Awaiting Mashiach

frank gamble

There is unfortunately widespread confusion surrounding the topic of Mashiach nowadays. The extent to which Mashiach and the messianic era he will usher in are essential elements of Jewish belief is largely unappreciated or even unknown. And even amongst those who are aware of the centrality of these concepts in Judaism, it is widely assumed that the advent of Mashiach is not something we need to be concerned with or actively seek to hasten. A detailed discussion of the sources of these misconceptions on the one hand and their refutation on the other is beyond the scope of this article. At this point, we will suffice with confirming that belief in Mashiach, his imminent arrival, and our duty to hasten his arrival are essential facets of Jewish belief.

This is because the message of Mashiach is that the world is not perfect, and its imperfection is not only the result of a few minor flaws; there is something fundamentally wrong, incongruous, and anomalous about the very fiber of existence. There is a vision of how G-d intended the world to run and this is not it. Belief in Mashiach is the expression of our radical non-acceptance of reality as it is, the bold refusal to be satisfied with the present order. This, in turn, is based on the vision of worldly perfection depicted in the Torah.

Thus, the coming of Mashiach is the fulfillment of the Torah’s promise that this world can, should, and indeed will ultimately becoming a dwelling place for G-d. The messianic era is the answer to all problems, for all problems are born of the fallen consciousness that will be healed when Mashiach comes.

To the caring person, then, the arrival of Mashiach and the beginning of the messianic era is crucial. It is not an abstract aspiration toward which we aim in our struggles with life; it is a necessity, an ontological imperative. The fact that Mashiach has not yet come is cause for the gravest concern. The puzzle behind the delay in his arrival must be solved. All other anxieties can be reduced to this one, ultimate anxiety.

The extent to which a person is concerned only with his own private anxieties and problems is inversely indicative of how seriously he takes them. In other words, by not generalizing his concern with his personal problems to concern with the common angst of humanity, a person is testifying that his problems do not bother him enough to motivate him to do away with the underlying reason for their existence. He would be happy to settle for a temporary bandage that will alleviate his immediate pain and get on with his life. By universalizing the scope of his concern to the coming of Mashiach , he is demonstrating his desire to put reality, including his own reality, back on track once and for all.

Thus, by exhibiting anxiety over Mashiach’s tardiness, we hasten his coming. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated repeatedly, if we truly wanted Mashiach to come he would have come long ago.

Even if a person has undergone the fully therapeutic process detailed above and has ascended the ladder of spirituality to the point where his consciousness is wholly that of his Divine soul, he is not immune to this ultimate anxiety. Even though he has made his peace with all the circumstantial anxieties that normally plague people, one basic anxiety remains, which results from the inherent limitations of creation.

It is taught in Kabbalah and Hassidism that the soul, in the course of descending into the body, loses the infinite perception of Divinity it enjoyed beforehand. By entering the physical world, which is circumscribed by the limitations of time and space, the soul is forced to conceive of everything and relate to everything in the context and terms of time and space. It is next to impossible for the mind to imagine a level of reality that is outside these limitations. Someone who is attuned to this fact and whose heart’s desire is to know and cling to G-d is fundamentally frustrated by this reality.

Thus, even the most righteous individual, the paragon of spiritual perfection, is subject to profound anxiety and suffering by the simple virtue of his being a created being, trapped in the context, limitations, and conceptual modes of the physical world. Since these limitations on physicality will be ultimately removed after Mashiach comes, such an individual must, too, yearn for his arrival and be anxious about hastening it.

In whatever form it takes, the anxiety over the coming of Mashiach both focuses and intensifies the person’s concern with the incompleteness of life. When he generalizes his concern to the overall, underlying unredeemed condition of reality, whether on the level of common human suffering or the existential constrictions of creation, his anxiety takes on a much broader and more profound meaning and scope. Thus, if anxiety in general prepares a person for the study of the inner dimension of the Torah, the anxiety over the coming of Mashiach prepares him for the great, ultimate revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah that will accompany the advent of the messianic era. For we are taught that the inner dimension of the Torah we know today is but a foretaste of the revelation of the Torah’s inner dimension we will witness with the coming of Mashiach .