Moshiach now?

On its 50th anniversary, pondering the meaning of a reunified Jerusalem


Ezra Fax

CELEBRATE: Shalhevet’s senior class joined thousands of Jews gathered at the bottom of Rachov Yafo in front of City Hall in Jerusalem to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim on May 24 at the end of their Poland-Israel Experience.

Fifty years ago, many Jews around the world saw the retaking of Jerusalem by the forces of the State of Israel as a symbol of the coming of Mashiach and the start of the Messianic Era. But the Torah is ambiguous in its depiction of the Messianic Era, and therefore no one is sure of what it will look like. How can we even know if or when Mashiach is here? What does a Messianic Age actually entail?

No one really knows. The whole topic is very controversial – in fact, some rabbis at Shalhevet did not want to be interviewed about this subject, at least not on the record.

In Jewish writings, some believe that the arrival of Mashiach will be a supernatural moment, initiated by God at a time He chooses. Others hold that it will require an effortful human process to reach an ideal state of humanity.

There are also those who believe that we have already reached the Messianic Era – that it was initiated with Israel becoming the Jewish homeland in 1948.  The Gemara in Brachot 34b seems to agree: “The only difference between today and the Messianic Era is that the Messianic Era will end the Jewish nation’s subjugation to foreign power.” That requirement might seem to have been fulfilled in the Jewish state.  

Tanakh, in Isaiah Chapter 11, has a wider view: when Mashiach comes, “A wolf shall live with a lamb, a leopard shall lie with a kid, a calf and a lion cub and a fatling [shall lie] together, and a small child shall lead them. A cow and a bear shall graze, and their children shall lie together; and a lion, like cattle, shall eat straw.

Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg follows Rambam on the subject.

“Rambam essentially focuses his view on the Messianic Era to include political peace and essentially, a time on focusing on important things rather than less important things,said Rabbi Schwarzberg in an interview. In terms of that, we are not there yet.

“The notion of Mashiach for me has a major role in saying that we should aspire for what a Messianic Era looks like and do our best to achieve that,” he continued. “Rambam says that the responsibility is just as much on our shoulders as it is on waiting for God.

Chazal the sages over many generations back this view, he said, and this is affirmed by the topics absence from the Mishnah and Gemara, which barely mention olam haba, the world to come.

“Chazal is clear about this: we are not meant to be obsessed with the Messianic Era, olam haba, resurrection – all these types of things,said Rabbi Schwarzberg. Our job is to do mitzvot, and be as good of individuals and ideal Jewish people and influence the world in the most powerful way, rather than being so concerned on what Mashiach looks like, or what olam haba looks like.”  

Some consider Mashiach’s eventual arrival as less significant now that we already occupy Israel as a Jewish State. But Rabbi Schwarzberg thinks its more important than ever. Now that we have Israel, he said, “we actually have a political mechanism to shape a country in the way that would look and feel Messianic.”

I agree. I believe that the coming of Mashiach will be much more than Israels liberation, an opinion held in the Gemara in Brachot. Whether or not animals will dance when Mashiach arrives is insignificant, at least in its practical implications on our lives.

But if and when Mashiach comes is completely dependent on us — that, I believe, is unquestionable. Especially now, as weve been occupying Israel as a self-determined Jewish State for half a century, it is our individual and collective responsibility to build a world with political peace and unity centered around Israel. We must avoid thinking of Mashiach as a dream that we can only pray for, but rather, consider the Messianic Age as a tangible reality dependent on our actions.