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THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM

THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM

The hardships and struggles faced by the Rabbanut and the broader society are part of the "birth pangs" of the Moshiach, a time of intense difficulty before the dawn of redemption. They highlight the need for the Moshiach and underscore the dramatic transformation that will occur with his arrival.

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In describing the state of the world immediately before the advent of Moshiach, Torah sources present a portrait of a challenging time, a period of moral, societal, and even spiritual decline. However, they also set the stage for the arrival of the Moshiach, a time of ultimate redemption. The periods of greatest darkness are often the precursors to the dawn of a new light.


THE TRIBULATIONS OF SCHOLARS

Rabbi Elazar said, "If you see the troubles of Torah scholars increase like a river, expect him [the Messiah]." (Ketubot 112b)


Here the Talmud alerts us to an era where the troubles of Torah scholars will increase. This prediction could be interpreted in various ways. It could refer to financial hardships, a decrease in societal respect, or spiritual struggles within the scholars themselves. The hardships may also come from the growing disconnect between the scholars and the society they serve.


DEGENERATION OF WISDOM AND RISE OF INSOLENCE

"In the years close to Moshiach's coming, insolence will increase, honor dwindle,... the wisdom of scholars will degenerate." (Pesachim 49b)


"In the footsteps of the Messiah... the meeting place [of scholars] will be used for immorality;... the wisdom of scholars will degenerate, those who fear sin will be despised." (Sotah 49b)


These two Talmudic passages further discuss societal and moral decay, warning of an era where the wisdom of scholars degenerates and insolence increases. This could be interpreted as a decline in the quality and depth of Torah study and teaching, perhaps as a result of societal pressures or a shift in values. This is further exacerbated by a rise in audacity, where traditional values of respect for elders and scholars are replaced with impudence and disrespect.


TURNING TO HERESY AND LOSS OF REPROOF

"In the footsteps of the Messiah, audacity will increase and honor dwindle ... the government will turn to heresy and there will be none to offer them reproof." (Yalkut Shimoni on Isaiah, remez 499)


The moral decline described here is not limited to the general society but affects the government as well. Here the Yalkut Shimoni predicts that the government will turn to heresy, suggesting a broad rejection of religious principles even by societal leaders. Worse yet, it warns that there will be no one to rebuke them, implying a lack of moral courage or the absence of individuals with the authority and will to correct these wrongs.


A TIME OF FOLLOWERS, NOT LEADERS

"In the generation when the son of David [i.e., Moshiach] will come... it will be a generation whose face is like the face of a dog,... and the truth will be absent." (Sanhedrin 97a)


"In the era of Moshiach's arrival,... all leaders will turn face as a dog, and upon them it is written, 'And all the nations will see that the Name of God is called upon you, and they will fear you'." (Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 30, page 73b)


The Talmud in Sanhedrin and the Tikkunei Zohar offer a striking metaphor for the leaders of this era, comparing them to dogs. Dogs appear to lead but are in fact following their masters, constantly looking back for direction. This could suggest a time of leaders who are hesitant or unable to provide clear, independent direction, possibly due to societal pressures or the complexity of the challenges faced. The absence of truth further compounds these problems.


SCOFFERS AMONG SCHOLARS

"And these scoffers, they are the wicked amongst the scholars who scorn with their mouths and boast that there is no redemption..." (Sefer Zerubavel)


One of the most troubling predictions comes from Sefer Zerubavel, a medieval apocalyptic text, which anticipates that there will be scholars who scoff at the idea of the coming of the Moshiach. This suggests a crisis of faith and a distortion of the teachings among some within the scholarly community itself. It paints a picture of scholars who not only fail to lead appropriately but also ridicule key Jewish beliefs.


THE DAWN AFTER DARKNESS

All these sources paint a sobering picture of the era preceding the Moshiach. However, it's crucial to remember that this is not the end of the story. Judaism teaches us that the coming of the Moshiach will usher in a time of peace, prosperity, and universal knowledge of God.


The hardships and struggles faced by the Rabbanut and the broader society are part of the "birth pangs" of the Moshiach, a time of intense difficulty before the dawn of redemption. They highlight the need for the Moshiach and underscore the dramatic transformation that will occur with his arrival.


We should remember that these prophecies are not necessarily fixed, and our actions can impact the nature and severity of these predicted events. Each of us has a role to play in the final redemption, through our pursuit of Torah and mitzvot, acts of kindness, and efforts to create a society imbued with justice and holiness.


We pray for the Moshiach's speedy arrival, a time when, as the Prophet Yeshayahu says, "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9)

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