Rabbi Mendel Kessin: The Turmoil That Surrounds the Coming of Mashiach
“We live in very confusing times,” says Rabbi Mendel Kessin. The list is long: the havoc wrought by Covid-19, the U.S. election whose controversy is magnified by purveyors of fake news, the pending Israeli elections after two years of paralysis and socio-political divisiveness, the “turmoil” which disrupts the “flow of civilization.” So, as always, the rabbi asks, “How does the Divine Agenda explain what is happening?” How do the requirements of the Divine Agenda itself explain the turmoil? Why does it appear as though the progress of the messianic process seems to be “interrupted,” or even “stopped”?
Returning to the chumash—the 5 books of Moses, we open to the “cryptic” clues in the chapter “Vayeira,” that epic account of the binding of Isaac read cyclically and also on Yom Kippur. Putting aside the overwhelming wealth of ideas that could be gleaned, the rabbi focuses on three questions, the answers to which have “universal implications…. and reveal extraordinary secrets of the End of Time.”
1- G-d’s command to sacrifice Isaac, being the final of ten Divinely ordained tests to which Abraham is subjected, prompts us to ask “why this test,” in this form and why was it the last test?
2- Why specify that this ayil–ox was entangled in the thicket by its horns? What difference does it make that he was entangled b’karnav—by his horns?
3- Why does the text tell us that the offering of this creature was done “instead of his son”? That the animal was captured by its horns and held fast there to be used as a sacrifice is clear. Do we really need to told explicitly that it was tachas b’no—instead of his son, as a replacement?
“This final test of Abraham… really is the situation of Jews at the End of Time.” Abraham is supposed to have “input” into this so he is given a test that “models itself” after that very situation, the one we find ourselves in today.
In addition to this chapter of “Vayeira,” there is commentary by chazal—sages which reveals, with profound depth, what happens at the End. “Masechtes Sanhedrin” says that when the Davidic messiah is about to come, that generation will be in a state of either total righteousness–and therefore worthiness—or total culpability–unworthiness.
Which do we see? Do we see the overwhelming majority of Jews observing commandments and/or repenting or do we see a majority sinning, in a state of kulam chayavim? If the latter, what constitutes this sinful state? Are most people G-d-fearing?
The world has reached what is referred to as mem-tes sha’arei tumah– 49th gate/level of defilement. It is this level which teeters on the brink of irredeemability–the 50th. So, this 49th level is “exceedingly dangerous.” This designation reveals the actual state of the world when mashiach is about to come, one of gross immorality—sexual and otherwise, corruption, sheker—lies, falsehoods, distortions, a world steeped in materialism and the “rampant pursuit of pleasure” to the exclusion of almost everything else, certainly to the exclusion of spirituality. Atheism is the rule rather than the exception. Immorality is not only tolerated but legitimized as a social norm, infused into the educational system and institutions. The consequence? – the process of tikkun—rectification of Creation ceases. Looking at the world, particularly at America, we can compare this environment to that of Sdom and Gemorrah.
Besides this corrupted environment, we see that, of the fourteen million Jews in existence today, eleven million are “gone.” The rabbi relates the example of his going to a city to give a lecture and inquiring as to the number of Jewish residents in that city. He is told there are approximately 80,000 Jews but only 2,000 are observant. This kind of statistic was repeated in many cities and this was many years ago, he explains. Today, he says, “I am afraid to ask.” He adds that seven out of ten Jews are intermarried, a “horrendous statistic.” He then mentions the many who are unaffiliated.
So, with the condition of kulam chayavim—all sinning, the crisis presents a palpable threat of “slipping into the nun—the 50th level.” In Egypt, the Jews were similarly endangered, of irredeemability, of annihilation, of being subject to the death penalty—chayav misa in the sense that they “aren’t going to make it.” A crisis of such proportion can only be offset by a sacrifice and this is what Abraham’s final test tells us. The Jewish people will be on the cusp of annihilation; a sacrifice is required—their own annihilation.
But Isaac is redeemed, “Wow! He survives. But wait….—you can’t just survive but leave behind the reason for your annihilation! That is why there has to be a tachas b’no—instead of his son, a substitute.” The only way to redeem Isaac is to “supplant him.” Without the creature caught in the thicket by its horns, Isaac would have had to remain on the altar.
What are the “emergency measures,” the tachas b’no, G-d is taking to save the Jews from the altar now when the messianic era is so close? There are six to be elucidated further:
1- In order to make sure the Jews can be redeemed, G-d has to push forward the messianic process to halt the descent.
2- G-d wants to “diminish the culpability of the Jews” even though they sin. How? He “creates a terrible situation of ignorance, darkness” in a society where everyone tries to “pander their values” to others, creating conflicting ideologies, a myriad of “alternatives,” all of which stimulate confusion. In the past, what was held to be good and bad was simpler. Today, in such a morally chaotic environment, people cannot necessarily be held responsible for their choices. They can, in essence, “plead insanity,” an “ignorance plea.”
