The are two states of existence, two ways to be. You can be striving, or at rest. Fighting, or at peace. Estranged, or betrothed. Yearning, or satisfied. On the road, or at home.
In the Torah, the first state is called galut (“exile”), and the second state is called geulah (“redemption”).
For much of our 4000-year existence, we’ve been in galut. But a fundamental principle of the Jewish faith is that galut will end and will be supplanted with a “true and complete redemption.” After thousands of years of living in a world that’s out of sync with our deepest selves, we will enter an era of eternal peace and tranquility, a world that is “wholly Shabbat and rest, for life everlasting.”
What would it be like to live in such a world? A world without death, pain or suffering; a world without struggle or striving, anxiety or yearning; a world without deadlines or hassles, without effort or achievement. What would we do all day?
We cannot imagine such a world, because today we have very little understanding of what “rest”, “peace” or “tranquility” even is. We have the weekly island of heaven called Shabbat, and the daily moments of communion we create with prayer. But these are but subtle tastes of the real thing. We know, with every fiber of our being, that the way things are now are not the way they should be. But how should they be?
All we know is that galut is bad, very bad. And that geulah will certainly be infinitely more good than galut is bad. But what would this goodness be? Living in a world in which rest is rest from toil, satisfaction is the satisfaction of want, and fulfillment derives only from the fulfillment of striving, we can only form a most vague and abstract idea. Like a person who has been blind from birth trying to imagine what colors are. As Maimonides put it, “how these things shall come to pass can only be known when they come to pass.”
Has this made our yearning for redemption less acute? On the contrary. The fool strives for only that which he can apprehend. The wise person understands that the truly desirable lies beyond the scope of present understanding.
There was a Chassidic master who stated that in the time of Moshiach we will yearn for the days of galut. We will miss the challenges, the effort and the toil, even the pain and the suffering, for the unique kind of achievement and fulfillment only these can bring.
Yes, we will long for galut. But not nearly as much as we yearn for redemption today.