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Parshas Balak (5768)

The Messiah: A "Star" is Born

Let me share with you a true story called The Rabbi's Great Surprise:

It was a typical weekday morning when the Rabbi was returning home from the Yeshiva, having just completed the Morning Prayer service. His wife, the Rebbetzin, asked him, "Chaim, would you like some breakfast now?" The Rabbi replied, "Relka, my daily lecture to the students is not yet prepared. I can't sit down to eat until I study the pages of Talmud which I have to teach today." The Rebbetzin said, "Good, Chaim, you finish preparing your class, and I'll go out to the store to buy a few things. Meanwhile, I am leaving a pot of food cooking on the stove. Pay attention to it, Chaim, make sure that it doesn't burn. I know you already, Chaim, when you get involved in Torah study, you forget about everything that's going on around you!" The Rebbetzin went out to the store, and the Rabbi sat down to learn the Talmud.

All of a sudden, he felt the sun's rays pouring through the window much stronger than usual. What an intense brightness! And then, to his amazement, the Rabbi heard the birds perched on the trees out in the yard singing a beautiful melody, the likes of which he had never heard before. The Rabbi then heard what sounded like swarms of people noisily milling about on the street below. He stuck his head out the front window only to see Eli, the shoemaker, running frantically. He called out to him, "What happened, Eli? What happened to the light of the sun? Why are the birds chirping these amazing melodies? Why are all the trees blossoming new sprouts all of a sudden? What's going on?"

Eli, the shoemaker, still wild-eyed and frantic, stared at the Rabbi with amazement, and said, "What ... haven't you heard, Rabbi? The Moshiach (Messiah) has finally come!!!" Immediately, the Rabbi ran to his closet to pull out his best Shabbos suit, in order to greet King Moshiach properly. When he took out the suit, he realized that it was missing one of its buttons. The previous Saturday night, the button had fallen off, and when he had asked the Rebbetzin if she could sew it back on for him, she told him she would do it later on in the week. Meanwhile, the button was still not on the suit, and the Rabbi was not sure if he should wear the Shabbos suit without the button or not. All of a sudden, the Rebbetzin ran into the house, all out of breath, screaming, "Chaim, where were you? The pot on the stove burned!" The Rabbi said, "Forget about the soup! Just put on your best Shabbos dress and come with me to greet King Moshiach!"

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Yes, folks ... this is a true story!

Only it hasn't happened yet.

You see, it has been a part of our tradition since time immemorial to believe in the coming of the Messiah (known in Hebrew as the Moshiach, a word meaning "the anointed one"). The books of the Prophets are full of references to the final Redemption and the coming of the Messiah (particularly Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah, and Zechariah). Such references are also found in the Torah (e.g. Deuteronomy 30:1-10, 32:36-43).

Belief in the Messiah's arrival is one of the thirteen articles of faith enumerated by Maimonides in his introduction to the eleventh chapter of Tractate Sanhedrin in the Talmud. In the Siddur (Prayer Book), this principle of faith is expressed thus: "Ani ma'amin be'emunah sheleimah ... I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I long for him each day, [hoping] that he will come."

As a matter of fact, in this week's Torah portion, Parshas Balak, we find a reference to the Messiah. Bilaam, the great non-Jewish prophet, speaks about the very distant future of the Jewish people, the time when the final Messianic redemption would come:

"I shall see him, but not now, I shall look at him, but it is not near. A star has issued from Jacob and a scepter-bearer has risen from Israel, and he shall pierce the nobles of Moab and undermine the children of Seth. Edom shall be a conquest and Seir shall be the conquest of his enemies - and Israel will attain success." (Numbers 24:17-18)

Many commentaries interpret these verses to allude to the coming of the Messiah. Messiah is called a "star" because he will shine above all of mankind and he will guide the Jewish people and lead them all to their homeland.

The belief in the coming of the Messiah is not only mentioned in the Torah and the Prophets, it is also discussed at length in the Talmud, the Zohar, as well as in the great works of philosophy of Saadiah Gaon, Maimonides, Crescas, Albo, Luzzatto,etc. And it has been a very basic element of our Jewish tradition which all Jews believed in for well over 3000 years, that one day, in the hopefully not-too-distant future, the Messiah will arrive (probably when we least expect it) and we will all go out to greet him - with or without all our buttons in place.

WHO IS THE "MESSIAH" AND WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HE ARRIVES

The Jewish people will regain their independence when the Messiah - a human being of flesh and blood and a descendant of the royal family of David - reestablishes the Davidic dynasty over Israel. Under his leadership, the Temple will be rebuilt (on the site where the Dome of the Rock is presently situated), all the Jews will return to the Land of Israel, and all the law of the Torah will be restored to their former levels of observance.

