They just didn’t think that this was that.
If a person is reckless there is not much that can be done for them, except to try to save them from themself. In the latter case, the person has to somehow be made to see that what they are being warned about is the same thing they want to do. It can work, and has many times, and it has saved a lot of people over the generations.
The same thing is true about the signs of Moshiach’s imminent arrival. We know what they are because the Talmud and Midrash has told us them. The trouble we have is that when we experience them in real time, we wonder if this event is that sign. If yes, Moshiach is about to reveal himself. If not, then history is just droning on.
For example, one such sign is that the Erev Rav will be in charge of the Jewish people at the End-of-Days. That’s bad news, because they have never been a friend of the Torah world, just a painful and often deadly thorn in its side. Today there are many Jewish leaders who fit that bill, but does that make them Erev Rav and a sign of Moshiach’s closeness? Some say yes, some say no.
The Zohar and the Vilna Gaon concurred about the prominent role the Erev Rav will play at the end of history, and identified five types of Erev Rav (Zohar, Bereishis 25a). Some will be into licentiousness, others into kavod, while others will do the most they can to financially cut off the Torah world, even when they could help it. It’s just different attack strategies against G–D and morality.
But are they truly Erev Rav, or just very misguided people? Wasn’t it a miracle that secular Israeli governments funded yeshivos until now, given that they really wanted to shut them? What can you expect from someone who grew up agnostic, and who has zero appreciation of the value of Torah learning…in a tiny country with a small population that needs its work force and standing army?
A sign of Moshiach, or just a sign of the times?
After all, the whole Western world is going liberal. Religious values have faded everywhere. For the most part, the Torah world has done little to try and bridge the gap between themselves and the secular world around them. It’s been a “to each his own” kind of approach to the outside world, and we should have anticipated that it lacks sustainability the moment we started taking “their” money for our learning.
It certainly seems more like a sign of the times than a sign of Moshiach…
IN LAST WEEK’S parsha, the tribes of Reuven, Gad, and half tribe of Menashe did the unthinkable as if it was the most normal thing to do. After wandering for 39 extra years in the desert for rejecting Eretz Yisroel, they rejected Eretz Yisroel, except they didn’t think that this was that.
They had a lot of animals that graze, and east of the Jordan had a lot of grazing land. So it wasn’t so much that they rejected Eretz Yisroel all over again as much as they chose a different land on which to raise their livestock. Or so they seemed to have thought until Moshe set them straight saying, “No, this is that.”
As mentioned previously, the problem could be traced back to Bilaam in Parashas Balak. It was his plan to send the women of Midian into the Jewish camp to upset the balance. Midian “infected” the Jewish people with ta’avah, material desire, and this led to promiscuous behavior and idol worship. All told, 200,000 Jewish people died either by plague or stoning by Bais Din. The effect of the “infection” has lingered until this very day.
But who hasn’t asked how this could happen in the first place? Bilaam pointed out how the tent of one Jewish family did not face the opening of another, to avoid potentially immodest situations. Yet gentile women from a foreign culture came to sell their wares, and no one was suspicious or worried about the spiritual challenge it might create, and avoid it? It seems so obvious to us. Why wasn’t it so obvious to them?
Isn’t this what Eichah is all about, alluded to in the second aliyah of this week’s parsha? Yirmiyahu did not just mourn the destruction of the Jewish people of his time. He asked how it could even happen in the first place. How was it possible that they had prophets foretelling the future doom and gloom and they did not recognize it when it happened and put the brakes on? How was it that only after they were being dragged off to Babylonia in chains that they finally realized that this had indeed been that?
But why stop there? Why not go all the way back to beginning of human history and ask the same question? Which part of, “do not eat from the fruit of the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Ra” did Adam and Chava not understand? How was it that they were able to think, after first being warned, that they were not going against the commandment of G–D? Who cares how smart the snake was? It was a simple command, one that we think should have been simple to obey.
And Europe was not Egypt, so how could the same thing have happened there that happened in Egypt? America is not Europe, so how can the same thing that happened there happen in America…or Canada…or anywhere in the Diaspora…like it happened all cross Europe? This is NOT that.
