Israel Report

January 2002         

Special Times, Special Challenges

by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner - January 31, 2002
In This Article:

1. Question
2. Answer
3. Two Parts to the World-to-Come
4. Messiah: Part of "This World"
5. Difficulties are Part of the Plan
6. Going Up!
7. Sign of the Times: Bountiful Land!

QUESTION:

"We have so many troubles: national problems with our enemies from within and without; war and terrorism; spiritual troubles - a large part of our nation is far from Torah; sicknesses, economic problems, natural calamities, the water shortage, and more. How can we say that these are times of Redemption, or as we say in our Prayer for the State of Israel, 'the beginning of the flowering of our Redemption,' or even, 'the first rays of the days of Messiah?'"

ANSWER:

These are in fact times of Redemption, without a shadow of a doubt. This period did not start now, but rather 120 years ago, in 1881, with what is known as the First Aliyah of Jews to the Land of Israel.

There is, however, a confusion over the concepts. The troubles you mention exist not because this is not Redemption, but because we are still at this point in history in which the world is snarled in troubles, difficulties, and tests.

It is commonly known that we recognize a This-World and a World-to-Come. In our Sabbath morning prayers, we say, "There is none compared to You, L-rd our G-d, in This World, and there will be none but You in the life of the World-to-Come. There is nothing without You, our Redeemer, for the Days of Moshiach, and there will be nothing like You, our Savior, at the Revival of the Dead."

We see that the period known as the Days of Moshiach is a part of the This-World, while the Revival of the Dead is associated with the World to Come.

TWO PARTS TO THE WORLD-TO-COME

The World to Come also has another phase, namely, the World of Souls. This is where a person exists as a soul after his body dies, while the World of Revival [of the Dead] is that where sin has been conquered, where death has been overcome, where the dead are revived. In any event, problems of the sort you mention will not exist in either of these two sides of the World to Come.

MESSIAH: PART OF "THIS WORLD"

Let us return, however, to the period of the "Days of Moshiach," which belongs to the This-World. The Rambam (Maimonides) teaches us, "Do not think that during the Days of Moshiach there will be any changes in the natural course of events. The world will continue to run its course." He notes that the only difference during the time of Messiah will be that Israel will once again be an independent monarchy. This is why the Messiah will be called the Messiah King, the King who is anointed (in Hebrew, 'nimshach,' from the root of the word Moshiach), THE king of the true Kingdom.

Maimonides sums up: "Our Sages taught that there is no difference between this world and the Days of Moshiach other than our subjugation by the nations." This world is characterized by our being subjected to the will of the nations, be they superpowers or others, and even in this Land itself we have been under the thumb of the Turks and the British. In the Days of Moshiach, however, we will not be subjected to anyone; we will be free.

But we have not yet reached the Moshiach part of the This-World. We are still in a time when we have enemies. Even the Moshiach, when he arrives, will have to fight wars, as is written about King David, "He fought the wars of G-d." David was the first Messiah, who, Maimonides writes, "saved Israel from its enemies - and a descendant of his will be the Final Messiah to save Israel..." The Torah (Num. 24, 17) mentions a victorious king who will arise in Israel, and the Sages say that this is a reference to the Messiah King. Another Rabbinic source states that the War of Gog and Magog will take place in the beginning of the Days of Moshiach.

In addition, during the period of the Moshiach, there will still be people who are far from Torah for part of his job will be to bring them closer, even by force. There will also still be poverty, the solution to which may not be found at the beginning of this period.

DIFFICULTIES ARE PART OF THE PLAN

The This-World, even when the Moshiach comes, is a world of difficulties and problems. This was not a Divine mistake, nor did His Providence wander from us. Rather, everything is by Divine plan, as is explained in the first chapter of Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, early 18th century). The author explains why man was created in this world and what is his role and obligations. The idea is that our world is one of trials and of great effort: "Man is born for toil." His efforts in this world are what gain him his share in the World to Come. His overcoming of his physical desires and the difficulties he encounters are his achievements with which he will acquire his proper level in the next world. Our world is not the final destination, but is rather a corridor the only corridor by which to reach the next world. We are not like the angels who receive it for free, but we must prove ourselves worthy.

The greater something is, the more labor and effort it requires. This world entails many difficulties, which do not work to our detriment, but rather for our benefit. Whenever we overcome an obstacle, we have made a net gain.

GOING UP!

Regarding the Period of Redemption: The concepts of Days of Moshiach, Redemption, the Beginning of the Flowering of our Redemption, the Atchalta DeGeula, the Footsteps of Moshiach - all these close-to-synonyms refer to the period in which the Kingdom returns to Israel. When did this period begin? On the 5th of Iyar, 5708, May 14, 1948, when the modern State of Israel declared its independence. Of course, this is not the ideal Kingdom for which we had prayed and are praying; it is not the Kingdom of the Moshiach. But it's a start. The distance between this and British or Turkish rule is like that between east and west, between heaven and earth.

Our government is a preparation for the Kingdom of Israel, and the Torah Kingdom of Israel is a preparation for the Kingdom of the Moshiach. Similarly, our public national being also required prior preparation - namely, Shivat Tzion, the Return to Zion in the late 1800's and first half of the 1900's. Our present situation could not have come about without a minimum number of Jews, according to our sources (see, for instance, Rabbi Kook's Olat R'Iyah, p. 388), which is 600,000 - the number of Jews who entered Israel with Joshua Bin Nun after traversing the wilderness for 40 years. This was in fact the approximate number of Jews in the Holy Land when they established the present-day State of Israel

SIGN OF THE TIMES: BOUNTIFUL LAND!

The Ingathering of the Exiles, too, requires some preparation: There must be something to eat. When will there be food in this Land? Our sources tell us: "Rabbi Abba said, There is no clearer sign of the coming Redemption than when the Land of Israel brings forth its fruits generously, as is written in Ezekiel, 'You, mountains of Israel, bring forth your fruits to My people Israel; they are about to come.'" History testifies that the Holy Land lay desolate for a millennium and a half before it began to gush forth with fruits and crops - exactly when the Jews began to arrive and established the first moshavim, some 120 years ago.

Our Sages explain that our daily Amidah prayer depicts this order: First we recite, "Bless, G-d, this coming year and all its agricultural produce," followed immediately by, "Sound a great shofar… to ingather our exiles…"

The Holy One, blessed be He, "returns His presence to Zion" in a step-by-step, unhurried fashion. But we have the capacity to work hard and merit the appropriate awards in a much faster way: This world, with all its difficulties and challenges to overcome, is ours.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who hosts some 4 hours of Torah programming on Arutz-7, is Rabbi of Beit El and Dean of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim in the Old City of Jerusalem. The above is adapted from his article that appeared in Machon Meir's weekly "B'Ahavah UV'Emunah" publication."
© 2002 Arutz Sheva
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