Friday, August 28, 2009

The Day Moshiach Came

Guest Post by Yossi Ginzberg

(This guest post is much longer than I usually allow here. But its message is important so I have made an exception. Read and enjoy – HM)

Later, no one understood how it had happened that the light started at the same time everywhere in the world, yet also in the late morning of that same day. Somehow, the whole globe was for a brief few moments at the same time, with the sun shining on a hot summer day, when the Moshiach came.

That August morning in 2017 was otherwise just another late-summer day, the temperature slowly rising, when everyone saw the same unimaginably bright light at the same time. It was accompanied by a loud low-pitched keening sound, so loud it took a while to realize it was the wail of an amplified Shofar. Later, people would debate if Moshiach came and brought the light or if the light preceded him. Either way, what people saw was a very old man with a long white beard, yet he looked fit and virile. He rode across the sky slowly, on what looked to me to be a magnificent steed but others claim it was a mule. Barely opening his mouth, he boomed in a voice so loud it shook the earth: Behold Moshiach comes!

I heard it in English, but others have told me they heard it in Ladino, in French, and Hebrew, in Yiddish, and in Russian. I don’t know any Greeks, but I would presume they heard it in Greek.

It was so far beyond anyone’s wildest imagination that no one considered even for a moment that it might be a trick.

For the first few hours, nothing happened other than everyone comparing stories and calling everyone they knew to double-check what they had seen. After that, slowly, news reports began to come in.

My neighbors elderly mother, confined to a wheelchair for years, got up and walked, albeit slowly.

A Down’s syndrome boy across the street suddenly spoke coherently to his mother, for the first time ever.

Hospitals started to notice a steep decline in emergency-room admissions. Ambulances sat out their shifts in garages. Doctors suddenly felt able to relax a bit, albeit while holding their breath. Likewise the police.

For several days, nothing else happened other than the gradual slow elimination of daily crises. People started to question whether the man seen was actually the Moshiach himself, or perhaps he was the precursor that the Midrash spoke of, Moshiach son of Yosef rather than the real Moshiach ben David.

The difference took on great importance a few days later. Someone had noticed that the Arab residents around the Temple-mount area, as well as most of the members of the Moslem waqf, the governing board of the Temple authority for the Moslems, were suddenly wealthy and were making haste to move with their families to places like Dubai and Switzerland.

It quickly became known that Moshiach, whichever Moshiach he was, had money. A lot of money. And he was spreading it around lavishly, quickly and quietly buying out any opposition and accumulating the rights to the Temple mount. Apparently with enough funds, one can get things done, no matter how impossible they seem. In this case, people who had urged their followers to die rather than allow infidels access to the holy site had taken suitcases of cash and fled the area.

It was about this time that the first mutterings were heard. Apparently, there were those who felt that the area had to be taken by force rather than in the traditional Middle-eastern way of bribery. Presumably these proponents were Zionist party members.

Soon the wackos of the Neturei Karta group started, via placards pasted around Jerusalem in the dead of night, to deny the reality of his being the awaited Moshiach, because the Midrash tells of the Third Temple descending wholly-built from heaven. Obviously, that had not happened, so following this Moshiach was obviously a false trail. The fact that the Moshiach had not requested anything yet from anyone appeared to have no bearing on this.

The silence from Moshiach was itself unnerving. What did he want from us? He made no demands, he made no requests, in fact he made no public statements whatsoever. For the first time people understood the biblical sequences where the Jews saw Godly manifestations, yet a day later sinned anyway. We knew that he was here somewhere, yet because we saw not anything for us to do, we started to doubt.

Of course, not everyone. Those whose children or parents were not whole, those whose life had been miraculously improved overnight, they believed with a complete faith. Others, many others, became skeptical quickly. Perhaps thousands of years of waiting prepares one only for that- more waiting.

A month had gone by without any word from Moshiach. The Temple mount was soon rumored too be entirely owned by him, hospitals were mostly empty, as were asylums and hospices. Pilgrimages to the famous rabbinic graves in Eastern Europe and Safed had dropped dramatically, as had donations to the miracle-working charities. It was also said that visits to the great Rebbes had dropped enough that some were in dire financial straits.

