Parshas Va’eschanan (5775)
The Haftaros (selected portions from the Prophets that are publicly read in the synagogue every Saturday morning following the Reading of the Torah) of the seven Sabbaths between Tishah B’Av and Rosh Hashanah are traditionally called Sheva D’nechmasa, the “seven of consolation”. They contain prophecies that offer us much-needed comfort and hope for a better tomorrow after the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of our people.
Truth be told, it is not just during the weeks following Tishah B’Av that we look for consolation and a brighter future for the Jewish people and the world. We sing “L’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim – Next Year in Jerusalem” every year at the end of the Passover Seder and at the end of the Yom Kippur service.
Even more than that, each and every day of the year, three times a day, we pray to G-d in the Shemoneh Esrei (“Silent Prayer”) for the coming of the Messiah: “Ki l’yeshuasecha kivinu kol hayom – for we hope for Your salvation all day long”.
Jews have been yearning for the salvation of the Messianic Era – and the spiritual harmony and peace on earth that comes with it – for almost 2000 years now. [To learn more about the Messiah and the Messianic Era and exactly what we are yearning for, click on: http://www.aish.com/jl/li/m/48944241.html]
Unbeknownst to many Jews, it is actually a mitzvah obligation to believe in the coming of the Messiah and to eagerly anticipate his coming. Maimonides includes yearning for the Messiah as the twelfth of his “Thirteen Principles of [the Jewish] Faith”: I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.
The Talmud in Shabbos 31a teaches that when a person’s neshamah (his conscious soul) is brought in front of the Heavenly Court of Judgment after he dies, it is asked six questions about what he did during his life on earth (a sort of “final exam” before the soul can “graduate” to the Next World.)
These six questions are actually obligations that man is meant to fulfill during his time spent on earth and include, among other things, studying Torah, dealing honestly in business, and raising a family. The fourth question that the neshamah is asked is: “Tzipisa l’yeshuah – did you yearn for the Redemption?”
We can ask a serious question: While all the other questions that the soul is asked at the Heavenly Court have Biblical sources for their obligation (e.g. ‘raising a family’ is the first mitzvah in the Torah, “Pru U’rvu - Be fruitful and multiply” – see Genesis 9:7), there seems to be no obvious source for the obligation to eagerly anticipate the coming of the Messiah. Of course we believe that all the Messianic prophecies of a perfect world and peace on earth will one day come true, but where do we find the obligation to yearn for this special time?
I found a beautiful answer to this question in the Sma”k (an acronym for Sefer Mitzvos Kattan, lit. “Small Book of Commandments", a 13th century work by Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil, in which he enumerates and elucidates those Biblical commandments that are applicable in our times.)
The Sma”k writes (in Mitzvah #1) that the obligation to yearn for the final redemption of the Messianic Era is included in the first of the Ten Commandments that G-d commanded the Jewish people at Mount Sinai (and which we read publicly this Shabbos in synagogues all around the world): “I am the L-rd, your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt ...” (see Deuteronomy 5:6).
He explains that the First Commandment obligates us to believe that G-d alone performed all those supernatural miracles when He redeemed us from Egypt and that He alone has total control over nature, i.e. that nothing at all happens on earth unless G-d decrees it from Above. And just as G-d commands us to believe that He took us out of Egypt above natural law, so, too, are we commanded to believe and expect that He will “finish the job” and bring the Messiah in a miraculous fashion - as promised in Deuteronomy (30:3) - and that nothing on earth can stop Him.
As I understand it, the Sma”k is saying that included in the First Commandment is the obligation to remember that just as we witnessed in Egypt that the laws of nature didn’t stop G-d from redeeming the Jewish people, so, too, should we expect and anticipate the possibility that G-d’s promise of ultimate redemption can happen at any time, in total defiance of natural law.
This is the source for the obligation to yearn and hope for the Messianic Era, and why so many great tzaddikim (righteous people) throughout the centuries lived with the reality of imminent redemption. If we truly believe and internalize the fact that G-d is in total control of history and can defy nature at will – as our ancestors witnessed way back in Egypt - then we should yearning for the possibility of the coming of the Messiah at any moment.
One who doesn’t yearn for the Messiah indicates that he doesn’t really believe that something so miraculous and above nature can happen – and is in direct violation of the First Commandment.
May we all merit to yearn for and ultimately witness the perfected world of the Messianic Era.