HE'S ON HIS WAY
The spiritual challenges facing the Jewish nation in modern society are nearly overwhelming. Intermarriage rates continue to rise, and our once-unified nation is dividing into several factions.
The spiritual challenges facing the Jewish nation in modern society are nearly overwhelming. Intermarriage rates continue to rise, and our once-unified nation is dividing into several factions. Our only comfort is the promise that when the Mashiach (Messiah) arrives, Jewish existence will return to its ancient utopian state.
The Talmud (Tractate Avodah Zarah 9a) states that the world is designed to exist as we know it for a total of 6000 years. The final 2000 years of this period was engineered to be the era of the Mashiach, a time when G-d's greatness and dominion would be universally recognized. Our habitual sinning, the Talmud contends, is what has caused such an excessive delay in the Mashiach's arrival. In light of this information, how can we reasonably expect to witness his coming in our days when so many greater generations previously failed?
This week's Torah portion describes the process of redeeming a Jewish slave from a gentile owner: "He [the redeemer] shall make a reckoning with his [the Jewish slave's] purchaser from the year he was sold to him until the Yovel year" (Leviticus 25:50). This means that the redemption value decreases as the years draw closer to the Yovel, or 50th year (at which point the slave would go free automatically), in proportion to the year in which he was sold and the price paid at that time.
Based on this verse, the Chofetz Chaim, the great Torah scholar and leader at the beginning of this century, maintained that, on a larger scale, the Jewish people's relationship with redemption is much the same. There is one predetermined date by which Mashiach must appear. In order for us to merit his arrival at an earlier date, we must earn it by improving ourselves. This self-development, then, is our symbolic price of redemption. Like that of the slave, the price decreases each year as we advance towards the final date. Thus, the chance to attain our ultimate goal, despite the failure of our ancestors, is not at all beyond our reach.
However, it must still be determined what form our development should take in order for us to merit a more rapid approach of the redemption. The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 20a) discusses why the generations previous to that of the later Amoraim (Torah scholars in the time of the Talmud) experienced a more blatant revelation of G-d's presence in the form of open miracles than did subsequent generations. The Talmud contends that it was on account of the fact that the earlier generations displayed more mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice, in sanctifying G-d's name. Consequently we, who are aspiring for the ultimate revelation of G-d's presence in the world, must also strive to improve ourselves in the area of self-sacrifice when it comes to making G-d's name great.
This week's Torah portion also alludes to the idea of self-sacrifice. Hashem tells the people: "If you will say, 'What will we eat in the seventh year? Behold, we cannot plant and collect our crops!' I will ordain My blessing for you in the sixth year and it will yield a crop sufficient for the three-year period" (Leviticus 25:20-21). On this verse, the commentaries pose the obvious question: Why does the Torah feel it necessary to inform us of the reaction of the general populous to the commandment of Shemittah? Why not simply preclude all doubts and fears by skipping directly to Hashem's reassuring promise of sustenance?
One answer is that the Torah is endeavoring to instill within each of us an important lesson. Human nature is such that even with assurances from G-d Himself, one will inevitably be wary when told not to provide for any of his family's most basic needs. The Torah therefore wishes to impress upon us that it is the responsibility of each and every Jew to overcome this innate deficiency. One needs to develop complete faith in G-d such that when asked to rely upon Him for even a fundamental life requirement, one will do so wholeheartedly. It is only through such sacrifices in all our daily affairs that we may bring about the final redemption in our lifetimes.
The year is already 5759. Time is running out.
Joshua Gottlieb, a native Atlantan, is a senior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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