DO WE EXPECT HIM? — An end-of-Pesach message by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Opening the door for Elijah was a highlight of our Seder evening, an experience we treasured ever since childhood. That full goblet waited for the prophet, and we couldn’t see him, but somehow the level of the wine seemed to drop. Just a little, didn’t it?
Eliyahu hanavi, we sang happily. We dramatized the tradition that told us he was here to announce that the Messiah, son of David, was coming.
Now we enter the closing days of Passover, when that same tradition predicts that when the long-awaited deliverer does arrive, it will be on one of these days.
And what will happen then? One old Yiddish l song gives some exciting answers. In a rollicking melody, it goes like this:
When the Moshiakh comes, do you know what will be? Ai, yai, yai
All those who hate us will sink into the ground, How can we last till then?
All our dead will rise at once and stand!
Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah will do a dance.
How can we last till then?
But we, but we, we will dance like bears, like never heard of before,
With the Rebbe’s power we will dance on high,
And the Rebbetzin herself will do a little dance, (singing)
Yakh chidi-bidi-bidi- bim bom bom
Then it will be a lively world,
Life will be like new!
No need of money, for you or for me —
Everything will come to us for free!
Granted, most of the people who sang that song were Workmen’s Circle Socialists making fun of the whole Messianic idea. But the idea itself, the Messianic dream if you will, started l many centuries ago and became a powerful influence in the religious thought of Judaism first, and later of other cultures as well. One familiar statement, quoted from more than one sage, holds that the Messiah will come to a generation that is either all superbly righteous or abysmally evil. Since righteousness is so rare, many opinions are expressed in the Talmud about how long and how severely evil oppressors will rule in order for the redeemer to arrive.
The Jerusalem Talmud in the tractate Sanhedrin presents rabbinic teachings about the week when the Son of David will arrive, and what disaster will take place each day of that week. Deluge, earthquake, etc. Nature, too, will do its worst to bring the Messiah.
In one of his books, “Judaism a Way of Life,” my father of blessed memory explores the idea of suffering in this connection: “The
tribulations of the Jewish people in the centuries following the fall of Jerusalem gave special prominence to suffering as a means of
expiating the guilt of the people preparatory to the advent of the Messiah. Accordingly, Rabbi Nehemiah considered suffering a more
effective means of atonement than sacrifice.” Clearly, we need to make up somehow for our misdeeds in order to bring the redeemer. It
is we, the Jews, who are responsible to bring him.
Since this is the season when we can hope to see the Son of David arrive, we will read Haftorot, prophetic messages, to prepare us for his presence. Particularly effective is the passage from Second Samuel that we will read on Friday, the Seventh Day of Passover. It
is David’s song that he sang when G-d rescued him from his enemies, including King Saul. This song also forms the Haftorah on the Shabat when Moses’ song, “Haazinu” will be read from the Torah, celebrating the successful Exodus. One classic commentator, the Tzemah Tzedek, was asked why David’s song is read on the Seventh day of Pesach, rather than the Song of Deborah, since the women rejoiced more than the men when the Red Sea split. He answered: “The Haftorah is the Song of David because on the final days of Pesach there is a revelation of Moshiach, who is a descendant of David. Thus, it is to honor Moshiach that we recite the Song of David.”
Over the centuries, Jewish thinkers who expected the Moshiach taught us that he would deal with the real world. What he would do, that no one else could do, would be to cure this planet of its trouble, its corruption and its wars.
As we experience gigantic evils, from the Holocaust in Europe to jihadi terror in the Middle East to mass killings in America, we can well hope for a heavenly deliverer. Do we expect him? Some of us do. Many of us don’t. Those of our Christian neighbors who believe that a Messiah did arrive once, now pray for a second coming. Certainly the “first coming” failed to cure humanity.
Maybe we all need to reconsider our ideas and the subject of our prayers. A long-ago lesson lives in my mind, from the day when I had
to discuss the idea of Moshiach with a Hebrew school class. It was a 12-year-old boy who said: “I think the Moshiach is all of us.”
Potentially, yes. Working together, we can turn evil to good, starvation to plenty, war to peace.
Let’s let his concept inspire our action.