Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Husk Has to Fall, Before the Fruit Can Emerge
The Messianic Process
It is a cardinal tenet of Jewish faith, that the events of history are all foreshadowed, in the several layers of meaning, that lie behind the surface words of our Tanach.
For Tanach is not merely a book of history or legislation, on how to live our lives. It is also a book of prophecy: whose subtle messages are not only found in the formal prophetic texts, but throughout the Tanach and the Oral Tradition, which accompanies it.
What of the establishment of a Jewish state. Was it alluded to in our sacred sources?
The Zohar predicts, that "at the end of days, G-d will return Israel to the Holy land, and gather them in from the exile;"
emphasizing, that at the same time, that "the end of days" refers here, not to the Messianic era, but to the closing years of the exile.
The era in which, terrible and devastating blows, were dealt to the Jewish people.
But the first to predict the rise of a secular Jewish state as prelude to the coming of Moshiach, is Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague (1525-1609); known as "Maharal".
In his discussion of the rise of "the Kingdom of the Messiah", The Maharal states that, the coming of Moshiach is not, as often thought, a sudden event; it is rather a process.
The "Holy kingdom of Israel" - Maharal's term for the reign of Moshiach will emerge from an earlier, non-holy kingdom.
The Midrash states: Just as Moshe, who was destined to break the power of Pharaoh, was brought up in Pharaoh's palace; so too Moshiach, (who is destined to settle accounts with Edom), will live with them in their city.
The ultimate failure of the empire of Edom, will give rise, to a new and different kingdom- the Kingdom of Moshiach...
This is why Yaacov, was born holding on to the heel of Esav (Bereshit 25:26).
Now, "the kingdom of Edom" refers, to the last of the four empires of the world, as foreseen by Daniel (chapters 4-5): Babylonia, Media, Greece, and Rome.
Rome, as world power, is long since dead and gone. But its heritage, Western Civilization, rules the world. Our Rabbis indicate, that Moshiach will grow up in Western civilization.
Indeed, the parable of "the heel of Esav" signifies, that the spiritual failure and moral bankruptcy of that civilization, will be the forerunner and catalyst, for the coming of Moshiach.
So far The Maharal - (if properly understood) - has described how the kingdom of Moshiach emerges, from the breakdown of Western civilization.
But this is not all. The Maharal's vision is guided by veiled hints in the Midrash: the "Kingdom of Israel" itself, undergoes development.
In its immature stage, it forms part of the Fourth Empire. But only when it reaches maturity, does it throw off this attachment, and emerge as "the holy kingdom of Moshiach". (Kingdom is, of course synonymous with "state".)
The Maharal continues: So long as the kingdom of Moshiach has not yet reached perfection, the kingdom of Moshiach is attached to Edom (nigar el Edom) ...The holy kingdom of Israel... must grow out, of the non-holy kingdom, that preceded it.
The Maharal, in a telling parable, describes the relationship between the embryonic "kingdom of Israel", and its "Edomite" environment: Fruit grows within a husk; when the fruit ripens, the husks falls off...
Their kingdom emerges and grows, from within the kingdom of the nations; i.e., from the existential power of the kingdom of the nations. And from their low level, it then raises itself to a higher level.
And when the kingdom of Israel reaches complete maturity, the kingdom of nations are removed; just as the husk is removed, and falls off, when the fruit reaches its perfection.
The Messianic Revolution
The Messianic revolution will take place, in the hearts and minds of the people. The "falling off of the husk", does not refer to a political or military event; nor does "kingdom of the nations" refer to a political entity.
The husk refers to, the value system of the Western world.
The falling off of the husk signifies, the victory of spirituality over materialism; faith in G-d, over unbounded trust in one's own power; and awareness of divine providence, over belief in blind chance.
Why does Moshiach have to "sit at the gates of Rome"? Why does the holy have to "grow out of the unholy"?
The Maharal here, explains a principle of universal importance. According to an idea enunciated by Rabbi E.E. Dessler, one of the foremost exponents of Mussar in the 20th century:
The highest levels of holiness can be only reached, as a reaction to a situation, which is steeped, in the very opposite of holiness.
Avraham Avinu became the spiritual pioneer that he was, only because he grew up in the house of Terah, the idol maker. This spurred him to rebel against Nimrod, and the ten generations of idolaters, who preceded him.
Moshe Rabbenu only became the greatest of all prophets, because he was brought up in the palace of Pharaoh. His revolution against the evil that he saw in the palace, propelled him to heights, that no other human being ever achieved.
Similarly, Moshiach grows to full stature, only because he "dwells at the gates of (Evil) Rome". He must be challenged by the value system of the West, rebel against it, and overcome it.
It is thus fair to say, that the "Messianic Kingdom" must begin its career, as part of Western civilization; and then reaches its full potential, by rejecting those aspects of that civilization, which are destructive to Torah life.
This husk must fall off, in order to allow the Messianic era to flower, in all its purity.