With all the fanfare about the coming millennium, the world shouldn't lose sight of the fact that for Judaism -- mother religion of both Christianity and Islam -- the year is not 2,000 but 5,760.
It is not that Jews want to be party-poopers. We have no problem celebrating the arrival of a magical number on the calendar. It's just that 2,000 has meaning for those who choose to mark time from the birth of Jesus (give or take a few years for the probable error of the date, according to most historians).
Judaism has a different count. Tradition teaches that Adam and Eve -- parents to all of mankind and the first human beings with a soul -- were created close to 6,000 years ago. It is with their birth, not the birth of the founder of Christianity, nor even with the birth of Abraham, patriarch of the Jewish people, that we start reckoning the passage of years.
Time for Jews commemorates an event that unites all of humanity in recognition of our common ancestry.
But that doesn't mean that the millennium has no significance for us. In light of a remarkable teaching of the Kabbalah, the mystical lore of Jewish faith, millennia represent the most important moments of history. They serve as major turning points in a divinely orchestrated story planned by an Omnipotent God for the universe He created.
In the words of the Babylonian Talmud: "The world as we know it (earth) will exist solely for 6,000 years (beginning with Adam and Eve). The first 2,000 years will be defined by chaos. The second 2,000 years will mark the years of Torah. The final 2,000 years will include the Messianic Age." Mystics explain this cryptic passage as an amazingly prescient script not only for the past but for the future as well.
The first 2,000 years -- called simply chaos -- are the years before monotheism made its appearance on earth. Abraham was 52-years-old when he intuited that there had to be one God responsible for the creation of a carefully designed and incredibly intricate world. The date on the Hebrew calendar marking this great discovery, an insight that would decidedly alter the history of civilization, was exactly 2,000.
(As a fascinating aside, you've probably realized that the year Abraham was born, 52 years earlier, was 1948 - a year that many centuries later by the secular calendar would become extremely meaningful for Abraham's descendants with the establishment of the State of Israel.)
Time of Revelation
The years 2,000 to 4,000 represent the second period of 2,000 years, pre-programmed by God for their own special purpose. These were the millennia designated for Torah. In these years, the Jewish people experienced Revelation at Mount Sinai and lived through the events recorded in the Five Books of Moses as well as the later books of the Bible. It was a time of great intellectual and spiritual creativity culminating in the codification of all of Jewish law in the brilliant work known as the Mishnah. It took all of these 2,000 years for the Jews to master the meaning of the words of God - and become worthy of the profound gift of the millennia to follow.
From 4,000 to 6,000, according to this tradition, the world should be prepared for good news and bad news. The good news is that sometime within this time frame -- and, mind you, I'm well aware that we are drawing close to its outermost limit -- the Messianic Age will at long last arrive, bringing with it peace for all mankind, universal recognition of God, and indescribable blessings. The bad news is that if this is the year 5,760 on the Jewish calendar, we only have 240 years left on the "warranty" for earthly survival.
Outline for Human History
Before that information shakes you up too much, you should know the more profound reason behind this 6,000-year outline for human history.
God created the world in six days and then completed it with a Sabbath -- a day dedicated to spirituality and the soul as opposed to the secular emphasis of the weekdays which preceded it. Every 1,000-year period corresponds to a day of creation. 6,000 years complete the cycle of the secular.
The seventh millennium, the one coming in another 240 years, will introduce a new Sabbath-like kind of existence different than any other mankind has ever experienced. Life will be so attuned to the holy, the sacred, the good and the godly that it will be -- how else can I say it? -- out of this world. And the world as we know it will then indeed cease to exist!
That's why I know exactly where I'm going to be this year on the night of December 31. While millions of people will approach the Year 2K with mixed feelings of joy and trepidation, I'll spend it with family ushering in the holiness of the Sabbath.
Quite a coincidence, isn't it,that this special millennium coincides with the day that reminds Jews of our own vision of the next thousand years.
I can hardly wait for the real millennium when we usher in the magical year of 6,000, the Sabbath of history!
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Oceanside, and a nationally renowned scholar, lecturer and author of, among many other books, The Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture.