The violence, cruelty, corruption and injustice we see happening every day all over the world is enough to disappoint, disillusion and depress even the most idealistic of souls. Yet we know that when good people despair; more people suffer.
So it is helpful to pause sometimes, and focus on how much has already been accomplished over previous decades and generations. It is even more helpful, although much more speculative, to consider how bad things might have been if the limited efforts of the past had not been made at all.
“In every generation Jews should view themselves as if they themselves had escaped from Egypt, for if our ancestors hadn’t escaped we would still be enslaved in Egypt.” We repeat this statement each year at our Passover Seder because to truly understand the religious significance of an historical event, we need to perceive what might have been the alternative consequences if the event had never taken place.
The following Zionist Midrash is written from the perspective of the mystical tradition of heavenly journeys that reveal future events. Although the people involved really lived, and wrote the words attributed to them, the varied insights into alternative futures that are revealed are what helps us see things from a larger perspective and a grander view.
In 1935 (5695 in the Jewish calendar), two Polish Jews engaged in an exceptional mystical flight in order to learn the future fate of Europe and its Jews. The consequences of this endeavor were to affect the whole history of the 58th century (by the Jewish calendar, September 1939-September 2039 C.E.).
Hillel Zeitlin was the leader. Born in 1871 and educated as a Chabad Chassid, he was attracted to western culture and civilization in his youth. Zeitlin authored monographs on Spinoza and Nietzsche, but after some years he became disillusioned with secular culture, especially following the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom.
Zeitlin returned to religious tradition and from 1914 on he immersed himself in mysticism. Eventually he translated the Zohar from Aramaic to Hebrew. In the years after 1917 he wrote descriptions of his dreams and visions; in one, a ship with Jews aboard was sinking, in another, he described a deportation train with Jews aboard.
With the election of Hitler as the German Prime Minister in January of 1933, Zeitlin was filled with foreboding and plunged into despair.
Perhaps this explains his willingness to risk entering the grove of mystical experience.
With Zeitlin in this endeavor was Janus Korczak, born in 1879 into a wealthy family more Polish than Jewish. Korczak had a very pure heart and devoted his activities as a doctor to helping the poor, especially orphaned and homeless children. He even wrote several popular books for and about them. In 1911 Korczak became head of a new Jewish orphanage in Warsaw, a position he held until his death.
Korczak was increasingly troubled by rumors, officially denied, of forced mass starvation in the Soviet Union. In 1934 he visited the Land of Israel and shortly afterward began meeting with Zeitlin privately.
Zeitlin decided that his own mystical knowledge and experience, together with Korczak’s purity of heart and soul, would enable them to descend deep into themselves, until after penetrating their own egos they could reach beyond to the heavenly temple-palaces of God.
Their first attempt was successful. They entered the first of the seven heavenly temple-palaces. White light was everywhere. It came from all directions. Shapes and images were indistinct due to the lack of contrast. There was no color anywhere. They stumbled aimlessly for a long time, growing more apprehensive as time went by.
Suddenly the sound of a voice challenged them. Why have you come here? What do you want?”
They explained that they were worried sick about the fate of the Jews of Europe. Democracy was growing increasingly weak in Poland, Hungary, Austria and Rumania. It had already collapsed in Italy and Germany. The democracies of France and Britain no longer believed in themselves.
The only true believers today standing in opposition to the Fascists were the Communists; and they seemed to believe only in the power of the party. The Roman Catholic Church was in alliance with the reactionary anti-democratic forces; and the universities had become centers of nationalistic chauvinism and anti-semitism. Europe seemed headed for a disaster.
“What does the future hold for the Jewish people?”, they asked.
“Do you really want to know?,” the voice asked.
“Yes, we must. Can you tell us?”
“Indeed I can. I am Metatron, the Minister of the Divine Presence. I know what can be known. Look and behold!” Then appeared this vision. To the left in the East arose a very large and fierce red bear. It grew large; its eyes crazed. It began to trample the fields, tearing up the harvest and creating large piles of dead bodies. The bear carried away millions of people to die in the prison of ice.
Then to the right, arose a black wolf. It grew ever larger and its eyes flashed fire and burned with fury. It began to eat up all the neighboring lands. The bear and the wolf made an agreement to divide a horse between them, and after both had consumed the horse, the wolf turned to the West and ate up the land of grapes and its neighbors.
Suddenly while the wolf was gorged with grapes, the bear attacked and destroyed the wolf, swallowing the wolf and all that it had consumed. Then the bear ruled the whole land. It also expanded to the South and little bears captured the camels and rode on them.
The great bear also captured the Land of Milk and Honey.
The bear took all the honey bees from the Land of Milk and Honey, and the camel lands, and sent them to the ice prison where they perished. The rest of the honey bees were prohibited from making honey and they slowly starved to death.
The little bears also took over the lands further to the south; and also to the south of the nest of the great eagle. The eagle, who saw all that had happened from his perch high above, was now isolated and alone. It was strong enough to defend its nest but nothing more.
