The first figure in Jewish history to lead the Jewish people from exile to redemption is Moshe. When God tasks him with taking the Jews out of Egypt, he initially tries to shirk his mission by claiming that the Jewish people would not believe him.[i] When Moshe finally appears before Bnei Yisrael and informs them that he has been sent by God to redeem them, however, their immediate reaction is completely contrary to how Moshe expected them to respond: “And the nation believed, and when they heard that God had remembered the Sons of Israel and seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped.”[ii] Upon hearing the news that God had come to save them from their suffering through Moshe as His emissary, the people not only believed Moshe but were also grateful to God, bowing down in prayer.[iii]
Nearly 2,000 years after the destruction of the second Temple, though the Jewish people are now once again sovereign in the Land of Israel, we still await the coming of Mashiah and the final redemption. The belief that God will once again redeem His people is central to Jewish thought. Rambam records the belief in the coming of the Messiah as one of Judaism’s thirteen principles of faith,[iv] and the words “Ani ma’amin b’emunah sheleimah be-viat ha-Mashiah” are recited daily by many Jews and have permeated Jewish song and culture.
Though believing in the arrival of the Messiah is central to Jewish thought, I wonder how we would react today upon hearing the news that Mashiah had come. Would we be as receptive to the news as were our forefathers in Egypt? Especially for American Jews, where we benefit from the freedom to practice our faith freely and many enjoy economic prosperity, how willing would we be as a community to drop everything and join the majority of world Jewry in Israel for a new messianic era?
And while we are expected to eagerly await the coming of Mashiah, little is actually understood about how life in the messianic era will look. After two millennia of having prayer serve as our primary mode of Avodat Hashem, will we suddenly reinstate the practice of sacrificing animals? Or will we perhaps offer only sacrifices consisting of vegetation, as R. Kook believed?[v] Especially pertinent to us is the question of what will become of Diaspora Jewry when Mashiah arrives. There is an opinion in the Midrash which states that during the exodus from Egypt, only one fifth of Jews left Egypt to follow God and Moshe to the Land of Israel.[vi] With the results of the Pew Survey showing an increasing percentage of American Jews choosing not to raise their children as Jewish and rising rates of assimilation,[vii] when the call of the shofar blasts announcing the arrival of Mashiah, how many American Jews will be affiliated enough with Judaism to care?
Questions concerning the messianic era abound. While it may be impossible for us to resolve many of these questions today, we hope this issue of Kol Hamevaser will spark a conversation about what Mashiah means to us and how it impacts our understanding of Judaism. With the holiday of Passover fast approaching, let us take a moment to consider what the words “L-shana ha-ba’ah b-Yerushalayim,” or “Next Year in Jerusalem,” recited at the conclusion of the seder, really mean to us.
Kimberly Hay is a senior at SCW majoring in Political Science, and is an associate editor for Kol Hamevaser.
[i] Shemot 4:1.
[ii] Shemot 4:31. Translation by Mechon Mamre, available at www.mechon-mamre.org.
[iii] See Lekakh Tov ad loc.
[iv] Rambam, Perush ha-Mishnayyot, Sanhedrin 10:1.
[v] Olat Rayah, Vol. 1, p. 292.
[vi] Mekhilta de-Rebbe Yishmael, Beshalah. Mesekhta de-vayehi, Petikhta.
[vii] “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” Pew Internet and American Life Project, available at: www.pewinternet.org.