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Moshiach for Dummies
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg

We read this week of Jacobs return from Charan, where he had married, established a family and amassed great wealth. Upon his return to the Land of Canaan, he discovered that his brother Eisav, escorted by 400 armed men, was approaching him menacingly. 

In response to the threat from Eisav and his henchmen, Jacob prepared a three- pronged approach, which included prayer, battle and an elaborate gift. The gift proved effective in assuaging Eisavs anger, and for the moment there was a rapprochement between the brothers.

The Midrash records a dialogue between an ama d’ara—ignoramous—and the Talmudic Sage, Rabbi Hoshaya. The ignoramous said, I would like to relate to you one beautiful teaching. Would you repeat it in public in my name?

What is it?

The ignoarmous replied, All of the gifts that our father Jacob gave to Eisav, the nations of the world are destined to return to King Moshiach in the future. What is this based on? The kings of Tarshish and the Isles will pay tribute, the kings of Sheva and Seva will offer gifts (Psalms 72:10). It does not say will bring but rather will return.’”

Rabbi Hoshaya said to him, By your life, this is indeed a beautiful teaching that you said, and I will repeat it in your name.

Why was it necessary to characterize this individual disparagingly as an ignoramous, when he clearly has the ability to relate a beautiful commentary on the Torah? And why was it important to note that Rabbi Hashaya repeated it in his name?

It is axiomatic in Judaism that a Jew must not only believe in Moshiachs coming but he or she must also yearn for and eagerly anticipate it.

A more materialistic individual acquires a feeling for the Redemption when he or she reflects on all of the material blessings that will characterize the Messianic Age. In the words of the Rambam, All of the delights shall be as abundant as the dust of the earth.

This model for developing a desire for Redemption is, however, not the ideal. The deeper reason for desiring Redemption is that it will restore G-ds presence to the world. This meditation focuses on the Divine and spiritual rather than the material benefits of the Messianic Age.

We can now better understand the dialogue between the Ama d’ara—the materialist – and Rabbi Hoshaya.

The name Hoshaya is cognate to the word in Hebrew that means salvation. This particular Sage personified the ultimate reason for the desire for Redemption and salvation—for G-ds sake. Thus, the ignoramous, knowing Rabbi Hoshayas passionate desire for Redemption for G-ds sake, wanted to know if he would tolerate the first approach to developing a desire for Redemption; one that would appeal even to the most materialistic individual. He wanted to know if it was acceptable to desire Moshiach for the sake of regaining the wealth that Jacob gave to Esau. 

Rabbi Hoshayas response was a clear yes. Although he maintained a far more sophisticated approach to Moshiach, Rabbi Hoshaya knew that it was important for everyone to fervently want Moshiach, irrespective of their motives.

This view echoes the Rebbes interpretation of the Rambams description of the delicacies of the Messianic Age: as abundant as the dust of the earth. For the materialists, it is important that they know there will be no shortage of their most cherished delicacies. For the Rabbi Hoshayas of the world, it is important to underscore that these delicacies will be of no real value; they will be regarded as no more than the dust of the earth. The ultimate delicacy of the Messianic Age will be to immerse oneself in the sea of G-dly knowledge; as Isaiah (11:9) foretold: And the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the sea is covered with water.


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