The War of Gog and Magog, and the Messiah

This apparent prohibition of "calculating the End" seems to be contradicted by another Rabbinical saying. After a person has finished their Earthly life, they are asked three questions at Judgement: 1. Did you set aside daily Torah study time? 2. Did you do business faithfully and honestly? 3. Did you look forward to (anticipate) the Redemption?

The third question implies that we SHOULD be looking forward to the Redemption. So how is that different from calculating when it will be? I would think that making such calculations is an even greater fulfillment of anticipating the redemption!

I would like to suggest two answers. Firstly, to look forward to something and to predict it are not the same. Making predictions that don't pan out can be, at best, embarrassing, and at worst, catastrophic. The Messianic fervor of the mid-1600s peaked with the advent of Shabatei Zvi, who claimed to be it. When he failed, and was forced to convert to Islam, there was much trauma and many tragic repercussions within the fabric of Jewish life. A teacher of mine once quoted a teacher of his who said, "Those who tell, don't know, and those who know, don't tell."

The second answer is more personal. The most dramatic, graphic and, frankly, terrifying account of the pre-Messianic world is the battle of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel. The destruction described, the earthquake that will bring down every wall, the fires and plagues don't give on that warm and fuzzy feeling, to say the least.

And yet, there seems to be a silver lining here. That lining is implicit in what is blatantly absent in this whole account: the IDF. The US Army. NATO. Or whichever military serves the civilized world at that time, whenever it will be. (Yes, this could be hundreds of years away. Those who tell, don't know, etc...)

In other words, God is fighting this fight for us through the forces of nature (earthquakes, plagues). We are passive, unable to really influence the course of this history. I find that tremendously reassuring. After all, we have been waiting to see God do the righting in the world. Then we know it will last. Then the world will be changed forever. When man does it, it's temporary at best.

The phrase used for the third question of Judgement is "Tzipita", or, did you look forward to the Redemption. There are two words used for looking to the future in our liturgy. One is Mabit, which means to look. The other is tzofe, our word, which implies more. It implies seeing the future evolving from the present. A high overlook is called a tatzpit, a place where one is tzofe, is looking out from here to there.

In our daily services is a prayer called Kaddish. The theme of this prayer is the fixing of the world. It as inspired by a phrase from the story of Gog and Magog, "I will be exalted and sanctified." Thus, it begins "May His name be exalted and sanctified." Our sages add that when one responds to the Kaddish with the communal reply "May his Name be blessed, etc.." with all one's intention, they merit great reward. Why so?

Because Redemption comes not from military force, nor from excessive passivity. It comes when we the people make the world ready for it, each fixing our own little corner. By reciting that verse with all our heart, we commit ourselves to that mission. We bring the Redemption a little bit closer by our daily good deeds, kindnesses, morality and faith. Whatever the Messianic era will be, we try to live it in our peaceful and kind relationships and our steadfast faith.

Thus, in order to answer the third question in the affirmative, we will have need to ascend to a height that enables us to see the world after Redemption has transformed it. What does climbing this height entail? What we just described, living a life of spirituality and dedication to fixing our corners of the world.

So calculating the End can lead to both pitfalls. If, by calculating, we mean someone trying to manipulate the Redemption through military might, as a strategic plan, Gog and Magog shows us that it is not so. It is God's doing, and perhaps the rotting bones the sages warn of are the result of the Gogian upheavals. On the other side, if the calculator is simply trying to see when it's going to happen but is not prepared to do anything to help it along, their bones will rot from waiting. We must anticipate the Redemption in our behavior and our commitment.

So let's all dedicate ourselves to improving the world on God's terms. Kindness, faith, morality. That's the way to go.

The Last Redemption

Why, people ask, would anyone in their right mind want to go to Syria and join ISIS, or any other such group? Who would want to leave the "good life" in the West and run to a war zone, thrilling in the sight of dead soldiers, cutting off contact with the families who nurtured them? What's the draw?

There are many aspects to the ideology of ISIS, but I will limit myself to the part that specifically acts as a magnet to lure in susceptible young people, often from good homes, from the US, England and other Western democracies. What could attract them to a group that beheads fine, innocent, good people? Wouldn't that push them away?

No, it actually attracts them, because the people doing this broadcast a deep, deep human weakness. It is, basically, the need to feel Superiority. These groups have such a virulent triumphalism about them that it is infectious to those who crave that same feeling. They quickly subdue normal human emotions of love for family, respect for human life and revulsion at cruelty, in order to feel a part of "Allah's Chosen". There is an "Either you are with us or against us, and we will prevail because Allah is on ouw side" mentality. Basically, people love to look down at the rest of society, and no one is as good at looking down on others as are these Jihadis.

In the Torah, there are two sections of Rebuke, where God lays out the horrifying consequences of abandoning the Torah. The first one, at the end of Leviticus, ends with some uplifting verses. "I will remember the covenant of Jacob, and of Isaac and of Abraham.." The Rebuke in the middle of Deuteronomy, however, simply ends on a sour note: "You shall be returned to Egypt in ships, etc..". That's it, it just ends. No hopeful verses. No remembering the Covenant. Why thus? And why do I think this is actually the happier ending?

The commentary Kli Yakar, in the section of Nitzavim, notes that the verses there outlining the ultimate redemption of the people will come about after they have "put it to their hearts" to consider all that has befallen them. Then, they will be motivated to love God. Indeed, the love of God permeates that section, to the exclusion of the other relationship to God we find in the Torah, that of Awe. Why is just love stressed, and not Awe of God?

Further, notes Kli Yakar, the Torah then states that God will put these curses (of the Rebuke from the previous section) on all His people's enemies. He asks, why is this necessary? Isn't it sufficient that the Jewish people have achieved peace and respite from their troubles? His answer is a powerful one. It is that if Israel remains threatened by external enemies, their service of God may be from Fear and Awe more than from Love. And the Love relationship is far more important.

My teacher, Rav Ahron Soloveichik Zatz"al, explained why King Solomon's book of morality and Fear-Awe of the Lord, the Book of Ecclesiastes, is introduced by the author's name and his father's name, "Kohelet ben (son of) David", as opposed to his book of Love of God, the Song of Songs, which is simply attributed to "Shlomo (Solomon)". Basically, said Rav Ahron, Fear-Awe of the Lord one learns from one's ancestors and teachers. Love of God must be developed from within.

Now we can answer our questions. The first Rebuke, commonly assumed to refer to the first exile in the Babylonian era, concludes with the Covenant of the Patriarchs being remembered by God. This is to say that the people were not sufficiently meritorious on their own to be redeemed, They needed a little help, and it came in the form of that Covenant. What were they lacking? Love of God. They did repent in Babylonia and Persia, but mostly on the level of Fear-Awe. Therefore, as Fear-Awe is learned from ancestors and teachers, the Covenant of the Patriarchs was activated.

At the end of the second exile (the one we are still in), something more glorious will take place. The people will "Put it to their hearts," will look at the world and the cruelties thay have just endured. They will contemplate the consequences of such societies as ISIS and their equivalents throughout the ages. They will realize that this is not a world any decent person should want to live in. They will realize that the society built by the Torah is the ultimate fulfillment of humanity and humaneness.

In other words, they will repent from love. It is, actually, the unending cruelty of a Godless world, reflected by the dire prediction of the Rebuke that this evil will never end until this realization is had, that motivates the people to truly and genuinely embrace God's Torah as the way of life. That's a good thing.

We hope that sanity will prevail, and know that the world is looking to the People of Israel, the people of the Torah, to shine the light of life and guide the lost souls home to God.