3- Another “sacrifice” is the increase in suffering to satisfy the demands of justice. Suffering, as we know, is the major vehicle for atonement.
4- G-d will bring to bear suffering my means of sickness or otherwise, of righteous individuals who accept upon themselves that which brings atonement to the rest of the nation. This is possible since all Jews are actually one entity. This can only be accomplished by very lofty souls termed sovlei cholaim—sufferings of the those who bear the iniquity of others, and there are many of them. One is Moses who agreed to be buried outside Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. As such, his soul is denied access to holiness. The two messiahs—ben Yosef and ben David—are others. This is termed yesurim mashiach—sufferings of the messiah. Throughout the generations, there have been other great souls who accepted suffering upon themselves.
5- Another substitute is one the rabbi discussed at length in his last lecture, that of the proliferation of evil which acts as a bribe to the satan. Legitimate gripes that the satan poses in his arguments in the Heavenly Court are answered with what seem to him as victories but which, in the long run, serve to further the messianic process, unbeknownst to him.
6- When a righteous person dies, his death alleviates some culpability of the Jewish people but also increases the Darkness because they are no longer present to instruct the Jewish people about what constitutes righteousness and spirituality as when they were alive.
In contrast to today’s condition, when were the Jews wholly righteous? Purim. They fasted for three days and so reached a level of holiness and purity, so much so that the mashiach could have come then. Who might that have been, a potential Mashiach ben Yosef?—Ezra the scribe, also a kohen and a priest. Had he returned to Israel with the entire Jewish people, he’d have been the messiah. He, like Moses, contained a shoresh—a root of the messiah. We are told that he too qualified for reception of the Torah at Sinai. The problem was that only 70,000 Jews returned.
When in history were the Jews, like now, on the brink? There were three times. The first was during the time of the Flood. Then, the Jews were undifferentiated from the rest of mankind in the sense that all humankind were capable of rectifying Creation but failed. All mankind, except Noah and his family, were judged to be irredeemable. G-d “pressed the re-set button.” That was the emergency measure.
The second time was in Egypt. As our rabbis tell us, the Jews had reached that 49th level of defilement then too. That is why the messianic process, with Moses as a messianic candidate, had to begin. What was the substitute, the tachas b’no then? It was the gathering of the straw. Despite the fact that Moses had revealed himself as the redeemer, the situation for the Jews worsened. Not only had they to make bricks on threat of death, but Pharoah’s decree forced them to gather straw to make the bricks.
Now is the third time when the Jews and all mankind teeter on the brink though most have become “inured” to the depravity that constitutes this fallen state. Emergency measures are being taken. How?
One “emergency” step is in keeping with the principle of suffering, specifically that of a messiah, in this case Mashiach ben Yosef as described in the “Yalkut Shimoni,” based on the prophecy of Yeshayahu–Isaiah. In “Yalkut,” section 499, there is reference to him as Mashiach ben Ephraim. It says that, in the beginning of time, G-d declares to the soul of the Mashiach ben Yosef that, at the End of Time, the Jews overall will have earned their destruction. The mashiach, therefore, accepts upon himself a tremendous suffering to alleviate their culpability because their sins are so numerous, they could not expiate them in a given lifetime or even many. The Mashiach ben Yosef accepts upon himself the suffering of all Jews throughout all time. The midrash– exegesis goes on to symbolize this burden of suffering of the sins of the Jews as an iron yolk like that borne by a beast of burden. Mashiach ben Yosef is said to “bend” under the tremendous weight and to cry out that he cannot bear it to which G-d assures him that He, G-d, will share the burden. G-d’s Divine Presence, the shekhina, will be exiled and suffer. To this the messiah agrees.
How precisely does the messiah suffer?
At the end of the Torah, prior to his death, Moses blesses each tribe. His blessing to the tribe of Joseph expresses the beauty that is his using the metaphor of a magnificently-horned creature, the re’eim, a creature for which there is no absolute identifiable translation. What creature this is, is cryptic. Some might call it an “ox” but the horns of an ox are simply short and powerful for the purpose of goring or ramming. More significant is the majestic beauty of its horns. The figurative meaning here, this raw power and beauty, is that of chochma—wisdom, a spellbinding wisdom with which the Mashiach ben Yosef will “gore the nations.” It is a wisdom that “emanates from the head” just like horns. It is the ohr ha’ganuz–Hidden Light, also called ohr mashiach–Messianic Light and ohr rishon—First Light. With its power and splendor, the mashiach convinces the world that the basis of all reality emanates from G-d.
But when Mashiach ben Yosef took upon himself the suffering, the power of his “horns” became blocked. This constitutes his suffering. His incredible spiritual potential is stymied; he cannot express it. This now explains the portion about the substitution of this horned creature caught in the thicket which Abraham uses to redeem Isaac. That creature is a symbol of Mashiach ben Yosef, captured when its horns became entangled in the thicket.
