Este Stollman

Bring Me Back

After a variety of mitzvos, we say the Yehi Ratzon prayer, “May it be Gd’s Will to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash,” as we light candles, ushering in the Shabbos Queen; when we immerse in the mikvah, inviting marital intimacy back into our lives; and after we say our daily Shemoneh Esrei, stepping back from entreating our King. I believe that all three cases have one common denominator and that is, times at which we are extra close to the Shechinah and are involved in deeply connective experiences.

The language of “Yehi Ratzon” is special in that we ask HaShem to return us to the former glory of our Holy Temple and to the earlier years of history when (in slang terminology) things were going good, or as the prayer’s author writes, k’shanim kadmoniyos (“like the earlier days”). In its siddur, Artscroll translates k’shanim kadmoniyos as “days of yore,” or the early days of our national past. As a side note, I think often times English translations of tefillos are more well-intentioned than helpful!

Either way, the image we are invoking in this prayer is the beautiful, unscathed image from hundreds of years ago: throngs of men, women and children in colorful robes and turbans (or Middle East wear) flocking down dirt highways from all different directions, their footsteps dredging up the sands of life in desert land, as they get smaller and circle up towards the Holy Mount.

It is definitely possible that I am merely conjuring multiple Judaica pieces of Aliyah La-Regel from my memory and synthesizing them into one picture. Regardless, when I recite “k’shanim kadmoniyos,” I can imagine a time far away, in which Jewish life isn’t burdened by tragedy after tragedy being deported from every country once we finally settle in and a time in which we live in our land without the wars and threats of neighboring territories.

This image of a peaceful, unquestioningly Gd-present period is exactly what our prayer elicits, as we daven to return from the chaos, international crises and hatred of our now. Many times throughout Tanach and other texts, we see the comparison of Moshiach to rebirth, the comparison of an idealistic Jewish people to a newborn, or as King David sang so eloquently, an “am nolad.”

The newborn theme not only incorporates rebirth and rejuvenation, it involves an innocence and absence of prejudice. By prejudice, I don’t mean antisemitism but rather having our guard up all the time and thinking twice before accepting help from a stranger. We are weary of the fact that eighty-five years ago, friendships and neighborly kindnesses for the most part ceased to exist. These repeated experiences throughout our history of expulsion developed or reinforced certain coping mechanisms we use to protect ourselves and survive our new realities.

These methods of survival were passed down from one generation to the next, so that even if we hadn’t experienced the worst, we adopted the same fears and worries and learned how to approach the outside world. The tales of our Bubbes and Zeides and those of our Rebbes became emblazoned onto our national consciousness.

Following this historical pattern: The Yehi Ratzon prayer, and the desire to return to a time without the barbed fences and gates of self-preservation, sums up precisely what many of us want on a conscious or subconscious level. We have tzaros as a nation and as individuals, and the Utopia of Moshiach, regardless of its esoteric nature, is so appealing.

I think sometimes to many people, Moshiach is a tantalizing, out-of-reach character from superhero books whom we read and learn about, but whom we won’t ever see riding on a horse or in a convertible in broad daylight. When you see a bird or an airplane, it is usually just that!

To me, Moshiach is more of a tease than a tangible ideal. It is something that we are always working towards but is seemingly inaccessible, like a cruel owner who puts a carrot in front of his donkey’s face: The donkey goes as far as the carrot goes, yet ultimately the owner does not allow the donkey to eat it.

Despite its intangible nature, the arrival of Moshiach is something that we all yearn for since we learned the song of Ani Ma’amin in preschool. It is one of the Maimonidean foundations of our faith and the fundamental experience of even the non-Messianic movement of Lubavitch. The late Rebbe vamped up our nation’s observance with a broadcasted program, encouraging the Jewish public, no matter at what strata of religion, to keep basic mitzvos towards a higher goal and purpose.

Moshiach (R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson never actually promoted himself as such, historically) was the motivating theme behind the mission Tzivos HaShem, the Army of HaShem, as he desired and rallied for all children to take an interest in fighting for Geulah! As the pasuk says in Nevi’im, אם אין גדיים, אין תיישים! If there are no baby goats, there are no adult goats. In this light, R. Menachem Mendel implemented a religious grassroots, from the bottom up.

Regarding the era of Moshiach, the Rambam and the Ramban dispute if the Messianic world will resemble our own or reflect something different entirely. Although we don’t know which opinion is ultimately correct, our desire for this era of pure bliss remains, as well as our vision of relief from all types of anguish.

And because we don’t know and the shroud of uncertainty hangs over the subject like a Gypsy’s scarf obscures her crystal ball, maybe we’ve become complacent with how things are. Maybe we are so fearful of the unknown: Will the world be a Rambam world or a Ramban world postGalus? Will I still have the same friends, the same comforter and the same favorite breakfast cereal? Will I love or hate my reawakened relative the same way I used to? These are questions we may wonder about. Or, will my grandparent come back as the more vibrant version our family knew years ago?

