How to Get to the Times of Mashiach

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Bringing Mashiach and Universal Recognition of Hashem into the Picture

Ran’s final point in this Drasha changes everything. It is a startling worldview that redefines the purpose of Jewish law and gives us insight to the intellectual challenges his community was facing at the time, which remain remarkably relevant today.

Prior essays in this series

Having said that awe of Hashem is the foundation of all the mitzvot and one of the reasons for which Hashem created the world, Ran brings Mashiach into the picture. One of Mashiach’s tasks is bringing the whole world to recognize Hashem (after all, if that’s the goal of Creation, we’d expect Mashiach to be part of it).  This was the contention of R. Eliezer in Avodah Zarah 24a, which R. Yosef supported from Tsefaniah 3:9, saying that Hashem will eventually call out to the nations in a clear voice to worship Hashem, as the Jews do.  While Abbaye suggested that might imply only an abandonment of idolatry, R. Yosef noted that the verse speaks of them worshipping right alongside the Jews.

Ran relates that to Midrash Eichah Rabbah 2:13. The verse says, “What can I match with you to console you,” and the Midrash reads that as “when I match [the non-Jews] to you, I will console you.” For Ran, that expresses the simple truth that the reason for tension and conflict between Jews and non-Jews is the Torah’s differentiating us from them. Ran gives the examples of intermarriage and the prohibition against eating certain foods. In the time of Mashiach, when non-Jews will share our approach to the world (Ran may expect non-Jews to convert to Judaism), that tension will disappear.

Although Ran does not make much of it here, Ran has just revealed to us that the Jews of his time chafed at the prohibitions of intermarriage and kosher, seeing those rules as generating tension with their non-Jewish neighbors.

Mashiach Will Do It

Ran demonstrates that bringing non-Jews to recognize Hashem is part of Mashiach’s job from Ya’akov’s blessing to Yehudah, Bereshit 49:10 “לא יסור שבט מיהודה…ולו יקהת עמים, The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah… And the homage of peoples be his.”  The challenge of this verse is that it seems not to have come true. Ran notes that Ramban claimed that anyone from outside Yehudah who ruled over the Jewish people had violated this edict of Ya’akov’s (including the Maccabees, or Hashmonaim).

Ran offers several possible readings of the verse. For example, he suggests that the promise is only applicable when the Jews are independent, whereas the Hashmonaim were overseen by the Romans.  Alternatively, the promise was that Yehudah would always have some rule, such as the job of Resh Galuta, the head of the Exile.

But Ran closes with the view that this promise was only meant for the times of Mashiach, that Ya’akov meant that the reign of Yehudah would return, however long the interruption.  When it does, Mashiach will rule over Jews and non-Jews, all of whom will admit that Hashem runs the world. As Zechariah 14:9 says, “on that day, Hashem will be One, and His Name will be One.”

Where Did Ran Leave Us?

This ending pushes us in a new direction.  Having again noted that Rabbinic law is central to developing fear of Heaven, which is itself central to the commandments, Ran’s introduction of universal awe of Hashem in the times of Mashiach expands the conversation considerably. He implies that not only is Rabbinic law important for the Jew’s relationship to halachah and for avoiding denigrating Hashem’s word, Rabbinic law (produced by the human intellect’s best efforts to understand Hashem’s will) is crucial to non-Jews’ eventual concession of the truth of the Torah.

A key function of Mashiach is bringing non-Jews into the fold, as it were. That itself will reduce or eliminate hatred of the Jews, since our differences from them are what fuel that hatred.  From this Drasha, it seems that Rabbinic law contributes importantly to hastening both those goals, Mashiach and world peace. This is an especially striking message to a Jewish community living among Christians, who accepted the authority of the Bible but not of Chazal.

Why Repeat?

We started the discussion by noting how much of this Drasha is repetitive. If it were all repeated, we might have to concede it slipped into the book unnoticed. Now that some of it has changed, it seems to me more likely that Ran was taking his listeners (and is taking us, his readers) on an intellectual journey, proceeding step by step, building new steps on top of old ones.

In the alternate version of the fifth Drasha, he taught us the value, in Hashem’s eyes, of human beings using their intellects, in general and specifically in arriving at halachic understandings. Here, he has focused on Chazal and how they used their intellects to produce interpretations of the Torah and to make rules, both protective and stimulative of greater connection to Hashem.

That explains Ran’s having started with all three statements of R. Elazar b. Azaryah, since all three touch on the proper attitude towards Chazal.  And it explains the end, since Ran’s listeners, living in a Christian society, would certainly know of hatred for Jews, would certainly know of the burdens halachic separations (many enacted by Chazal) create, and would certainly know of Mashiach talk.  Ran here offers an alternative, an awareness that Chazal are our guides on our path to Hashem, a path that we are promised will eventually include all those around us as well.

Which suggests—and we will track this going forward—that part of what Ran was addressing was his audience’s discomfort with some or much of Rabbinic law. Along with other of his goals that we have seen, such as recognizing the balance between natural and supernatural, physical and metaphysical, we can add respect for Chazal’s contribution to our spiritual lives to his list.

About Gidon Rothstein

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