Sunday, December 23, 2012

End of Days

By Eliyahu:
ָהיֶכTheָרְדּTorah'stakeon life - and all it throws our way.

December 20th, 2012 has come and gone. Those who wasted valuable time and money buying lifetime supplies in fear of the baseless prediction of the world's end are now exempt from grocery shopping forever more as life carries on. While the Mayan myth has been debunked (until they come up with another date for disaster), we must take this opportunity to explore the Jewish view on the apocalypse. Do we believe in such an event? And if we do, what's in store if and when it happens?

Once again, we will begin with a passage from the Ramhal's work Derech Hashem, who succinctly briefs us on the topic1. The basic idea, on a shallow level of understanding, begins with Adam's sin - eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge2. Before the transgression, our world was in a perfect state; Gan Eden on earth. As Adam took a bite out of the fruit, the blissful condition was reversed into the world as we know it today. Since then, our underlining goal was to, one way or another, patch up his sin and bring the world (as well as man) back to their state of perfection.
The Ramhal notes one issue lying within this demanding process: neither man nor the world can reach full perfection in their current state. Everything has been tainted with sin and impurity to a point which is beyond repair. Therefore, it has been decreed from above that man should die and be renewed at the time of Tehiyat Ha'Metim (Revival of the Dead), which takes place around the time of Mashiah.
More pertinent to our subject, the world must also be destroyed and later renewed to reach its full potential. It is only in this manner that Adam's transgression can be fixed entirely. This is the reason behind a Gemara which states,
For 6000 years, the world will exist; for 1000 years, it will be desolate. At the end of this 1000 years, G-d will again renew His world"3
There are many commentaries on this piece. It is noteworthy to mention the dispute between the Rambam and Ra'avad in the Yad Hazaka4. Rambam says the renewal will be this world, reconstructed; Ra'avad understands that it will be a completely new world. Whichever way it turns out, there is indeed a concept of apocalypse in our religion.
Now, the Sages speak in different places throughout the Talmud of what we can expect in the stages leading up to this point. A crucial event that must take place before the above-quoted Gemara comes to fruition is the coming of Mashiah - a topic in its own right which deserves much discussion at another time. The buildup to his arrival is labelled as "Hevlei Mashiah" - the birth-pangs of Mashiah5, a time which will cause much anguish to the world. It will, according to most opinions, involve the war of Gog U'Magog - a worldwide battle with unhappy results. Chazal say the war will last for twelve months from the beginning of the attack until the final outcome6.
Fortunately, there is a way to ensure one's safety. The Gemara advises to toil in Torah and be involved in acts of Hessed in order to be saved from the birth-pangs of Mashiah.7 Elsewhere, the Hahamim say that the Jews will only be spared if they do Teshuva8. If we wisely utilize these options, there is not much to fear.
To turn what we're saying into a biting reality, we will bring one final source - a Mishna in Masechet Sotah9 - which tells us some signs that will act as indications that Mashiah (and all it comes packaged with) is right around the corner.
Brazenness ("Hutzpa") will become common.
Wine will be expensive; everyone will be drinking which will result in increased demand.
The government will turn to heresy against G-d and the Torah.
No one will be able to give rebuke, because he is guilty of the very same sin. Truth will be sparse/unclear.
Young will not hesitate to embarrass the elderly.
We are much closer than we think. Although we can't put a date on it10, it is understood that it must take place before the year 6000 - only 227 years from where we stand now. If there is one thing we can take out of the Mayan's failed prediction, it is the sacrifice shown in its believers to prepare for it. Pushing all dignity to the side, these unfortunate people stocked up on food and supplies based on their immovable trust in the world's collapse.
Taking a page out of their books, we must also stock up. Stock up on Teshuva, prayer, Torah, Mitzvot, Hessed and fear of Heaven. It's only with these apparatus that we will escape not only alive, but in a state of perfection exceeding that of Adam and Hava. All who make the proper arrangements have a guarantee that they will be spared from the Hevlei Mashiah.
Treat it like it's the end of the world.

1 Derech Hashem 1:3:8,9
2 See Bereshit ch. 2 

3 Sanhedrin 97a
4 Hilchot Teshuva 8:8
5 See Berachot 13a; Sanhedrin 97-98
6 Eduyot 2:10; see Tosafot Yom Tov
7 Berachot 13a
8 Sanhedrin 97b; The Gemara there asks - ultimately, we will be saved regardless of whether or not we do Teshuva! To which the Sages reply, there must be Teshuva. If we fail to do it on our own, desperate circumstances will leave us no other choice.
9 49b
10 Granted, the Gemara on Rosh Hashana 11a says it will take place in the month of Nissan or Tishrei.

!םולש תבש

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