The only honey bees that still survived were in the eagle’s nest but they were slowly starving because they did not produce enough honey. The vision became darker and darker until it was no more.
Zeitlin and Korczak were silent. Then they asked what the vision meant, but Metatron refused to tell them. He said, “Ascend if you dare to the second heavenly temple-palace and inquire there.”
They placed their heads between their knees and repeated the Kabbalistic exercises that had brought them to this experience. They descended even deeper into the Merkavah, and they reached the second heavenly temple-palace. Here there were shades of light and shadows.
It was easier to distinguish images one from another. Yet the shadows changed shape and size from different perspectives and it wasn’t easy to know how to proceed.
They saw what seemed to be a Jewish face and they called out, “Shalom, who are you ?”
The face smiled and answered, “I am Michael, the defender of the People of Israel. Why do you seek me?”
“We want to know the fate of our people”, they replied, “and Metatron showed us a vision of the coming century, but we could not understand it. Can you interpret it for us?”
“I can, and I will, but you will not like what you hear,” said Michael. “The red bear is the Soviet Union. The crazed eyes are Stalin. The torn up harvest is the seizure of crops in the Ukraine by the government which led to the starvation of millions, and the deportation of additional millions to labor camps in Siberia – the ice prison.
“The black wolf is the Nazi regime, and the eyes of fury are Hitler. The divided horse is Poland and the Land of Grapes is France and its neighbors. The Soviets will surprise and conquer the Nazi Empire and all of Europe. In later years they will penetrate the Middle East and Africa.
“All the Jews in Palestine will be sent to Siberia. The remainder of the Jews in Europe and the Middle East will be forcibly assimilated in the next two generations. The little bears are local Communists regimes which will spread throughout Africa and Latin America. Only the U.S. will remain free. Even in the U.S. a siege mentality will develop, and pressures to conform will diminish Jewish identification.
The world will slide into a shabby poverty as an oppressive bureaucracy prevents development and pollutes nature without criticism. The darkness is due both to decay and despair. What will happen in the 59th century I do not know.”
Zeitlin and Korczak were shocked and numbed by this revelation. For a long time they could only weep. Then Korczak asked if there was anything that could be done to change the terrible fate of mankind. Michael replied, “It is always possible to change. Does not God Himself constantly call for humanity to change its ways?
But you must be very careful. To repent and to change yourself is a mitzvah, but to try to change the course of history is very different. Often the outcome of a major historical action is not at all what its initiators planed.”
“Nothing could be worse than this,” argued Zeitlin and Korczak, “a Soviet domination of the world will endanger the survival of the Jewish people and the freedom of mankind.” They thought for a long time and then asked Michael’s help. “Because Russia is bigger and stronger than Germany, Hitler must attack first. Then the two of them will exhaust themselves fighting each other and Western civilization will survive.”
Michael replied, ” I will encourage Stalin’s lust for power so that he will purge hundreds of thousands of dedicated members from the Communists Party, who are not totally subservient to him. He will also purge leaders of the Red Army and so destroy its morale. Then I will harden Stalin’s heart so that he will not heed all the warnings of the surprise German attack. The Soviet Union will be defeated.”
Zeitlin and Korczak thanked Michael and prepared to return to their normal selves. Just before they left, Michael reminded them again that it is very difficult to foresee the historical consequences of significant events. With this warning still echoing in their minds they awoke.
Several months earlier, on December 1, 1934, Kirov, the head of the Communists Party in Leningrad, had been assassinated. Over the next four years, hundreds of Soviet citizens, including the most prominent political leaders of the Communists Revolution, were shot for direct responsibility for the assassination, and literally millions of others went to their deaths for complicity in one or another part of the vast conspiracy which allegedly lay behind it.
In June of 1937 Stalin, having totally terrorized the party and the government, suddenly turned on the leaders of the Red Army and charged them with treason. Within a month 980 high ranking officers had been arrested. All of them were convicted and almost all of them were shot. The Air Force and the Army were especially hard hit.
As a result of this bloodletting, although the Russians had 2-3 times more tanks than the Germans (and of comparable quality) they would be squandered by the inept tactics and strategy of inexperienced commanders who lacked initiative. 80% of the Soviet Air Force would be destroyed in the first ten weeks of fighting.
But in Germany, after almost two years of subdued anti-Semitism, Nazi boycotts and violence against Jews broke out again in the summer of 1935. In September, the Nuremberg laws denied citizenship rights to all German Jews. In November of 1938 pogroms took place all over Germany, hundreds of synagogues and thousands of Jewish stores were destroyed, and about 30,000 Jewish men were dragged off to Buchenwald, Dachau, and other concentration camps.
All Jewish children were expelled from German schools. Korczak grew increasingly frightened, and Zeitlin sank deeper into despair.
They decided to try once again, just four years after their first descent, to storm the heavens and learn what the 58th century had in store for the Jewish people.