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Faith And Hope For A Mahdi-Messianic Future – OpEd

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 In the last 16 years there have been 523 mass killings resulting in 2,727 deaths as of November 19, 2022 according to The Associated Press/USA Today database on mass killings in the U.S. 

And firearms deaths killed 1.5 million Americans between 1968 and 2017, a higher number than the number of soldiers killed in every US conflict since the American War for Independence in 1775.

A particularly deadly strain of avian flu — first reported in February on an Indiana turkey farm — has wiped out 49 million turkeys and other poultry in 46 states this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Massive economic losses due to sweltering temperatures brought on by human-caused climate change are not just a problem for the future. A study in the journal Science Advances has found that more severe heat waves resulting from global warming have already cost the world economy 16 trillion dollars since the early 1990s.

The UK faces its biggest drop in living standards on record as the surging cost of living eats into people’s wages. The government’s forecaster said household incomes – once rising prices were taken into account – would decline by 7% in the next few years, and the number of people who are unemployed will rise by more than 500,000.

Many Americans who come from fundamentalist Christian circles see the future’s major changes within human society that precedes the Messianic Age from the perspective of the Book of Revelation (The Apocalypse of John). This New Testament book emphasizes a cataclysmic Judgement Day, which can last for many years, that precedes the birth of the Messianic Age. The Qur’an is much less negative about the period between the the return of Jesus, and the Coming of the Mahdi-Messiah. 

Jews, whose biblical prophets were the ones who first wrote about a future Messianic Age, recognize that the birth of a Messianic Age must be preceded by its birth-pangs, but emphasize mostly the glories of a world living in peace and prosperity with justice for all. Ancient Jewish prophecies did proclaim that there would be an end to the world as we know it but they did not prophesy that the world will come to an end. 

Rather, the Jewish date cannot be fixed ahead of time because humans have free will and in part, what humans do influences what God decides to do. The pre-Messianic Age marks the beginning of a time of major transition from one World Age into another. 

How we move through this transition, either with resistance or acceptance, will determine whether the transformation will happen through cataclysmic and violent changes or by a gradual religious reform of human society which will lead to a world filled with peace, prosperity and spiritual tranquility.

 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 many generations to come.

But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long. The amazing rescue of 14,235 Ethiopian Jews in a 1991 airlift to Israel, lasting less than 40 hours, stirred and inspired people for a few weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000 Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media. Now both are taken for granted. The miracle has become routine. 

But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle. 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.” (Isaiah 43:5-6)  Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget how bad things were in the past. 

Repentance produces changes in the future of both individuals and nations. Repentance enables some individuals and communities to escape the consequences of prior evil. On the other hand, God’s promise is that evil powers will never succeed in destroying Israel or in overcoming justice in the long run. Thus even without full repentance, God will act if the Divine promise of a Messianic Age is threatened. 

As Isaiah states, “The Lord says: you were sold but no price was paid, and without payment you shall be redeemed.” (Isaiah 52:3) i.e. all your suffering in exile was not really fully deserved, and your redemption from exile will not really be fully earned. Both are part of God’s outline for human destiny and will occur sooner (through repentance) or later (in God’s own time). 

Reciprocity and interactively are the fundamental basics of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, and make Judaism special, just as all kind and  loving relationships and religions are special and unique.  

God shines that light into the world, illuminating pitfalls and stumbling blocks along the way. Yet Torah remains merely a book, its instructions mere words, if we don’t translate them into living deeds. It is in our hands to take the teachings of the Torah and of later rabbinic insights and to let them shine through our example and by teaching others. 

When humans shine a light back to God by living by God’s commandments and teaching others to do so then “In Your light we are bathed in light.” as the Book of Proverbs says, ” mitzvah is a lamp, and teaching is a light.” 

By living our lives in accord with Mitsvot, we respond to God’s light by lighting a way for ourselves and those we teach, to avoid the precipice of egotism, hedonism, self-righteousness or materialism.   

The Passover Haggadah (a book that’s been revised, reprinted, and republished over 6,000 times, mostly in the last 200 years) states: Passover is a journey “from sorrow to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, and from bondage to redemption”.

And as the Qur’an states: “We certainly sent Moses with Our signs, [saying], “Bring out your people from darkness into light, and remind them of the days of Allah.” Indeed, there are signs for everyone, patient and grateful.” (14:5) and “Allah is an ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darkness into light.” (2:257)

Finally, if one believes that God inspired prophets are able to describe scenarios of various developments in the distant future then one has to accept that the understanding of these passages should change and improve as we come closer and closer to the times they describe. As an example, Jeremiah describes a radical future in which women surround men, “The Lord will create a new thing on earth-a woman will surround a man” (Jeremiah 31:22). 

The great commentator Rashi understands ‘surround’ to mean encircle. The most radical thing Rashi can think of (and in 11th century France it was radical) is that a woman will propose marriage to a man (a wedding ring, or the encircling of the groom at a Jewish wedding ceremony) to a man. Now the proportion of Australian women in managerial occupations rose from around 18% in 1966 to nearly 40% in 2021. And the proportion in professional occupations grew from 35% to 56%.

In today’s feminist generation we can see women surrounding men in fields once almost exclusively male such as law, medical and rabbinical schools. Of course, this means that a few generations from now we might have even better understandings of some predictive passages in the prophets so humility should always be with us. 

But the real lesson from all this is that humans should not look forward to a Judgement Day when all our enemies, and all evil, will suddenly disappear in a cataclysmic purge. Instead, we should have faith and trust in the ability of religiously inspired humans to transform our world into a Messianic Age of justice and peace. 

In the words of a 15 year old Jewish girl who was soon to die: “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 inspite 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.” From the Diary of Anne Frank” whose words have been read by tens of millions of people throughout the world.

Indeed, there is a view, espoused by the well known Jewish writer, Franz Kafka, that the Messiah will come not at the beginning, but at the end of the Messianic Age; to congratulate humanity for achieving the vision of the Biblical prophets.

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.

One thought on “Faith And Hope For A Mahdi-Messianic Future – OpEd

  • November 24, 2022 at 12:31 pm
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    “for achieving the vision of the Biblical prophets” Unfortunately existing religious traditions, self evidently, are unable to provide mankind with moral or spiritual tools for that achievement! Thus Franz Kafka and probably most if not all of theology must be in error. The very purpose of the second Messianic figure to appear must be to to provide humanity with the ‘way’ to reach out and secure that ‘vision’. But that can only happen when humanity confronts and accepts its own limitations, and comes to realize that there is nowhere else to turn but to G-d. But in a form not yet revealed or understood. And I would suggest that slow turning is probably happening at this very time.

    “What constrains the highest of human aspirations is rarely imagined but if the catalyst with the necessary authority to realize the dream were ever revealed, who would care enough to believe with sufficient courage and conviction to act? Unfortunately the world has usually preferred the soft, the easy and more convenient ways of intellectual vanity, political correctness and spiritual confectionery than the honesty and courage to question and confront human nature itself!”

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