By Rav Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Chofetz Chaim Torah Center
Recently I was invited to give the keynote address at the annual dinner of a large kiruv organization. I was asked to offer a perspective on the events currently unfolding in the Middle East. By way of introduction to my topic, the speaker before me explained that the events unfolding before our eyes are so simple to explain that even a child understands what’s happening. We are in Chodesh Adar, when the story of Purim unfolded in the blink of an eye. We were threatened with Haman’s diabolical final solution for K’lal Yisrael, and within days salvation and victory occurred.
The speaker explained with utter confidence that this is the story of Purim revisited in the very same month of Adar. From one moment to the next, all our enemies are just falling away one by one. He stated that he has no doubt that soon Iran will follow the same path and then Mashiach will arrive. He then proclaimed in an emotional, high-pitched voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, take my word and prepare yourself, for Mashiach is right around the bend.” With that, he introduced me to address the large crowd with a deeper look at the events in the Middle East.
I have been introduced over the years in many different ways, but never did I have to stand up to speak immediately following an announcement that was made with the utmost confidence that Mashiach is just around the bend. How do you top that?
Desperately searching for an opening, I recalled a story that I heard from my good friend Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky a few months back. Years ago, there was a tremendous miracle that took place in Eretz Yisrael, and one particular chassidic rebbe made a public declaration explaining the reason why it happened. Reb Mordechai, who was a young man at the time, went to his grandfather, HaGaon Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt’l, and asked him what his thoughts were on why this happened. Reb Yaakov responded, “Er veist vi ich veist”—“He knows like I know!”
The important message that Reb Yaakov, zt’l, taught us all was that we can conjecture, we can guess, and we can even suggest; but we are never allowed to say with conviction that we understand what exactly is happening and what we can expect to happen in the days ahead. We are all familiar with the various sources in the Midrash and in the Zohar regarding the days of ikvisa d’Meshicha. We can learn them with great intensity and depth, and research all the commentaries, but we will never know if this is what the Midrash means.
Yes, of course we are mandated to believe with every fiber of our heart and soul in the coming of Mashiach and to believe that he can come at any moment. We are not only required to believe in him, but we are obligated to anticipate and long for his arrival. The Gemara in Maseches Shabbos teaches us that one of the primary questions that we will have to answer after 120, in the Olam HaEmes, is whether we were tzipisa l’yeshua—did we long for his coming?
However, to interpret current events as being the onset of Mashiach’s arrival is not within our ability and not within our rights. Over the last thousand years, there have been many times when it clearly seemed as if the Midrash was coming alive in front of their eyes. Yet those who were convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was it were disappointed. So it is a very dangerous and potentially devastating approach to have for oneself, let alone to share with others.
The Yalkut Shimoni (Yeshayah 59) relates the following:
“Rabbi Yitzchak said, at the time of the revelation of Mashiach, the kings of all the nations challenge one another. The king of Persia challenges the king of Arabia, and the king of Arabia goes to Aram to seek their counsel. The king of Persia arises again and lays waste the whole world, and all the nations of the world are distressed and frightened and fall on their faces and they are seized by pains like birth pangs. Yisrael too is distressed and frightened and asks, ‘Where shall we turn?’ And Hashem answers them, ‘My children! Do not be afraid. All that I have done, I have done only for your sake. What are you afraid of? The time of your redemption has come.”
How are we to interpret this Midrash? Doesn’t it sound like today when Persia, or Iran, is threatening the whole world with potential nuclear weapons and has actually threatened to use them against Eretz Yisrael? Aren’t Yidden throughout the world and in Eretz Yisrael truly frightened and distressed at these events exactly the way the Midrash describes? The answer is yes, it sounds like the Midrash is coming to life in front of us; but that’s the key word . . . it sounds like it, but we cannot say with any confidence or clarity that this is it.
The Chazon Ish, zt’l, was once asked by a person who suffered greatly during World Word II if the tzaros that the Jews suffered during the Holocaust were part of the chevlei Mashiach and also whether Mashiach’s arrival was therefore imminent.
