Waiting for the Messiah

On today’s daf we find that one may not blemish his entire herd before taking maaser since our attitude is that Moshiach will come imminently and we will need unblemished animals to sacrifice.

In his time, the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, was almost unique in his absolute conviction that Moshiach will be coming extremely soon. He recommended learning kodoshim since the Beis HaMikdash will surely be rebuilt soon and the avodah will be restored. He lived with deep emunah that the redemption was imminent. This attitude was palpable even in how he answered those who asked him questions.

When a certain man got permission from the Chofetz Chaim to go to America for five years he was shocked when the gadol told him to take his family with him. “If you are going you should definitely take your family. We must assume that Moshiach will surely be here within five years. Obviously it is not worthwhile for one to be separate from his family during such tumultuous times.”

The Chofetz Chaim was so completely filled with longing for Moshiach that whenever a din was heard from outside his home—obviously something had happened and people were excitedly talking about it— the Chofetz Chaim would immediately tell someone present to go outside and check what happened. “We must check what happened; perhaps there is news of Moshiach…”

Every weekday the Chofetz Chaim would wait for Moshiach. He even had a special coat to wear when he greeted Moshiach. From time to time he would wear his “Moshiach kappotah” and sit waiting for the redeemer.

The only time he did not wait in an overtly noticeable manner was on Shabbos. Isn’t Shabbos itself compared to the next world? Shouldn’t one feel on Shabbos that one is already experiencing the days of the redemption? For him, “waiting” on Shabbos meant that he would yearn that Shabbos would never end!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Waiting for Moshiach”
Bechoros 53

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.Matthew 24:26-27

I feel sort of torn, here. On the one hand, we all long for the coming of the Messiah and the return of the King and we hope it will be “soon and in our days”, but Christ’s own words tell us that there will be many “false Messiahs” and that we shouldn’t chase after every possible report of his coming.

I find it interesting that for six days in the week, the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l would wait for the Messiah in the most excited manner possible, eagerly and almost anxiously leaping upon any event that might herald his coming, but that was not his manner on Shabbos. And yet, as we see above, we experience something of a preview of “the days of the redemption” on Shabbos. All is restful and distractions are to be eliminated so that we can turn our minds and hearts to God.

Of course, it would be almost impossible not to be excited if we actually thought that the time of the return was now. There are parts of the Christian world (and I include that population of non-Jews who call themselves “Messianic” and “One Law” in this group) who are just as focused on the “end times” as the Chofetz Chaim, practically to the point of obsession. The question is, should we be so obsessed?

In Matthew 24, Jesus describes a very dramatic set of events that will occur at the time of his return but he also says this:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. –Matthew 24:36-39

While we are to keep watch (v. 42) because we don’t know when the day will actually be, does that mean we have to put the rest of our lives on the back burner, so to speak, while we’re all waiting like a watchman on the walls of Jerusalem? Obviously the Chofetz Chaim was wrong as far as how soon the Messiah would come and Jewish history is replete with such expectations and with Messiahs who weren’t really Messiahs.

What about everything else Jesus said we should be doing with our lives?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25:34-40

Yes, he had just finished telling the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) which is the warning to keep watch, keep alert, and to be prepared, but he is also saying that we shouldn’t be sitting on our thumbs while we’re waiting. We’ve got things to do. We’ve got hungry people to feed, cold people to clothe, sick people to look after, and prisoners to visit. We can’t spend all of our time and resources just sitting, waiting, and murmuring to ourselves, “Any second now, any second now…”

In John’s vision, Jesus says he is coming soon (Revelation 22:12) but we don’t know when. Like the Chofetz Chaim, we could believe it’s only a matter of a few years or even a few months, but we don’t know for sure. Whenever he comes, it will certainly be a surprise to just about everyone. In the meantime though, while we’re waiting, isn’t there something we could be doing to serve our Master right now? Just like the weekly Shabbos, we anticipate the Messiah. Just like the weekly Shabbos, he will surely come.

I believe with a complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless every day, I believe he will come.

-from the Thirteen Principles of Faith

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3 thoughts on “Waiting for the Messiah”

  1. I am rather saddened to know that the Chofetz Chaim was always eagerly waiting for the Messiah, and he didn’t come in his lifetime. Or rather, he already came…you get the picture.

  2. How many Jews have lived and died waiting for the Messiah? How many Christians have lived in hope of the imminent return of Jesus? We all wait. We all hope. And we all live in his name, doing what he did, or trying to.

  3. Actually as Baba Sali and others have predicted Moshiach did already arrive in 5771, but he has not yet declared himself openly. Each person needs to recognize Moshiach for himself. This may not be that easy, since he will appear as an ordinary man, still incognito, until most people acknowledge him. The way to recognize him is thru his words or the message that he brings – the message of peace, brotherhood and justice. See http://www.moshiachishere.org/

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