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Parshat Vayechi - Repairing the World

By: Rebecca Alenick

The Messianic Era: or in simpler terms Mashiach and ultimately world peace. It's lovely rhetoric; but surely, after a 20th century in which 'humanity' murdered more people than the previous 19 centuries combined, how can we Jews possibly believe that redemption can happen? Is God really just going to send this guy on a white donkey one day and suddenly everything will be sorted out? That seems naive and wishful thinking.

In this week's Torah portion, Yaakov gets a nevua of the date of the Messianic Era. He is not, however, permitted to tell his children. Why? Surely, there could be nothing more encouraging for the Jewish people throughout the ages than if we were to know there was a set time at which things would turn around. Why not give us that hope? The point is, that we Jews do not look at the Messianic era as something supernatural that God will impose upon the world. Rather, it is an ideal toward which the world must strive. We were given an imperfect world in order to perfect it. It's all too easy to blame God for the world's problems. It's human nature to shift the blame to others. The truth is, however, that for the vast majority of the horrors, we have only ourselves to blame.
We human beings are so concerned with our own lives and our own worries that rarely do we bother to think about what can be done to perfect the world around us. So the world remains a mess and then, when there are problems, we blame God for creating a lousy world!
To think that the Mashiach will be zapped into this world by God and suddenly all will miraculously change is childish fantasy. But to think that we cannot repair the world is adult cynicism.

Yaakov could not give us a date because once a date is given, it is no longer in our hands and Judaism says that it is entirely within our hands. The Messianic age is ours to create, not just to sit around and wait for. So let's get started.

The End of Days

By the same token, Yaakov, on his deathbed, tells his sons that he is going to reveal how and when mashiach will come. All wait with bated breath to hear him reveal the future. But then, in a staggering anti-climax, all Yaakov does is give a different blessing to each of his sons. He explains to them their strengths and weaknesses, and never mentions Machiach again.

The Sages explain that while Yaakov was eager to tell his sons when Mashiach would come, Hashem did not allow him to do so. In giving his children blessings, Yaakov was in fact explaining how and when Mashiach would arrive.
The Talmud tells a story of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi who asked Eliyahu Hanavi when Mashiach would be coming. Eliyahu suggested that he ask Mashiach himself, and told him where he could find him. Rabbi Yehoshua went to speak to him and Mashiach told him that he was coming tomorrow! He left excitedly and prepared himself for the next day.

As we all know, he did not arrive. When Rabbi Yehoshua next saw Eliyahu, he complained that Mashiach had lied to him. No, he had not, explained Elliyahu. He was ready for the world on that day, but was the world ready for him? The Jewish concept of Mashiach is that we ourselves must bring him about. He is not imposed upon the world by God, but arrived at by humanity. It is not a magical, God-guided, radical departure from the direction of history, but rather a development of history itself. The world itself must arrive at perfection, and then God will send Mashiach to solidify that state of being. Thus, through blessing his children, Yaakov was explaining the powers that each of them possessed to help contribute toward perfecting the world. How and when will Mashiach come about? When each of us uses our potential to its fullest in order to make it come about.

We often hear people talking about Mashiach coming very soon. That's fatalistic. I believe, if we are to bring him ourselves, we have quite a way to go. There is always the possibility of God's intervention. But if God must make it happen Himself, then humanity will have failed. If the human race is to succeed, then Tikkun Olam, perfecting the world, must be our primary focus. And there is really no in-between. We can bring our world to perfection, or allow it to self-destruct.

Yaakov told his sons: You have the power, now you just need the will. The same is true for us today and IYH we can bring Mashiach to the world be'yachad, together.