ACUTE ANGLES The Doomsday Clock – Not On Our Watch!
Rabbi. On 24th January of this year, it was widely reported that the Doomsday Clock had been reset to only ninety seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to apocalypse. Shouldn’t we be extremely worried? Sincerely, Rina.
For those who may not be familiar with the concept, the Doomsday Clock was initiated in 1947 by a group called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It symbolises their ongoing assessment of the likelihood of a global catastrophe wiping out humanity due to the growing existential threat of nuclear weapons. Three weeks ago, the clock was moved forward to an unprecedented ninety seconds to midnight – midnight symbolising apocalypse. This was ostensibly due to a toxic cocktail of war in Ukraine, the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, rogue artificial intelligence and the increased perceived threat of human-induced climate change. It aims to shock humanity into pulling back from the brink, a worthy enough objective. However it has been variously described as alarmist, gimmicky and redolent of the old “end-of-the-world-is-nigh” apocalyptic, doom-laden prognostications peddled at various times by Norse pagans, Zoroastrians, Christians and others.
While Judaism has its apocalyptic literature, notably the book of Daniel, Judaism’s emphasis in on the positive face of eschatology – the Messianic redemption of Am Yisrael and, consequently, humanity, following upon the heels of the destruction of wickedness. Doomsday is a word foreign to Judaism which believes in a benign G-D who has, ab initio, scripted a triumphant, not a tragic, finale for our cosmos.
True enough, Judaism does not believe that our universe is slated to last forever. (See for example T.B. Sanhedrin 97a.). “After all has ceased to be, He, the Awesome One, alone will reign!” (Adon Olam). G-D created and destroyed prior worlds (Bereshit Raba 3:9) and may create future, more exalted ones to replace ours But we are confident that our universe will not be terminated imminently.
Because Judaism, too, has a clock!
Our cosmic-time clock from the beginning to the end of time does not utilise the metaphor of a day ending at midnight, but rather a week climaxing at sunset on Friday – Erev Shabbat!
While we are warned (by Rambam and others) not to try to predict when precisely Mashiach will come, there is an explicit statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a, Rosh HaShana 31a) that the world as we know it is destined to last for 6,000 years, corresponding to the six ‘days’ of creation.
It is true that Rav Ketina, author of this statement goes on to say that this will be followed by 1,000 years of “destruction” (according to Abaye 2,000 years); however, we know that “a thousand years in Your sight is like a single day” (90:4) and Rashi and a great many other commentators declare, based upon other sources, that the Messianic Era, techiat ha-meitim (the Resurrection of the dead) and the great Yom haDin (Day of Divine Judgement when the upright will be vindicated and the wicked condemned) will precede any cosmic destruction that may take place.
Thus the six millennia of our world will culminate in a glorious ‘millennium’ of Shabbat serenity.
The clearest indication of a parallel between the seven days of the week and the seven millennia of cosmic time is to be found in that most familiar of our sacred tomes, namely the Siddur!
Many (including myself) would rank Kabbalat Shabbat as the most uplifting service of the week. We welcome Shabbat by chanting six psalms (95-99 and 29) corresponding to the six days of the working week leading to Shabbat, Yet none of the psalms refer to the weekly Shabbat. Nor does the seventh psalm, except in its superscription “A psalm, a song for the Shabbat day”. Instead, all these psalms contain copious references to the Messianic era. And Lecha Dodi, the highlight of Kabbalat Shabbat, manifests a dual symbolism: the weekly Sabbath and the Era of Redemption when the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem.
Two ‘unions’ are celebrated in Lecha Dodi, most evident in the concluding cry Bo’i Kala Bo’i Kala (“Come O Bride! Come O Bride!”): the union of Am Yisrael with Shabbat and the mystical union of the transcendent G-D and His imminent Shechina (Indwelling Presence) when “G-D will be One and His Name, One” (Zecharia 14:9) – at the end of time.
We are just 217 years away from the year 6,000 since the creation of Man. Where are we holding, on the cosmic Friday of Creation? Somewhere in the early afternoon. The aroma of Shabbat is in the air. Well before 6,000 it will be cosmic p’lag ha-mincha, one-and-a-quarter proportional hours before sunset, the earliest time one can inaugurate Shabbat.
We can quite legitimately turn to G-D and say” “dear G-D, look how careful we are not to delay Shabbat until the last minute! We light candles eighteen minutes prior to sunset and many of us well before that time! By Friday afternoon, the fragrance of Shabbat is already ensconced within our homes! Please, G-D! You too inaugurate your cosmic Shabbat before its due time! Do not leave it to the last hour to gift Your children the ultimate delight of witnessing the era of Mashiach!
No, there is no doomsday clock on our watch! Our clock is full of hope and promise! We are not ninety seconds before the dead of midnight. We are on the cusp of our eternal Shabbat, the crown of our cosmic existence!