I’ll be honest with you – my life is and always has been great. I have not suffered. Sure, I’ve had a few blips. But I have no gripping stories of trauma and tragedy. No stories of hope and endurance in the face of adversity. Yet, in my relatively quiet life of privilege and peace, there is a tale of hope to be told. It is the journey of living a life completely enveloped in hope, and letting go of that life to choose a different path . . .
A core part of my orthodox upbringing was the concept of the Messiah and Final Redemption, aka MOSHIACH. It permeated everything we did. My childhood was saturated with images of what life would be like in the messianic era. It would be Utopia: the world will reach a state of perfection. There will be peace everywhere. The lion will lie with the lamb. All the mysteries of the world will be revealed.
All Jews will gather in from the corners of the globe to return to Israel, where they belong. Israel will revert to its former glory days of King David. The temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and we would finally be able to worship God ‘properly’. Everyone will recognise the truth of Judaism, even non-Jews. God will take care of all our physical needs, so there will be infinite time all day to study Torah (our bible). All the dead people would be resurrected– we’d be reunited with our ancestors and all live in Israel under God’s stewardship.
Of course there were a few logistical issues to contend with, but nothing that couldn’t be solved with a few miracles.
Like, How will we know when Moshiach comes? He’ll come riding in on a white donkey, Elijah will descend from heaven and he will blow a special Shofar (ram’s horn) whose blast can be heard throughout the entire Earth – and that’s how we’d all know Moshiach had arrived, even down here in Australia.
And how would we all get to Israel? Our houses will grow wings and uproot themselves and fly there with us and all our stuff in them. Or giant white eagles will swoop in to pick us up from wherever we are, even from Australia.
And how would we all fit in Israel? – especially if all the resurrected people were going to be there too? Israel will magically extend its borders to include more land mass so all the Jews could fit in. God would take care of everything.
We even had someone picked out for the job of being the Messiah . . . But that’s another story.
These childhood fantasies were not only concoctions of my own imagination, but an accumulation of stories and teachings that infused my orthodox education. We were taught that belief in Moshiach was absolutely essential – and to deny Moshiach was tantamount to heresy. And it wasn’t enough to just believe in Moshiach. We had to hope for it, to yearn for it with all our heart and soul, to anticipate it every day.
It was our duty to bring the Messiah, and there was a very simple formula to follow to hasten its arrival: do good deeds and avoid sin at all costs. God had a giant ledger; He was keeping track of all our good deeds and bad deeds. Every Mitzvah was like laying down another brick of the third temple. And every sin was like removing a brick off the temple and delaying Moshiach. “You never know…” I was told, “this one Mitzvah could be the one to tip the scales and God will decide to send Moshiach!” So from a young age it was very clear – everything I do is being closely monitored and has a massive impact. And if I don’t play by the rules (their rules) I am jeopardising not only Jewish survival but the entire universe. The stakes were very high!
Moshiach was the answer to all our problems – when times were tough we’d remind ourselves of this future era where the harshness of the world would melt away. Even the Holocaust was explained as being a sign of the imminent arrival of Moshiach – the divinely ordained chaos that precedes the Redemption, just as predicted by our ancient prophets. Moshiach was the ultimate in hope – hope with a capital H, the hope that trumps all other hopes.
Fast forward a few year . . . I am 19 in seminary in Israel, and my teacher casually mentioned that Moshiach is not explicitly stated anywhere in the bible. That’s right – no actual proof text; it is merely an ‘interpretation’.
I was quite surprised to learn this given that so much of my life revolved around Moshiach and the associated narratives. Perhaps that was when the first seeds of my religious skepticism were planted, although it would be many years before that skepticism took root. Over time, I came to the conclusion that most Orthodox doctrines developed in this way – creative ‘interpretations’ of obscure biblical passages in an attempt to plumb God’s mind. ‘Interpretations’ that eventually took on a life of their own. To me, Moshiach was just another man-made idea to give people hope and purpose. And whilst I appreciate why those ideas were necessary in its time, I have chosen not to buy into them anymore.
In truth, for me Moshiach was a tremendous source of comfort . . . But it was all based on the assumption that the world is wallowing in a failed state of existence, where Jews are in ‘exile’ and can never reach our full potential until this Redemption comes. I have now come to realise how self-centered and contrived this is to me – it is a manufactured state of deficiency and a fabricated utopia to remedy it. How irrelevant this must seem to those with real trial and tribulations. And how unproductive this is in trying to address the real problems that affect world Jewry today.
For me Moshiach was a great incentive to be good . . . but it was all based on the assumption that goodness is only worthwhile for some future endeavour. I have now come to realise that being moral and good is worthwhile for goodness sake, not for god’s sake.
For me, Moshiach was a genuine form of hope . . . But genuine hope can still be a delusion. And a hope that is thrust upon you by previous generations is not necessarily genuine any more.
I know that hope is tremendously important. My life now is not devoid of hope. My concept of hope is wide and varied. I think John Lennon best sums it up when he calls on us to IMAGINE a better world, and he subtly suggests that whatever problems we have are man-made . . . and man-made problems require man-made solutions.