A sage wiser than Solomon, and a prophet whose greatness approaches that of Moses, the Messianic king will teach the way of G-d to the world. He will inspire all of humanity to worship the One True G-d together. Those who caused harm to the Jewish people throughout our history will be punished by G-d during the Messianic period.

In the Messianic era there will be neither hunger nor war, neither jealousy nor competition. G-d will bestow such abundance that it will be possible to procure one's livelihood with minimal effort. Freed from worry and anxiety, people will enjoy long lives. The occupation of the world will be solely that of acquiring knowledge of G-d.

Y6K: THE JEWISH DOOMSDAY

I bet you're wondering as you're reading all this ...... okay, this all sounds kind of nice (except maybe the part about moving to Israel - who wants to put up with those rude cab drivers?). But when does tradition say the whole Messiah thing is supposed to happen? I mean, we have been in exile for almost 2000 years, and still not a sign of the Messiah! How can we really be expected to believe that the Messiah can come at any time?

Well, let me tell you what the traditional sources say about that. There is a time frame in which the Messiah has to come. The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin 97a says the following:

"The academy of Eliyahu taught the following Baraisa: The world is destined to exist for six thousand years: The first two thousand years were of nothingness; the second two thousand years were of Torah; the third two thousand years should have been the days of the Messiah, but because of our sins, which are numerous, the years that have gone from [the Messianic Era] have gone."

In other words, the Messiah could have arrived to redeem us and bring us all to Israel as early as the year 4000 in the Hebrew calendar (which corresponds to the year 240 CE in the Julian calendar). Unfortunately, since we haven't been good boys and girls, it is already the year 5768 and the Messiah still hasn't shown up!

The good news, though, is that the Messiah has to come before the year 6000 - which means that he will definitely arrive within the next 232 years! Who knows, if we don't get to experience the Messianic Era, maybe our children or grandchildren will!

TOP FIFTEEN SIGNS THAT THE MESSIAH IS COMING SOON ...

The Talmud in Sotah 49b gives us fifteen signs of what the world will be like immediately prior to the coming of the Messiah. This pre-Messianic period is known as the Ikvesa D'meshicah - the "footsteps of the Messiah" - the time when we believe the Messiah is just around the corner and his footsteps can be heard.

Here is the list of the signs that signal the Messiah's imminent arrival, as quoted in the Talmud:

"When the footsteps of the Messiah can be heard...(1) chutzpah (insolence) will increase; (2) inflation will soar; (3) the vine will yield its fruit, but wine will be expensive; (4) the dominant power in the world will promote the denial of G-d; (5) no one will be able to reprove another [for everyone will be guilty of the same transgressions]; (6) the meeting place (of Torah scholars) will be used for immorality; (7) the Galilee will be destroyed, and the Gablan will become desolate; (8) the people who live on the border will go around begging from town to town and will not be pitied; (9) the wisdom of the Torah scholars will rot, and those who fear sin will be despised; (10) the truth will be hidden; (11) young people will shame old men, and old men will stand up before youngsters, a son will degrade his father, and a daughter will rebel against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; (12) a man's enemies will be the members of his household; (13) the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog; (14) a son will not be ashamed before his father; (15) On whom can we rely On our Father in Heaven."

Now obviously, all these signs are extremely vague and don't seem to make much sense on the surface. But the truth is that each one of these signs masks incredible depth, and has a very important message for all of us. Let me give you one example:

One of the really strange signs mentioned in the above list is that in the time preceding the Messianic Era, "the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog". Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (a pre-war Torah giant who was murdered by the Nazis at the infamous Ninth Fort in Slobodka, Lithuania in 1941) cites the following explanation in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter:

The "face of the generation" means the heads (i.e. the leaders) of the generation. The behavior of the leaders of the generation will resemble that of dogs. When a dog is walked by its master, it trots ahead and thus appears to be leading. In reality, however, it is the master who chooses the direction in which to go. When the dog comes to a fork in the road, it stops and waits for its master to direct it. In the pre-Messianic era, the leaders will only appear to be leading the nation; in reality they will be following the whims of the masses.

[If you would like to see a full treatment of all fifteen signs, and what they might mean for the times in which we're living, I recommend reading a book written by Rabbi Ezriel Tauber called Days Are Coming, and especially Chapter 3 pages 142-176, in which he elaborates on each of the 15 signs in great detail.]

So here's to hoping that the idyllic existence that we will all experience upon the arrival of Moshiach - no more pain and suffering, no more anti-Semitism, no more suicide bombings and sniper shootings, no more hatred and disunity among our own Jewish brothers and sisters, and only tranquility, harmony, peace and spiritual growth will reign - will come soon and in our times, Amen.

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