Bloggers, who had mostly been quietly adoring of the new situation through the whole period, suddenly seemed inspired to spring back to their traditional roles. Those who had been gadflies igniting controversy stated doing so again, those making serious inquiries about the Jewish future resumed doing so. The non-Jewish world in general mostly ignored the whole thing: The fundamentalists seeing it as the end-times, the more traditional sects waiting to see what would happen.

It was only very, very slowly that the jockeying for power became visible.

First, the followers of the largest Chassidic sect in Israel made the announcement that their Rebbe was the Moshiach, and that the other was merely preparing the way for him to reveal himself. They hinted vaguely about having direct connections to Moshiach.

It seemed to take only minutes after that announcement for followers of several other Rebbes (some of them dead), to make public that the actual Moshiach was their Rebbe. Closely on the heels of this the Syrian, Moroccan, and Safed communities announced that their Chachams and Kabbalists were the real Moshiach. Some proposed Aryeh Deri, and a few promoted the “candidacy” of Matisyahu, as he was considered by them to be the “Great Unifier”. Others took the same position but claimed that title for Rabbi Hartman. Non-Jewish candidates were advocated, too, and ran the gamut from Sun Myung Moon to Oprah and from Dr. Phil to Condoleeza Rice and Jimmy Carter. All implied that they had the endorsement of the Moshiach, but were very careful with their exact wording.

It was at this point that the organizations and their experts publicly stepped in to voice their weighty opinions.

First, the Reform and Deconstructionist organizations took to the airwaves to welcome the Moshiach and announce their fealty to him, while pointing out that he had not told anyone that the Orthodox were the only right way to serve God. This implied the legitimacy of those non-Halachic movements, they said. The Conservative, Humanist, and Renewal streams immediately made the same claim, only wording it slightly differently.

Unable to let this pass, the most vocal Orthodox organization presented the issue to their rabbinic governing panel, and several weeks later issued a public response.

Their Rabbis, they said, were the only legitimate rabbis because they were the only ones carrying on the traditional roles of rabbis, and anyway the various reformed movements were allowing women to serve. They had proof, too: Moshiach had obviously come because of the great strides in getting Jews everywhere to learn Daf Yomi, the daily Talmud portion, plus of course the great sanctification of His name made at their annual convention. “What then”, the spokesman said, “he came because of those who fress bacon?” Their carefully-worded press release denounced those who would try to utilize this opportunity to advocate for relaxed observance and insisted that only the strictest adherence to the Torah-true message of their organization was valid, being that it not only provided an overview of the religion, only it distilled the wisdom of Sinai in the crucible of the modern vernacular. This message received wide distribution only throughout the religious world of Brooklyn, being posted on lampposts and hand-delivered to every house.1

This of course called for rebuttal, so the Jewish Press published a side-by-side pair of articles debating who the most valid Moshiach was: They had a piece by the dean of yeshiva university, and another by a representative of right-wing Orthodoxy and regular writer for the paper, who was especially paroled for the occasion.

Israeli news commentators weighed in, proposing names for the “real” Moshiach, the candidates covering from on end of the political spectrum to the other, from Rabbi Adin Steinsalz to the first Maharat, and from the Ethiopian religious leaders to the interfaith dialogue promoters.

Once the floodgates were opened, every group started to promote their own religious leader: Belz, Bobov, Satmar, Nodverna, Sadigur, Stropkov, Tosch, Aleksander, and even the smallest groups seized the opportunity to get publicity for their leaders such as the Rebbes from Faltishan, Sponje, Muzhai, Sasregen, Ashdod, Soblov, Pittsburg, Caracas, and Horodenke.

The more the media reported on these various groups and positions, the less people took the whole situation with any gravity. Most fell back into their old habits, and soon the frauds and the scams started to resurface, the crime level which had dropped to almost zero started to rise again, and that aura of Messianic times which had led everyone for months to walk around smiling started to dissipate. All this despite the fact that for months now the death and crime rates were effectively at zero, hospitals were empty, and no one had even caught a cold.

The doings of the Moshiach were mysterious and only rarely visible: His purchase of the Temple mount area was complete, all residents of the area had been happily or at least quietly relocated, and the Silwan valley was now a gigantic farm, raising cattle presumably destined for eventual sacrifice. It was unclear who was actually operating it, nor was anyone ever seen working there, but it appeared scrupulously clean and well-tended.

