It’s easy enough to imagine why a Jew living in Inquisition-period Spain or pogrom-era Russia or World War II era Europe would hang his hopes on Judaism’s promise of Messianic redemption. Powerless against pervasive enmity and danger, there would have been no other hope.
Today, even in a world fraught with its own dangers, it’s hard to imagine a time when Jewish life has been easier. In America and Israel, the Jewish people are free to live as they please, keeping as much or as little of their tradition as they wish. Throughout much of the world, life overflows with prosperity never dreamed possible. Today’s “struggling” family lives with comforts, conveniences and health standards that top anything the “rich man” of the shtetl could have imagined.
And yet, there is still something missing.
Our food is so abundant that we barely taste it. We worry incessantly about money. Maintaining a middle-class lifestyle casts many families into a pit of debt, destroying their peace and corroding their health. We have miracle drugs and treatments for so many diseases, and yet the tears of suffering and loss still flow.
Our abundance of religious freedom falls short of its potential as well. Although our spiritual inheritance is so beautiful and fulfilling, it is a constant struggle to maintain a connection to it. People pray but sometimes feel that no one is listening. They try to do good, but wonder if it really matters. They voice their convictions but can’t find the drive to live up to them.
Why We Still Long for Redemption
The nagging ache within us – the inability to really ignite with the fullness of joy and blessing apportioned to each and every Jew – is the ache of exile. It is our soul’s yearning for an era when, as promised, the clear sense of God’s Presence – called the Shechinah – will radiate its full glory from the Third Beis Hamikdash, Holy Temple. Everywhere on earth, God’s light will become increasingly discernible, bestowing bountiful blessings on us all.1
In good times and bad, the Torah gives each Jew the obligation of “tzipisah l’yeshua” – longing for the redemption. This is not because life in the present is so difficult that our only hope is a Messiah who will lead us out of this mess. If that were the case, the obligation would only apply to times of trouble and danger.
It's a mind-set geared toward bringing God’s presence ever more patently into our world.
Rather, tzipisah l’yeshua is an obligation for all times and all places, for it is a mind-set geared toward bringing God’s presence ever more patently into our world. When we set our sights on that vision and let it guide us through our path in life, every aspect of life takes on greater meaning. Every interaction, whether with others or with God, is fueled by the desire to touch the Godliness within ourselves. Thus the longing for redemption – for closeness to God – draws abundant blessing into our lives.
Robert applied for a great job in an up-and-coming software company. But he didn’t get the job. Instead, he was stuck in his underpaid position for the foreseeable future, struggling along on too little money and having nothing to offer all those he wanted to help. Why didn’t God make things work out right for Robert?
The pillar of Jewish belief is that in every situation in life, God does make it work out right. “Right” as defined by God, from His all-knowing perspective of each person’s needs in the present and the future, in the body and the soul. Nevertheless, it takes a great deal of spiritual strength to know the good is there, even when the immediate outcome is pain.
The world redeemed, however, operates in perfect harmony. Pain and suffering no longer play a role, for the inherent good in all God does is no longer hidden. Isaiah2 paints the Messianic era as a time of ultimate bliss. “The eyes of the blind shall be clear-sighted, and the ears of the deaf shall be opened… the lame shall leap as a hart and the tongue of the dumb shall sing…”3 Man will no longer face mortality, for “Death shall be swallowed up forever and God shall wipe the tears from every face.”4
The Talmud5 describes the Messianic era as a time of extraordinary fertility. Trees will grow ripe fruits every day, and Israel’s wilderness will be “like Eden, and her desert like the garden of God.”6 Even the burdens of earning a livelihood will be relieved, as “Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks and aliens shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers.” 7
In the Messianic era, the Jewish people will have the opportunity to rise to the status of sages,8 for they will come to know their Creator to the utmost capacity of human beings. As Isaiah describes, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.”9
In the Rambam’s10 view, the main difference between the present world and the Messianic days is “delivery from servitude to foreign powers.”11 That one transformation will be enough to free us to become completely absorbed in learning about and connecting to God,12 opening an era ruled by goodness, wisdom, knowledge and truth. Every person will have perfect faith that God provides for him, freeing him from his struggle for sustenance and his inner struggles with jealousy and hate.
A Brighter Light
In the darkness of night, the watchman used his powerful flashlight to illuminate his path and examine the sources of any suspicious noises. But when the sun rose to its full strength, his flashlight was useless, a mere flicker that added nothing to the sun’s brilliant rays.
Likewise, in the days of Mashiach, when God’s light permeates the world, the brilliant light shed by God’s miracles will no longer outshine the pervasive brilliance of the entire, natural world. The splitting of the Reed Sea will reveal itself to be neither more nor less God’s work than the splitting of an amoeba.
We will see how every episode of the exile was part of God's plan bringing the world to perfection.
In the full light of redemption, we will also see how every episode of the exile was the work of the Creator, aimed at bringing the world to perfection. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler13 draws this message from the words of Shir Hama’alos said on Shabbos and Yomim Tovim before the “Grace After Meals”: “When God will return the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers.”14 When the return to Zion (Jerusalem) finally comes, the suffering of past oppressions will seem like a dream15 – a vaporous non-entity leading us to open our eyes to the true reality.
At the heart of all our longing is this one desire: that God’s presence and Divine Providence manifest itself clearly in the world. Everything else, including the physical abundance in the world, the end of suffering and illness, and the removal of all obstructions from our spiritual lives – springs from this singular, all-encompassing good.
Click here to order Yearning with Fire. With thanks to Chana Nestlebaum who edited this article.
- Rambam, Hilchos Melachim, 12:5.
- Yeshayahu 35:5-6.
- See Bereishis Rabba 95:1; Tanchuma, Vayigash 8 and Metzora 2.
- Yeshayahu 25:8. See Pesachim 68a; Shemos Rabba 30:3 and Midrash Tehillim 145:1. See Succah 52a that the yetzer hara will be slaughtered during the days of Mashiach. See also Bava Basra 16a.
- Shabbas 30b; Kesuvos 111b.
- Yeshayahu 51:3. See Yecheskiel 36: 29-30, “and Rambam Hilchos Melachim 12:5, “At that time there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife. All good things will be bestowed in abundance, and all delicacies will be accessible like dust”..
- Yeshayahu 61:5. See also Yeshayahu 49:23 and 60:10-12.
- See Michtav M’Eliyahu, Volume 5, Page 163, s.v. ‘V’yosair mezeh’, They will have ruach hakodesh.
- Yeshayahu 11:9. See Hilchos Melachim 12:5. See also Netzach Yisrael , ch. 42.
- Hilchos Melachim 12:1-2; See Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.
- See Berachos 34b. See also Ohr Hachaim on Shemos 21:11.
- Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.
- Michtav M’Eliyahu, Volume 3, Page 245.
- Tehillim 126:1.
- Michtav M’Eliyahu, Volume 1, page 101, s.v. ‘Ach ka’asher’.