The Chazon Ish replied, “Before a person sets out on a journey, he takes a map and marks off all the stops he plans to make along the way. Every time he reaches one of those stops, he checks to see how far he has already traveled and how far he has left to go. Although K’lal Yisrael was made aware when exiled that it would be necessary to pass a great many stops along the way to the final redemption, we were not told exactly how many such stops were planned for us. Of course, every tzarah we suffer means we have passed yet another stage of galus, but we know nothing of the Master Plan regarding the future.”
HaGaon Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, was quoted in the chareidi press by one of his gabbaim that in response to the question from a relative whether these recent events that have shocked the world are the beginning of Milchemes Gog U’Magog, Rav Chaim replied, “It’s quite probable that any unrest that Hashem creates shows that Mashiach is coming and we need to become stronger and better prepared; but if it actually is, we cannot know.”
A friend who is a close student of the mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, Rav Moshe Wolfson, shlita, related to me that he spoke recently about the astonishing events of the past few weeks. He said, “The Midrash predicted the downfall of Yishmael in the days preceding the coming of Mashiach. The first step to that downfall is by the fall of Sar shel Yishmael, the protective malach of Yishmael. Once the Sar shel Yishmael falls, then the entire nation will fall as well. It would seem that events of the last few weeks can be interpreted that it has started to happen. That it all started in the month of Adar, the month that we celebrate the downfall of Haman, which took place in Persia, makes it a good time to increase our davening, our limud haTorah, and acts of chesed.” That was the mashgiach’s point. While it seems like things are unfolding the way the Midrash describes, we cannot say for sure, but we can and should be inspired to deepen our relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu at this opportune time.
The speaker before me, brimming with confidence, explained that, as in the story of Purim, all our enemies are falling away from one day to the next. Powerful enemies of the past, such as Mubarak, Qaddafi, et al., are being removed from the world stage in utter humiliation, just as Haman was removed in his day. How fortunate it would be for K’lal Yisrael if that is truly what’s happening, if that is Hashem’s Master Plan. But what if, chas v’shalom, this is only a harbinger of worse things to come? What if their replacements will be much worse and exhibit even more hatred of K’lal Yisrael than those that they replaced? What if our beloved Eretz Yisrael is now left unprotected from all sides, now even from the south?
We cannot predict events, but at the same time we are not here to just sit idly by and watch these events unfold. We need to daven with all our hearts that HaKadosh Baruch Hu bring an end to all the tzaros of K’lal Yisrael, both individual and communal. Let the New York Times and the think tanks spend their time and energies on trying to decipher the meaning of these events; our role and responsibility is to turn to Avinu Shebashamayim, just as Mordechai and Esther did 2,000 years ago, and ask HaKadosh Baruch Hu to bring the geulah.
I remember Rabbi Moshe Sherer, z’l, once relating at an Agudah dinner that during the Holocaust years there was much misinformation, at least in the beginning, as to what was really happening in Europe. One day they received a photo from the State Department of an old Jew having his beard shaved off by a Nazi soldier while his fellow soldiers were standing to the side and laughing. The photo deeply shocked and disturbed him, and he and his older cousin Reb Elimelech Tress, z’l, began to cry.
After a while, Rabbi Sherer remembered a vort that he saw from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch, zt’l, on the pasuk that Avraham Avinu named his son Yitzchok; meaning that “he shall laugh . . . in the future.” Since all the letzonei ha’dor laughed at him in regard to Yitzchak’s birth, so the message was that when he becomes one of the Avos of K’lal Yisrael, then he will have the last laugh.
So, too, explains Rav Hirsch, Yitzchak is a symbol for K’lal Yisrael throughout history. We have been laughed at, mocked, and ridiculed for close to 2,000 years, but at the end we will have the last and final laugh.
This message brought comfort to Rabbi Sherer at that time and so too should it bring comfort to us. It’s Chodesh Adar; what an appropriate time it would be to have that last laugh. In the merit of our heartfelt tefillos, may it come speedily in our day.