Can We Hasten Mashiach?

Rabbi Reuven Mann

The luxury of looking at things with hindsight often distorts one’s understanding. This undoubtedly applies to our study of the “murmurings in the Wilderness” that were expressed by disgruntled Jews, as recorded in this week’s Parsha, BeHaalotecha.

They complained about the Manna, a miraculous food prepared expressly for their needs by the Creator. While we have no right to judge or criticize previous generations–who were subjected to difficulties that we never experienced–we may nevertheless respectfully seek to learn from their failures.

In the Wilderness, the Jews were excused from engaging in any labor to provide for their general needs. They had plenty of animals that they could slaughter to obtain meat. Additionally, the manna descended from Heaven every morning (except Shabbat, in anticipation of which they gathered a double-portion on Friday) and was collected with little exertion. The “Clouds of Glory” which accompanied them, kept their bodies in a healthy condition and their clothing in a state of freshness. In many ways, it appeared to be an idyllic situation.

But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, there was an outbreak of grumbling about ostensibly trivial things. The very severe discontent with the manna–in complete disregard of all its positive qualities–is difficult to comprehend. Was that truly the problem? And how, indeed, could they look back longingly to the situation in Egypt and lament; “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for nothing; the gourds, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic?” (BaMidbar 11:5).

From the vantage point we occupy, these words seem outrageous. How could they have nostalgia for a country that afflicted them with backbreaking labor; and refused to supply them with the straw needed for bricks? Can it be that the Egyptians mercilessly oppressed Klall Yisrael (the People of Israel), drowned and crushed their babies, and yet provided them with delectable cuisine? The entire thing is almost impossible to comprehend.

Had the joy of liberation followed by the miraculous rescue by the Reed Sea already worn off and faded from consciousness? Are these gripers the same people who stood at Mt. Sinai and witnessed their Creator Proclaiming the Aseret HaDibrot (Decalogue); and who subsequently built the Mishkan (Tabernacle) so that Hashem’s presence could constantly be among them? How can we make sense of their seemingly incomprehensible backsliding, over the perceived inferiority of their desert meal plan?

A word from Rashi provides an insight into this dilemma. Commenting on the claim that they consumed fish in Egypt “for nothing” he says;

If you say that [the Complainers] meant that the Egyptians gave them fish for nothing (i.e., without payment), [then I ask] doesn't [the Torah] state: “[And, now, go and work, (and also)] straw will not be given to you…? (Shemot 5:18)” Now, if they did not [even] give them straw for nothing!–What then did they mean by Chinam (gratuitously)? [It means:] free from Mitzvot (Commandments).

According to this interpretation, the discontent of the Jews was not caused by the food they were provided in the Wilderness. Rather, they were disturbed by the need to perform the Commandments. It is even possible that they were not aware of the true cause of their unhappiness. They would probably have been utterly ashamed to admit that they were miserable because of their responsibility to observe the Torah and the Mitzvot. But they could not contain their extreme discontent and had to give vent to it. So instead of acknowledging their malcontent and addressing its root-cause, they transferred (displaced) their resentment to the “problem” of the food they were given to consume and were tragically ungrateful for Hashem’s Loving-Kindness.

It would thus appear that the Jews had a conflicted attitude toward the Torah, or what we would call an ambivalent approach to Judaism. They did not embrace the Torah life wholeheartedly, and without reservation. This attitude haunted them in the Wilderness and in their failure to complete the conquest of the entire Land of Canaan. It ultimately was responsible for the Sin of the Spies and the death of that generation in the Midbar (Desert).

Have the Jews ever elevated themselves to the point where their embrace of Judaism is absolute and joyous? While the Jews have been characterized as Maaminim Bnei Maaminim (believers, children of believers) their behavior sometimes appears similar to ones who “believe and don’t believe”. Our mission is to be the Nation of Hashem; who represent His Teachings and Commandments to the entire world.

We cannot fulfill our role as an Ohr LaGoyim (Light unto the Nations) as long as collectively, we are uncertain of the Torah’s truthfulness; and are unsure if we genuinely yearn to live according to its commandments, values and ideals. A people that is itself in doubt about its own identity, cannot lead the way to the redemption of mankind.

It is a fundamental doctrine of Judaism that Mashiach will come and perfect the world. But when will this happen? The Prophet says, “I Hashem, Will hasten it, in its time” (Yishayahu 60:22). Rashi explains, that this means if the Jews are worthy, Hashem will hasten the Redemption, but if the Jews are not deserving, it will come, but only “in its time.”

The difference is monumental. Come what may, there will be a Mashiach who will transform and perfect the world. Will the Jews play a role in hastening his arrival? That depends on us. If we fulfill our historical mission to represent the Torah with great wisdom and love, Hashem will assist us and speed up the progression of events that will culminate in the Messianic era. If we do not, we are guaranteed that Mashiach will arrive, but it will occur through a longer and more painful process.

May Hashem grant us the wisdom, insight and courage to embrace our Torah of truth with wholehearted devotion and great love.

Shabbat Shalom.