The following aspects of the emergency G-d pushes forward in the messianic process is one the rabbi has discussed often since 2015, as actualized in the miraculous election of Donald Trump. In modernity, the messianic process starts with Esav/Edom repenting. In fulfilling the repentance of Esav, Trump embodies the tov she’b’Esav, the good, redeemable part of Esav who is Edom. Trump fulfills the prophecy in two ways: In the prophecy given to Rebecca, “Rav ya’avod tza’ir,” Esav is the elder who will serve the younger. Trump has done this through policies and diplomacy over his four years of presidency. The good remnant of Esav, of Edom, serves the Jewish people. Another penitent gesture is Esav’s statement to Jacob saying, “Let that which is yours be yours,” a conciliatory expression acknowledging Jacob’s entitlement to the blessings that, prior to that point, had been deemed stolen. This has been borne out by Trump in his acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, of the Golan as an integral part of the Holy Land, both of which acknowledge the legitimacy of the biblical claim, G-d’s claim, that Israel was His to give to the Jewish nation. Support of the Jewish nation is also evident in new alliances between Israel and Arab nations that Trump’s administration has fostered. Israel’s “rise among the nations” has begun. This is also indicative of the repentance of Ishmael.
As mentioned earlier, the diminishment of man’s culpability is achieved by fomenting pervasive ignorance and confusion rendering many Jews, and non-Jews, too insensible to blame for their transgressions. This is also why it is so difficult to subdue or eradicate the evil aspect of Esav. Fake news, the creation of popular opinion antithetical to truth, renders the thinking and judgement of many people, impaired.
Also difficult to destroy is the domination of the Eirev Rav, those Jews who, simply put, seek to do away with the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. It is Judaism, not Jews, they seek to extinguish and, if not extinguish, render impotent. Judaism as a culture, rather than an eternal covenant, suits their preferred sensibility. What the Eirev Rav seek is that condition so anathema to the Amoraim, those sages of the Babylonian era whose wisdom was eventually codified in the Gemara. It was their generation who said: “Let the mashiach come but I don’t want to see it.” As the rabbi has explained before, this declaration suggests that they anticipated the void, the lack of spirituality that pervades our era. Such me’ut ohr—diminishment of spiritual Light is untenable, intolerable to the righteous. They knew that such would be the prevailing condition necessary to decrease culpability. In the Heavenly Court, we can plead “ignorance.” This is why, as the generations have ensued, there are have been fewer and fewer gedolim—Torah scholars. It is also why, during this pandemic, so many great Torah thinkers and disseminators, roshei yeshivot, gedolim have died from the Covid pandemic. The nation is bereft.
The suffering that provides atonement is obvious in what the pandemic has wrought to the entire world. Fear of death is a death sentence equivalent and, therefore, a substitute for death to provide atonement. Suffering has also taken the form of socio-economic instability. “All this is incredibly anxiety-provoking.” But, the rabbi reminds us, world-wide suffering will be eventually transformed into “world-wide success, light, and health” but the non-Jewish world too must deserve it.
Though it seems that the climb out of Darkness that serves as the tachas b’no has stalled or stopped, there are signs the process will soon regain momentum.
Another path by which the process can regain momentum, a sign that the need for the sacrificial substitute is ending, is due to multiple vaccines being released for use, along with regimens to deploy them.
Another sign is the newly-forming and ever-increasing alliances between Israel and the Arab world. This signifies the end of the klippah—evil impediment of Yishmael.
Yet another is the imminent end of the domination of the Eirev Rav as manifest in the upcoming fourth election in Israel. The outcome of this election, anticipated by the rabbi for many years, is the election of Gideon Sa’ar to become prime minister. He will “terminate the power of the Eirev Rav” under whose domination the Jews cannot do teshuva, cannot draw closer to G-d and His Torah. Under Sa’ar’s leadership and that of his newly-constituted party, “New Hope,” Israel can realize its true nature, that of a “super-nation” and not the “pariah nation” it has long appeared to be. That emerging power will be socio-political, economic, and, most importantly, spiritual.
The unprecedented efforts to oust Trump over the four years of his presidency have culminated in an effort to steal the election. This scheme has revealed the prevalence and extent of evil and its perpetrators, a level of corruption which has reached its zenith. Aside from the disenfranchisement of at least seventy million Americans through voter fraud, there is reason to believe that this is the last stand, the last chance to rout out the deep-seated corruption and treason which has proliferated over the decades and pervades nearly all branches of the U.S. government. It is hoped that the republic will find remedy via paths that are legal and /or military. The rabbi echoes the sentiments of many Constitutional scholars and high-ranking military men who say that this election theft is not simply criminal; it is treasonous and must be dealt with as such, even if that incurs invoking maritial law and /or conducting military tribunals.
The rabbi believes Trump will be successful in restoring the integrity of the republic which will be blessed by G-d.