh Hashanah; Tuesday will be like Shavuos; Wednesday will be like Rosh Chodesh (which will become a full holiday); Thursday will have the quality of Sukkos; Friday will be like Shemini Atzeres (Shabbos, of course, remains as Shabbos).

At this stage of history, each of these holidays is a unique day in the year, with different rituals to help us "tap" into the spiritual resource of that day to effect a certain change within us, and the world. In Yemos HaMoshiach, that spiritual energy will automatically be ours on the designated day of the week, helping us to further purify ourselves and to bring us even closer to G-d.

When will all this begin? According to the Midrash, no less than forty years after what is called "Kibbutz Golios," the "Ingathering of the Exiles" (Midrash HaNe'elam, Toldos 139a). When that period actually begins is all part of the question of when Moshiach is supposed to arrive. Have we already witnessed the beginning of this period, or is the best yet to come? This question is, more than likely, one of those questions that is answered only in hindsight.

As to how long the period of rectification is supposed to last, that is the subject of a three-way disagreement in the Midrash, between Rebi Yehudah, Rebi Yitzchak, and Rav Nachman (Midrash HaNe'elam, Toldos 140a)

According to Rebi Yehudah, the period will last 210 years. According to Rebi Yitzchak, the period will continue for 214 years; and, according to Rav Nachman, there is no set time for the length of the period, but it will be based upon the needs of the individual person to become purified. The Zohar (Mishpatim 118b) and most of the rabbis of the Mishnaic and Talmudic period do not bring Rav Nachman's opinion at all.

One could, theoretically, make calculations based upon this information. If history is to last 6,000 years before its transformation to a higher spiritual, less-physical state, then 6,000 less 214 years would equal 5786 from creation, or, the year 2026 CE (which is 28 years away!). That would place the beginning of the incoming of the exiles in the year 1986!

It's not worth it, though, to make such calculations. First of all, though 1986 and the years that followed saw remarkable breakthroughs in terms of Jews being freed from countries of captivity, in the end, very few ended up in Eretz Yisroel. And many that did are looking to leave for America and other countries of opportunity. It's hard to know what G-d has in mind when it comes to world events, especially those that directly affect the history of the Jewish people. We may be in the midst of Kibbutz Golios, or, maybe the real one hasn't even started yet. Only G-d (and maybe some Kabbalists) know for sure at this time.

Furthermore, when it comes to Talmudic statements, one can not always be sure that they can be taken for face value. Even the concept of a "year" takes a new meaning in the world of Kabbalah, to which the concept of Moshiach belongs. Etymologically-speaking, the rabbis of the Talmudic period use the same words as we do; conceptually-speaking, we can be a world apart in meaning. Therefore, it is not worth jumping to conclusions, especially when it comes to so serious and issue.

Further yet, there is still another condition mentioned that must be fulfilled before the coming of Moshiach, and that is, the infamous and fearsome war of Gog and Magog, as referred to by Yechezkel and Zechariah.

According to the Zohar (Shemos 7b), Moshiach's coming is supposed to stir up the nations and precipitate a major war against the Jewish people. According to the Midrash, three times throughout Jewish history Gog and Magog are supposed to march against the Jewish people and onto Jerusalem along with the other nations. (Midrash Tehillim, 118:9).

One such war is referred to in the Talmud:

The Holy One, Blessed is He, was about to make [King] Chizkiah the Moshiach and Sancheriv [who attacked Jerusalem], Gog and Magog, when the Attribute of Judgment said before The Holy One, Blessed is He, "Master of the Universe! David, the king of Israel, who recited many songs and praises You did not make Moshiach. Chizkiah, for whom You have performed great miracles, and for which he did not recite song, You want to make Moshiach?" (Sanhedrin 94a)
Many hold that World War II was also such a war. It certainly had all the conditions for a war of Gog and Magog, for Hitler himself claimed to be at war only with the Jews. From Hitler's point of view, the Holocaust was not about World War II, but World War II was about the Holocaust.

If so, then we can take some solace in the fact that two out of the three prophecized wars of Gog and Magog have passed; however the solace quickly evaporates if we cannot find a third one that has already happened.