Every silversmith and Jeweler in Jerusalem was suddenly working almost around the clock, locked into their workshops and not breathing a word about what exactly they were doing. Even their families were in the dark, although they did see a sudden and dramatic increase in household funds.

And yet, despite the miracle seen, the promise of happiness to come, and the pregnant promise of the future, the level of unease continued to rise.

More articles, more sectarian promoting of the “right” candidate for a position that no one was sure even existed, more disqualifications of others based on Midrashim of dubious origins or on the parsed words of long-dead sages and Rebbes, all lead to a rapidly-increasing unhappiness quotient.

It was probably inevitable that the factions would eventually clash.

It started with the Israeli Charedi parties denying the validity of the opinion of the American Council of Charedi rabbis. In turn, they denounced the Israeli faction as overly committed to a single Rabbi manipulating the stage, while himself being manipulated by another younger right-wing rabbi with a lengthy agenda, jockeying himself for eventual Gadol-Hador status.

Only days after that, placards denouncing the Israeli Charedi parties for cooperating with the government (exactly how was unclear) appeared all over Jerusalem. One was even audaciously affixed to the Western Wall itself, a site that had seen increased attendance over the recent past.

The next step was perhaps inevitable: Jerusalem politics has for decades followed steps as predictable and precise as the tango. Demonstrations were announced to protest Zionist and American-influenced attempts to control what was clearly a heavenly decision.

Whether it was the issue or just the excitement, attendance at the rally was huge. Police, bored by months of minimal activity, chafed at the edges, and eventually someone provided the spark although it was never cleared up which side it was from. In any case, horse-mounted police armed with nightsticks and huge intimidating water cannons rapidly deployed around the crowd and let loose with everything they had.

No one knows –or at least no one will admit- whether it was human error or Machiavellian evil that led to this total encirclement of the demonstrators. Either way, the tactic led to a disaster when crowds were unable to escape the police and the high-pressure hoses. Although neither the night sticks nor the water pressure were strong enough to be fatal, the hysterical crowds running in a vain attempt to escape trampled upon each other, tripping and slipping on fallen bodies and wet pavement. The screams of those hurt increased the terror of those still standing and led to an adrenaline-fueled frenzy, but unable to escape the fear fed upon itself and panic led to a paralysis of the group brain.

Bodies piled on each other, resulting in a toll that without a shot being fired dwarfed the Chinese Tiananmen massacre, were the sight that became visible only the next morning when the frenzy ended after the water ran out, the horses tired, and there were no more screams from the encircled crowd.

Jerusalem was in mourning that day, and within hours the entire world Jewish community was.

Live television broadcasts from the disaster scene unintentionally caught the greatest scoop in history that day, when some enterprising reporters looking for a good vantage point scaled the Calatrava bridge tower for a panoramic view of the city, and caught Moshiach himself standing at the scene, shaking his head sadly.

They followed him with their lenses as he walked slowly and sadly back towards the Old City of Jerusalem. Without it being clear exactly how it happened, he was at the Western Wall plaza within minutes.

There, he raised his hands towards heaven and seemed to pray for a few moments.

A bright light appeared to fill the sky, brighter than anything anyone had ever seen, even stronger than when he himself had appeared. From the light emerged a huge building, shining as if it were made of gold, slowly descending from the sky onto the Temple mount.

It was magnificent. Whether the music was coming from it or whether the angelic sounds were from elsewhere will never be known, but the sight and sound were riveting. Awe, majesty, beauty, words fail to convey the image seen around the world. As it slowly settled into place, on the site where over two thousand years ago the Holy temple was destroyed because of Jewish inability to get along, hearts worldwide were clenched with joy.

For a few moments.

The scene had barely been absorbed by the eyes- there was so much beauty to see- when it started to dissolve. The building itself seemed to dissipate as if it had been made of clouds or sugar-candy. Within moments, it went from a gigantic solid stone facade trimmed in gold to a ghostly apparition through which the distant mountains could be seen.

A few moments more and everything was gone, as if it had never been.

Moshiach turned around to face the cameras as if he knew he was being broadcast. He gave a sad look, raised his palms to the camera as if to say sorry, and vanished.

And that’s the story of the day Moshiach came.