The 'Today' Attitude

Written by Yanki Tauber Posted in When Will Moshiach Come? Are We Ready?

The Talmud relates:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Moshiach: "When are you coming?"

Replied Moshiach, "Today".

Later, Rabbi Yehoshua met Elijah the Prophet and complained: "He told me that he is coming today, yet he didn't come." Answered Elijah, "This is what he meant: 'Today, if His voice you will harken.'"

What is the meaning of this seemingly evasive and misleading statement? Does Moshiach engage in diplomatic wordplay?

But Moshiach is conveying an attitude: The Jew knows that the world is inherently good, that the true, intrinsic state of G-d's creation is the perfect world of Moshiach. He knows that the currently deficient 'reality' is superimposed and unnatural. The fact that things have been this way for thousands of years makes it no more genuine or real.

So despite centuries of 'experience' to the contrary, The Jew fully and realistically expects Moshiach instantaneously. His response to the question "When is Moshiach coming?" is an unhesitent "Today!" Only if, G-d forbid, a moment passes and somehow Moshiach has not arrived, is he compelled to explain "... if His voice you will harken." Namely, that G-d desires that the world undergo a process of refinement and elevation before its true, quintessential reality may come to light.

Someone once asked the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn: "We are told to stand ready to receive Moshiach, confident that he is indeed coming immediately. Yet at the same time, we are charged with the mission to improve the world. Which state of mind is one to adopt, that of the anticipant believer or that of the pragmatic doer?"

Indeed, the Jew must straddle both worlds. He must adopt two diverse mind-sets side by side. On the one hand, he must bring holiness to a mundane world by working to perfect an imperfect "reality". In doing this, he deals with conditions as they are. So he formulates budgets, contracts for construction, and plans long-term projects.

At the same time, he anticipates, nay expects, Moshiach's immediate coming. An instantaneously perfect existence is not only feasible but the most natural thing in the world.

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Comments (2)

  • whatever


    07 April 2014 at 17:06 |
    You seem to have concluded that "Moshiach" said he came "today", yet "that he did not come". Is this not odd, because Moschiach said he'd come "today", to then conclude that "he didn't come" ?

    Seems to me that "moshiach" was coming that day, since "moshiach" said so (within the logic of Judaism, of course). Coming, in the process of coming: busy, working. This "coming" does not imply ultimate result, or the question should have been: "Moshiach, when will you have succeeded ?". Seems obvious, doesn't it ?

    So, the answer seems to imply that the "coming" is an ongoing process, and that it isn't the answer of "moshiach" that is evasive/misleading, just an honest answer to an honest question, rather the interpretation that "he didn't come" is accusing of "moshiach" to be lying.

    How can "moshiach" say that he comes today, and then not come ? He did come that day, as perhaps everyday or at least that day, because what else would "moshiach" be doing on earth, but making it better, hence "coming." (Depending on whether "coming" is a fitting translation of the hebrew, I guess).

    The explanation of "Ellijah" might somewhat conform to this (?). The conclusion could have been: "Moshiach said he was coming, so he was coming, but I didn't notice any difference yet". Seems to make more sense to me, and does not accuse moshiach of lying.

    Maybe it is a lot of work, maybe it is impossible to make a better world with a sinful people, maybe it is wrong to make a good world for a bad people, who knows. But coming he did, or else wouldn't have said so, or does Judaism support a lying "moshiach" ?! Strange.

    Note, by the way, that "moshiach" is to be "an ordinary person", and ordinary persons have a lot of lives within the Judaic view. What would "the ordinary person also being moshiach" be doing ?

    Coming, of course, since before achieving the end result, he'd be living and not yet achieving the end result. If not working for a better world, then how would this ordinary person be good, or what would it be doing on Earth ?

    The L. Rebbe has said that the redemption started with Egypt and will end with Moshiach. What will Moshiach do in between? Coming, or would moshiach be twiddling its thumbs. Maybe, I don't know, but apparently not every day, since he said he was "coming." So, the conclusion shouldn't have been "why didn't he come", but "why am I not helping Moshiach with its coming ? (and instead get upset about someone else (moshiach) not doing my work quickly enough for my taste)".

    Why not ask: "how can I then help you with 'coming', with the gap between 'coming and the major results'? Isn't that a whole lot nicer to ask ... ? "Maybe I can help moshiach, because he was coming but didn't achieved the results that I look for yet."
  • Rabbi Mendy Elishevitz

    Rabbi Mendy Elishevitz

    07 April 2014 at 17:07 |
    Like many other articles on the site, this essay is an adaptation from lengthy texts in Jewish literature. Looking at the sources can usually clarify the issue.

    This story is from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a). The original words in Aramaic are ????? ??? ?? - When will the master come? Moshiach replied, "today."

    The next day Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi remarked to Elijah????? ?? ???? ??, ???? ??, ???? ?????, ??? ??? - he lied to me, he said I will come today, and he didn't come. Elijah replied, "this is what he meant, ???? ?? ???? ????? - Today, if you listen to His voice.

    These last words are a quote from Psalms 95. Elijah's response was that Moshiach was referring to the opening of this verse, and he thought that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi would understand.

    So there was no lie here, only a misunderstanding on Rabbi Yehoshua's part. I'm sure you can think of examples in your own life when there are similar misunderstandings.

    This article (based on the writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe) addresses a different question. Not "Why did Moshiach lie?", But "Why didn't Moshiach elaborate to begin with and quote the entire verse - Today, if you listen to His voice?"

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