And when Yisro came and suggested a hierarchy legal system, it was not a rejection of Moshe Rabbeinu, right? After all, the idea came from Moshe’s own father-in-law, and was agreed to by G–D Himself. That makes it kosher, correct? Not according to Moshe Rabbeinu, who tells them otherwise in this week’s parsha. “Sorry,” he told them. “THIS following of Yisro’s suggestion is THAT rejection of me”
SOME PEOPLE GET it. Some people always do. In Egypt, they were barely one-fifth of the population. In Europe, they were a very small percentage who left early. The Talmud says that a wise person is one who can see what is being born (Tamid 32a). Not just born, but how it will “grow up,” meaning to what it will probably lead.
The mitzvah of killing the rebellious son teaches a similar message, if it was even ever carried out. A ben sorrer umoreh is not killed by Bais Din because he has already done something that warrants the death penalty. He is killed because he has done things that seem to indicate that he may do such things in the future. So the Bais Din kills him now, while he is still “meritorious,” before he becomes guilty of the death penalty.
How many other societies have laws like that? None. What if the boy does teshuvah? What if he grows up and matures nicely, leaving behind his troubling ways, as so many other “rebellious” children have done over the ages? And even if he doesn’t, how many will end up needing to be killed by Bais Din? If saving one soul is like saving an entire world, isn’t it worth the risk to see how he turns out?
We might have wondered, “What if this is not that?”
The Torah says assume that it is, and go with the signs.
So why don’t many people do that when it comes to antisemitism? Why do so many people ignore the signs of impending trouble until they become so obvious that it is too late to do anything about them? Cognitive dissonance, when psychological conflict results from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously. For example:
Rising antisemitism is telling us to get out as soon as possible. But if we leave quickly, we’ll lose everything we spent so long building up, not to mention throw our lives into complete disarray. Let’s wait a little longer just to be sure…
That’s what they said in Europe in the late 1930s. That is what i being said today in 2021. Yeah, but who says this is that…
THERE ARE THREE approaches to a case of “this and that,” and each is valid in its own way, in its own time. One approach is to look for the similarities between this and that, and draw conclusions. The other is to look for the differences between the signs and the situation, and act accordingly. The third is the business approach, which is to consider both and all other information that might bear on the subject in order to better measure the risk-versus-safety factor.
For example, there are the signs themselves. How many people even know what a lot of them are? Secondly, there are sources that put the End-of-Days into historical perspective, acting as canvas on which the signs can paint their picture for us to interpret. Such a complete picture has made believers out of a lot of would-be naysayers when it comes to believing Moshiach is close. They create the intellectual crosshairs that line up the “this” and the “that” to reveal they are one and the same.
For example, if a person thinks that history is open-ended and that Moshiach can come any time between now and one thousand years, then there is no immediacy regarding the events of today. History is like a pendulum swinging back and forth between liberalism and conservatism, with a bunch of wars in-between to help it move a little quicker in one direction or the other.
But if history is only six thousand years, as the Talmud says and Kabbalah confirms, then there are only 218 years left during which Moshiach can come. That’s still a fair bit of time, until one learns the Zohar and Leshem who say that 210 years of that is set aside for Techiyas HaMeisim, the resurrection of the dead. That period of history is already after Moshiach has already come and rectified the world.
Suddenly 218 years became eight years.
No immediacy? Tremendous immediacy!
Then there is the incredible fulfillment of all these incredible prophecies made thousands of years ago, like the ingathering of the Jewish people at the End-of-Days. The Torah predicted it, the GR”A initiated it, and we’re living through it. But really, is THIS actually THAT?
Those who have rushed to make aliyah say yes.
Those who have held out say no.
And if the Talmud says that one of the signs that the geulah is imminent is that the Jewish people make the desert bloom again, and that has happened, is it not a messianic sign? Is what has happened not what was predicted? Again, it depends upon who you ask.
It goes on, and on, and on. There are signs, and more signs, and more signs. There have been miracles upon miracles upon miracles. But in all honesty, is this really that? If it seems like it isn’t, then you have not done your homework well enough. If it seems that it is, then welcome to the world of the final redemption. And buckle up, because the final act is about to begin, if it hasn’t already.
The Shabbos before Tisha B’Av is called “Chazon,” which means “vision.” The temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were exiled because we failed to read the warning signs, to recognize that “this” was “that.” As the Talmud warns, if the Temple is not built in our generation, it’s because we’re doing the same thing, and that is definitely not a safe thing.
May we merit to wake up to the signs of G–D and make the necessary changes on our own, so that we can see Tisha B’Av become the holiday it is destined to become.