Introduction: When the Jewish sages of the second century A.D. looked back on the terrible days when Israel had rebelled against Rome (A.D. 66–70) and had suffered the destruction of the Temple for the second time, they often linked a whole series of catastrophic changes to that devastating event. At times, this led them to mention the signs, known as “the footsteps of the Messiah,” by which the advent of the Messiah could be recognized. For it was widely thought that as distress and anarchy mounted in Israel, these were sure signs that the Messiah was not far away.
Rabbi Eliezer the Great says, “Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, the Sages began to act like (children’s) school teachers, and school teachers like synagogue janitors, and synagogue janitors like the (ignorant) people of the land … On whom should we lean? On our Father in Heaven. With the advent of the Messiah,1 presumptuousness shall wax great and produce shall soar in price; the vine will yield its fruit but the wine will be costly; and the heathen (idol worshippers) will be converted to heresy and there shall be no rebuke … The wisdom of the Scribes shall be decadent and those who fear sin shall be hateful to others; and truth shall be absent. The young shall put the elders to shame … (as it is written) the son dishonoreth the father, the daughter riseth up against her own mother … a man’s enemies are the men of his own house (Micah 7:6).… And on whom are we to lean?—On our Father in Heaven. R. Phineas ben Jair says, Zeal leads to cleanliness, and cleanliness leads to purity, and purity leads to self-restraint, and self-restraint leads to sanctity, and sanctity leads to humility, and humility leads to the fear of sin, and the fear of sin leads to piety, and piety leads to divine intuition (literally, “the Holy Spirit,” ruah hakodesh), and divine intuition leads to the resurrection of the dead, and the resurrection of the dead shall come through Elijah of blessed memory.” Amen.2
1. Literally, “on the heels of the Messiah.”
2. P. Blackman F.C.S., Mishnayoth, Vol. Ill (New York: Judaica Press Inc., 1963), pp. 382–