Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Secret about the End of Days

As we begin the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av (the period on the Jewish calendar when Jerusalem was besieged and the Beit Hamikdash destroyed), it's particularly important to focus on how we act toward other Jews. This is because the reason given by our Sages for why these terrible events were allowed to happen was sinat chinam, intramural hatred. We should always keep in mind that the difference between the words גולה, exile, and גאולה, redemption, is an "א", which represents אחדות, unity. Just as one letter can change the entire meaning of a word, we have the power to change the entire course of history if we improve our treatment of one another.

Although divisiveness among the Jewish people is nothing new, there have been many telling incidents as of late. Most notably, secular-religious tensions in Israel have reached a boiling point. From last summer's contention over state stipends for married students to this summer's current contention between rabbinic rulings and secular court decisions - there are plenty of Jews who are passionate on both sides. While each of us is free to hold our own opinions on these issues, we must nevertheless treat our ideological opponents with dignity and respect. Society starts to fall apart when people go out of their way to rile up more divisiveness.

How does this all tie into the End of Days? It is generally - and correctly - understood that there will be many surprising and world-changing events preceding the Final Redemption. While it's important to keep on top of the news and observe God's hand in current events, it's also important to keep on top of our own problems. In other words, instead of simply observing what's happening around us, we should think about - and act upon - what we can do to improve our predicament. Yet, as human nature dictates time and again, it's always easier to blame everything that happens on outside forces.

Are the Obama administration's positions against Israel problematic? Absolutely. Is the world basically allowing radical regimes, such as North Korea and Iran, to advance their nuclear programs? Of course. But will God ever allow the Jewish people to be annihilated or the State of Israel to be wiped off the map? Absolutely not. So what should be our primary concern? Removing sinat chinam from amongst ourselves. It might sound petty at first glance, but God's concern for how we treat one another runs much deeper than most people realize.

We have gone 1,940 years since the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. And while it's totally understandable to point fingers at different local and world leaders, as well as various secular and religious figures, we are losing sight of how to correct this problem once and for all. How will we finally do so and merit the arrival of Mashiach Ben David, the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the God-given peace that will be enjoyed by everyone? By understanding a secret about the End of Days, in which there is both good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: We are our problem.

Now, the good news: We are our solution.

It's important to remember that the Talmud (Yoma 9b) goes out of its way to tell us that the Jews of the Second Temple era learned Torah - but destruction came anyway; they observed mitzvot - but destruction came anyway; they even engaged in acts of kindness - but destruction came anyway. So what was so bad? In the scheme of things, all of the above are worthless unless they are consistently accompanied by good treatment of fellow Jews (whether we ideologically agree with them or not, and whether we personally like them or not). Until we fix this, we cannot merit the Final Redemption. Perhaps the mystically-ordained date will come when God decides the redemption must take place, but we will not have earned it. With every day that passes, we are getting closer to that final date - at which time we can no longer merit the redemption under our own volition.

Let's make haste.

Let's earn it.

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