There are opinions that say that World War I was a war of Gog and Magog, which would mean that the Holocaust was the last such war before the beginning of Moshiach's era. Many recent events might support such a claim. However, there is a fundamental problem with making World War I a "Gog and Magog" type of war: it was not against the Jews. Indeed, Jews fought in WW I on both sides of the line, often firing at each other. By no means did World War I come close to being a Holocaust such as in the tome of World War II. It was a war of attrition ... for all of mankind.

If so, that leaves the third and final war of Gog and Magog hanging in the air, unless you conclude, as some do, that the final battle is not a physical one, but an ideological one (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch). There is historical precedent for such an idea, and the intellectual onslaught of Western culture that has "stolen" the minds of millions of Jews since World War II alone could support such a theory.

However, the present political climate in the Middle East and the United Nations suggests that there is more to come. One-by-one, the Jewish people have watched their friends become less friendly, and their sense of security become weakened. As a people, we have less to depend upon, fewer "saviors" to turn toward. It seems as, no matter what we say or do, it always comes out wrong in the eyes of the nations of the world. Are we en route to becoming "kotzer ruach"?

There are "voices" emphasizing the specialness of our times. Some prominent rabbis speak of Moshiach's imminent arrival. But when? This year? Next year? Thirty years from now? One can't help but wonder if he's sitting in some Bais Midrash learning diligently, not yet even aware of the special mission that awaits him. After all, it was only in Moshe's eightieth year that he learned of his mission to redeem the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery!

After all, how long will G-d stand back and let ten million Jews divorce themselves from Torah? We were taken out of Egypt to live by Torah; we promised Him at Mt. Sinai to never stray from its "paths of pleasantness." We have strayed, in a major way.

How long will G-d accept the profanation of His palace, the holy land of Israel? Can he put up with such sneering and ridiculing of His holy Torah and its followers? The balance of power is shifting quickly in favor of the Arabs; is this the beginning of something big ... of a Divine response ... of the coming of Moshiach?

How long will G-d remain quiet as Jews not only forsake Torah, but they turn their backs on Judaism altogether, marrying outside the faith, or converting to other religions? Parashas BeChukosai and Parashas Ki Savo tell us that even G-d's patience has a limit, not for His good, but for our good.

Can G-d tolerate Jewish anti-Semitism (last week, secular Jews beat up a Jew from Meah Shearim and cut off his paos, threatening more such attacks until the religious Jews are gone from Jerusalem; the Mayor of Tel Aviv himself is fighting his own war against the Charedim, and is popular in Tel Aviv for it, in spite of his dismal track record in office)?

Given all the events of current times, the messages of the Torah, the hints of the midrashim, one must conclude that it is unsafe to "drift" aimlessly any longer on the current on Western history, which denies any sense of urgency. There are many more such statements from the Talmud and Kabbalistic literature to learn and contemplate; this has been a very superficial discussion of a major concern of the Jewish nation.

Even so, let it serve to point out that "things" are happening, maybe even faster than we know. The redemption of G-d comes in the "wink of an eye"; when it comes to G-d, reality can change drastically from one moment to the next. We may not be any closer to pinning down the exact arrival time of the Moshiach, but then again, we may be of a generation that may not have to.

The Talmud teaches that the Jewish people were freed from Egypt in the month of Nissan, and that they will eventually be redeemed for good in the same month (Rosh Hashanah 11a). The Kabbalists teach that this is true inasmuch as the redemption will begin with Pesach; however, that process will end on Shavuos.

How fitting it is then that on Shavuos, the day of receiving the Torah, we also read about the roots of Moshiach and the final redemption. After all, the rabbis did write:

The Tablets were G-d's handiwork and the script was God's writing engraved (charus) on the Tablets. Do not read charus (engraved), but cheirus (freedom), for there is no freer man than one who engages in the study of Torah. (Pirke Avos 6:2)
May this Shavuos not only witness the reception of Torah, but the end of history's best kept secret: Moshiach and the Final Redemption. Amen!

Have a great Shabbos,
And a wonderful Yom Tov,
Pinchas Winston

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