Are Jews Still Expecting a Messiah?

Moment, March-April 2012 | Go to article overview

Are Jews Still Expecting a Messiah?


* INDEPENDENT

Very few of us ever expected the Messiah. We spent most of our history hoping for one. And one day, indeed, the dove will return with those hopes grasped firmly in its beak. But it is up to us to do what Noah did--open the window of the Ark.

Truth be told, the Messiah has probably been here a few hundred times but got spat at on the way to school, or told he wasn't Jewish enough and had to re-convert, or got ousted from a temple board meeting because he couldn't pay dues. Who knows? The second-century Rabbi Bibi bar Abayc taught that "If ever a Ro'chom (desert buzzard) would chance to sit on the earth and sing 'Rak rak,' it is a sign that the Messiah has come" (Talmud Bav'li, Chulin 63a). I believe that one day the Ro'chom will alight upon the earth and go "Rak rak," restoring within us what has become fragmented. Since buzzards carry the lifebreath of struggle, she will sing her messianic song with the same breath we sighed at moments of challenge in our lives. Then all our grief will be transformed into dance (Psalms 30:12), our weeping into song (Psalms 126:5), and every sigh you ever breathed will be breathed back into you as renewed life and joy. "Rak rak!"

Rabbi Gershon Winkler Walking Stick Foundation Thousand Oaks, CA

* HUMANIST

Years ago, a popular evangelical bumper sticker read, "1 found it." The Jewish version would read, "I'm still looking for it." In contrast to Christians who assert that die Messiah has come, Jews would never be satisfied with any applicant for the job. Messianic claimants have all fallen short in the past and will in die future. Waiting around for messianic redemption is therefore a distraction from life's immediate challenges. Our focus should be on bringing redemption in our own lifetime and with our own two hands.

The idea of a Messiah supports a top-down model of power that invests tar too much influence and responsibility in one solitary super-mensch who will single-handedly save the day I prefer a different mythic construct that promotes die worth of evenry person: the legend of the 36 righteous people on whom the world is sustained on account of their goodness and unpretentious deeds. Because the 36 arc concealed even from themselves, it is incumbent on ns to treat everyone--family, neighbors, coworkers and ourselves--as one of them. Just think of the ripple effect that would bring to the world. It could even bring peace.

Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism New York, NY

* RENEWAL

The messianic belief--whether in Judaism, Christianity, Islam or even secular capitalist and communist worldviews--can lead to complacency if it means a belief that human history is inevitably progressing toward complete harmony. If God or history dictates the necessary linear progression to olam ha ba (the world to come), or the final conflict, then we need only wait patiendy for its arrival, though it may tarry.

But we do need to worry, and we cannot afford to wait patiently while the ice caps melt and economic disparity grows worse each year. So what do we do with this age-old vision of harmony and resolution for which we pray in Oseh Shalom?

Isaac Luria's vision of tikkun olam--repairing a broken world--has been reinterpreted in our time to acknowledge that there is nothing inevitable about its realization. It depends upon us. We must also acknowledge that there will always be something that needs fixing--even after we restore ecological balance and have eliminated all chauvinisms and corruption. Perhaps the goal will always lie ahead of us. So mashiach might not be a moment in time, but rather a moment in eternity. It may be the eternal vector by which we direct our efforts to perfect the world toward a malkhut Shaddai--a kingdom of G-d.

Rabbi David J. Cooper Kehilla Community Synagogue Piedmont. CA

* RECONSTRUCTIONIST

Only in Israel could a smash 1985 pop song about a recession be titled "Waiting for the Messiah. …

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