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Facing The Future With Hope And Faith – OpEd

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In 2011 the “Arab Spring” filled most of the world with great hopes. Now, eleven years later, the near east is filled with with increasing civil conflict, anxiety, fear, and despair. According to a worldwide poll for Reuters back in May of 2012 “nearly 15 percent of people worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime”. That number is surely higher now.

“Whether they think it [the world] will come to an end through the hands of God, or a natural disaster or political events, whatever the reason, one in seven thinks the end of the world is coming,” said Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos Global Public Affairs which conducted the poll for Reuters. 

And on a global scale there’s a 40% chance that the world will get so hot in the next five years that it will temporarily push past the temperature limit the Paris climate agreement is trying to prevent, meteorologists said. A new World Meteorological Organization forecast for the next several years also predicts a 90% chance that the world will set yet another record for the hottest year by the end of 2025 and that the Atlantic will continue to brew more potentially dangerous hurricanes than it used to. Our planet is already 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial times. And cities worldwide are warming by 0.5 °C on average per decade—29% faster than in rural areas—according to an article published in the September 2022 online Communications Earth & Environment.

Gog and Magog (“Gog u-Magog” in Hebrew and “Yajuj and Majuj” in Arabic) are names that appear in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Quran. Sometimes personified as individuals, and sometimes identified as nations or as geographic regions: all references in Bible, Quran and hadith clearly indicate that they are terrible troublemakers, and will appear toward the end of times, before the Day of Judgement. (Qur’an 18:94-99)

Is fear of “Yajuj and Majuj” why so many people are so negative and pessimistic about the future of humanity? 

While it is true that human society has changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last 150 years than ever before in history, humanity has already survived several major revolutions and world wars. 

Doctors today save the lives of millions; while dictators sacrifice the lives of millions. Populations are exploding in Africa and populations are declining in Europe. Technology produces both worldwide prosperity and worldwide pollution at the same time. 

Should we look upon the 21st century with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Is the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday? Or are both occurring almost concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough? 

As the Qur’an states: “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them any patron besides Him” (13:11).

The long tradition of trying to foresee the distant, eventual goal of human history started with the Prophets of Israel over 2.700 years ago. The Biblical vision of a Messianic Age may provide us with guidance in understanding the social, economic, scientific and cultural upheavals that will sweep society as it approaches the next stage. 

Often, it is the dramatic dangers of the pre-Messianic tribulation that are emphasized in the writings of Christian, Islamic and Jewish post scriptural traditions. I will focus on the positive signs developing throughout the world that accord with the Messianic vision of the Biblical Prophets because anxious atheists and unbelievers die a hundred deaths; while faith-filled believers die only once. 

As Prophet Muhammad stated; “Allah disdains hopelessness. It is incumbent upon you to take a hopeful stand with an intelligent resolve.” (Abu Dawud)

The Prophets of Israel conceived of redemption as a transformation of human society that would begin through the catalyst of a transformation of the Jewish people. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age. 

The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her own religion, that would itself bring about the Messianic Age. But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps. 

As the Qur’an tells us, prophets are sent to every nation to issue a warning that their behavior has consequences, and these consequences must be faced on Judgement Day. As the Qur’an states, “Accountability for mankind is getting closer and closer, yet they are heedless and turn away.” (21:1 and 54:1-8) 

God of course, is always ready to help us defeat evil, if we are ready to work for the establishment of a just and peaceful local and world society; that is why several Messiah agents of God will come. 

A Messiah is an agent of God who helps bring about this transformation. This agent of God (with several forerunners and many disciples) will be a person with great leadership qualities; similar to Moses or Muhammed. The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer. 

The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run, but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails, will provide challenges to society for generations to come. 

For example, the Prophet Isaiah, 2,700 years ago, predicted that someday there would be a radically new world in which Jerusalem would be filled with joy for “no more shall there be in it an infant that lives only a few days.” (65:20) 

A century ago, the infant mortality rate in Jerusalem (as in most of the world) was 25-30%. Now it is less than 1%. For thousands of years almost every family in the world suffered the loss of at least one or two infants; now it happens to less than one out of a hundred.

If this radical improvement had occurred over a few years, it would have greatly impressed people. But since it occurred gradually over several generations, people take it for granted. Also, it seems to be part of human nature that most people focus on complaining about the less than 1% that still die (an individual family tragedy heightened because it is unexpected and so rare) rather than be grateful that the infant mortality rate has been reduced by 97%. 

Truly we are close to Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20). Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death. 

Yet who among us would want to return to the high mortality rates and early deaths of previous centuries? 

The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone un-noticed and uncelebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long.

If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream. In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: 

“I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6) 

Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past. Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)

But until those wonderful things occur, we should never abandon hope for our future, and the future of mankind. For Jews, the best example of hope fulfilled is the return of the ‘exiled to Babylonia’ Jews and their children and grandchildren. 

As Prophet David’s Zabur states in Psalm 126:
1 When the Lord returned those who returned to Zion; we were like dreamers.

2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord (God) has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord; like the waterless wadis in the Negev.

5 May those who sow in tears; reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seeds for sowing; shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

National, communal, minority, tribal, and religious communities, can survive, revive, and be restored and redeemed, in our life time or in the lifetime of our future generations. It has happen before; and it will happen again; if we keep alive our hope and our faith. 

Let us learn from a 15 year old Jewish girl who lived and died during WW2 and wrote in her diary: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. 

I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the mean time, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the day will come when I shall be able to carry them out.” ~Anne Frank”

Remember, the most frequent commandment in the Torah is “Do not be afraid!” which appears in the Hebrew Bible (NIV translation) 70 times. So always remember that the birth of a new child is of greater value than the labor pains suffered. 

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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