The What If’s of Moshiach might make us feel more comfortable in Galus than we should feel and less motivated for the rejuvenation of Yemei Kedem, since we don’t know what those days will bring. In this way, being comfortable in Exile may be less about its comforts and more about our discomforts of a better future. Galus is okay not because it’s great but because it’s familiar. We’re used to it.

Yes, world news is awful. Yes, there are disproportionately more painful tragedies and disasters over joyous occasions of late. But hey, I have my routine everyday. I have my neighbors and friends. I have my family I come home to every night and the same nice down pillow I fall asleep on.

In spite of this fear, we daven for a time when we can live and laugh wholeheartedly again without worrying what we will mourn next; a time in which we lose our jaded, narrowed vision created by trauma and replace it with open mindedness and naïveté because we can; a time when we turn off Survival Mode which we’ve always functioned on and activate Cruise.

In all honesty, does anyone remember a time when we didn’t have any worries or fears about the world, when we weren’t in the habit in looking over our shoulders? Yes! When we were kids, our own days of yore, the Yemei Kedem when our own parents shielded us from the world—an ongoing job that is now our own.

The idea of a messianic rebirth reverts us back to our days of youth and innocence of not always being on the defense or offense, back to times where figuratively, our fighting doesn’t require the CornerShot, a kind of gun invented (by no other than an IDF lieutenant) to shoot dangers around the block that we cannot see. Deviating from our new normal, Moshiach will be a time of good, we will without question see HaShem in his full glory, and the tov in our lives will only be nigleh (revealed) and never nistar (hidden).

I think the biggest bracha you can give a person, which many people have given me and I’ve grown the habit of saying to others, is that you should only have tov nigleh in your life and see all the good upfront without any deep analyses. Imagine a time, in which books expounding on tales of people seeing how Gd saved them after years of suffering will no longer be relevant! We will throw them away. Away with looking for meaning in our own pain!

Think of a moment when you, as a believing Jew, were trying to interpret why something terrible happened to you or to a relative and abruptly came to a brick wall, almost like the first time Harry Potter came to Diagon Alley. (The way he got through was certainly unconventional!) We can all relate to moments where we find ourselves looking for an answer—to why Gd didn’t interfere, why He seemingly punished the good ones—in order to tighten our grasp onto Faith.

The times of Moshiach would mean no more trying to wrap our mind around why bad people seem to win. No more up and down roller coasters of struggles and easier times—instead, just smooth sailing on the ocean blue.

Let’s aim towards Yemei Kedem despite the unknowns. Let’s work towards hastening an era of only blessings and laughter and goodness. That may scare us because history has taught us that if it’s too good or for too long, it’s not going to last. It’s fleeting. None of us, despite our cool, collected appearance, have only good stretches of time.

Now to relate this to our prayers: Across all ages, davening for something, whether it’s a lollipop, a better job or healing for one’s family, is all about wanting it. And wanting it is all about knowing the good that your dreamed thing will bring you: a nice taste in your mouth, more money for less stress, no more hospital bills and a present spouse to take care of you.

So when davening for Moshiach and wanting him to come, in the Yehi Ratzon prayer and others, let’s visualize what that can really mean for us: people without mobility standing without anyone’s help. Depression going out for lunch and laughter taking its place. No more wars or insane UN hearings, or the fear of having more of them. A new age when both men and women throw their devices and liquor bottles into the air, like graduates, and move past this brand of prison.

יהי רצון שיבנה בית המקדש כשנים קדמוניות is a call for not a new but a renewed stage of history that’s frightening but, at the same time, something that we will come to love. Interestingly, in more languages than one, the root lib or leib means—as in liberty or tuv leiv—love or endearment. We all love freedom and want freedom, no matter which flag we stand by. As observant Jews who are taught from Day One that each mitzvah we do adds a brick to the Beis Hamikdash, bringing our geulah closer, we look forward to these special times despite our incomprehension.

We look forward to a time in which there will be integrity and no financial stress, where the mountains of credit card debt will come crumbling down, and no person will have an inexplicable urge to cheat his neighbor. This will be a reality where we support instead of admonish others who have been tremendously wounded. This will be a time in which Flatbush Girl will lose her meaningful appeal on Instagram—not because her strike struck the wrong chord in the organ of Rabbinic Jews—but because all agunos will finally be returned to their families, without question or condition, so they can once again see the light of day.

This will be a period in which the paintings filled with the words of the Exodus will become a moving picture of our present-day life, as Aliyah l’Regel becomes relevant once again. We can work towards this moment knowing, rest assured, that soon we’ll be running around and dancing in circles and mitsveh-tantsing with HaKadosh Baruch Hu like never before—even if we’ve never done a mitsveh-tants in our lives!

We will sing Mordechai Ben David’s song Moshiach!, as we surround our savior and kick up our feet at each interval. The words Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach! will resound throughout the expanding walls of Yerushalayim, as we drop all our Oy, Oy, Oy!’s and inhibitions and learn to embrace each other in pure simcha.

About the Author
Este Stollman is a Yeshiva English teacher and has a Master of Arts in Jewish History from Touro Graduate School of Jewish Studies. She has a small sushi-making party business and lives in Lakewood, NJ with her husband and children.