waiting for the Messiah

We have an expression that is rather difficult to translate. It is ‘waiting for the Messiah’, and since it embodies so many contradictory messages, it is a sort of ironic commentary on the difficulty of the human situation.

B23_07
called just that, and circulated as a greeting card

For the last 2000 years, since the Romans conquered our country, and the Jewish people were scattered among the nations of the world, and till the middle of the last century, when the state of Israel was once again established, the Jewish people waited for a savior in the image of a king; in the image of King David, to be specific, who would gather our scattered people in exile, and bring them back to our ancestral home, and would build the holy temple once again. Even in this very simple description, supported by scholars and sages throughout our history, there is already an internal contradiction. For though David was a king beloved by his people, who built the first great State of Israel, though he wanted to build the temple, he was instructed by god not to build it, because he had blood on his hands. It was his son, Solomon, who eventually built the temple.

There are countless jokes about waiting for the Messiah, and also many touching stories of the faith of well known Jewish personalities who believed with all their heart that the Messiah would in fact come one day. These longings are both a joke and an expression of true faith, all rolled into one.

B135_05
and here’s another one

There is a story told of a simple Jew in some small town, many years ago, who just never managed to succeed at any job, despite being a very sweet guy without any other apparent disability. It was feared in his town that he would become a failure for life, and wouldn’t marry, wouldn’t have kids… wouldn’t fit into the society. So the administrator of the synagogue (the Gabai) took him aside and offered him a job. It wasn’t much money, but it would be enough to live on. He would sit on the highest hill outside the town, and as soon as he saw the Messiah coming, on the white donkey, he would ring a bell. And all the townspeople would get ready to greet the savior. The young man accepted the position, and soon he found a woman to marry. And it wasn’t long before he had children too. One day he went to see the Gabai again, this time asking for a raise. He explained that he had a family to support and what he was getting was just not enough. The Gabai explained that he couldn’t really give him more. That he had warned him that it was a low paying job… but the job did have its advantages. And what are the advantages? Asked the young man. Well, said the Gabai, the work isn’t so hard, and the job is permanent. You see? That’s the joke.

And there is another story, relating to our dear Rabbi Yisroel Meir whom I’ve mentioned in previous writings, and will, no doubt, write about again. He was known for always keeping a suitcase near the entrance to his home (he lived in Russia during the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century). When asked by a student why he always had a suitcase near his front door, he replied that if he heard that the Messiah had arrived, he didn’t want to think about packing. He wanted to go straight to Israel, right away. And that wasn’t a joke.

B135_03
a later version, ‘waiting for the Messiah’

And it happens sometimes… like today, for instance… towards the end of December, or at the start of a new year… which in itself is an irony; for this isn’t our new year at all. We mark our time according to the Jewish calendar, and our new year was back in September. But we use the Christian calendar for banking purposes, and other civilian arrangements. And oh the many times, on a day like this, that I’ve looked around my work room… and considered the many projects that I wanted to complete in the last year… and said to myself, ‘I’m waiting for the Messiah’. But it doesn’t translate that well to English.

My best wishes to all my friends and readers, for a healthy and happy new year, filled with adventure, learning, and inspiration.

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45 responses to “waiting for the Messiah

  1. Dear Shimon,
    You have explained this so well! This post was a pleasure to read. Best wishes to you too, for a happy year.

  2. Ha ha, I quite understand the joke! And the photos are very witty too. A happy western new year to you, Shimon … and may some of your projects be ready when he comes (or comes back, as we Christians would say!) I like the idea of the packed suitcase. It’s a great image of how our lives should also be packed, ready and waiting for God.

    • Yes, I too like the image of the packed suitcase… for any reason. It’s a reminder of the temporary nature of life. And I figured you’d enjoy the joke, Gill. Better to live with paradoxes, when we’ve got a smile on our faces.

  3. This is wonderfully explained, dear Shimon. Thank you, My Best Wishes to you too, Happy New Year, love, nia

  4. Once again, I learn so much from you…..I enjoyed this very much. Loved the witticisms in words and images:) Happy New year dear, Shimon.xx

    • So glad you enjoyed this, Janet. And the pictures, which were used as greeting cards, bring back some good memories as well. They were taken with one of those big view cameras which are getting kind of rare in this digital age. Wishing you much joy in the year ahead. xxx

  5. Very well explained Shimon and a wonderful expression! I have a similar work room full of projects.. new ones to start.. this is life I guess. The date’s not going to alter things too much. I guess a returning Messiah certainly would! A pleasure as always!

    • Thanks so much, Chillbrook. Looking forward to your winter pictures. I always have a bit of trouble dealing with the cold, rain and fog photographically, but I was thinking I should make an effort this year. All the best to you.

  6. A most appropriate post for the New Year, Shimon. Yes, time – that convention that we all seem to agree upon, no matter what calendar we use – creates some interesting contradictions. And may you and yours enjoy health, happiness and inspiration in this new year.

    • Thank you so much for your good wishes, Cathy. That’s exactly what I wish for myself, and for you and yours too. I’m always a bit reticent to photograph in winter, but I’ve been thinking that I should learn to translate the drama to two dimensional images. It’ll be a challenge.

  7. Thank you for this, Shimon,and for the wonderful photos of witty cards; I’m glad you did not wait for the Messiah before sharing these! Blessings in your New Year, my friend.

    • Yes, these images were quite popular here, but it’s nice to share them with my friends abroad. They were shot with a large view camera, which brings back good memories, and a longing for the feel of photography in an earlier age… though actually, I could do the same thing with the digital equipment we have today. Thanks, Kitty, and my very best to you and yours.

  8. I’d heard the phrase but wasn’t familiar with the joke involved. The pictures are charming and amusing, now that I know the inside joke. 🙂 May you be blessed.

  9. Excellent post to start the New Year with Shimon. Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year. May we only see peace this year!

  10. We have much to learn while living life… Blessings and peace to you!

  11. I loved this post, wisdom and humor – and always something new to learn here. May all the months ahead bring you blessings.

    • Thanks so much, Josie. So good to see you. There’s no question that a smile can always improve our perspective. Thanks for the blessings, and mine to you.

  12. I see you love your funny little toys and so do I.They are sweet photos and I love your sense of humour and at the same time the seriousness of your thoughts os obvious
    How much longer should we give the Messiah?Maybe he is a woman and can’t decide what to wear.Now there’s a thought.

    • Thanks for coming by, Maeve. Two of my favorite living creatures are frogs and butterflies, because we can watch them in two incarnations. I used to use such frogs in my photographic studio, as objects to check the depth of my focus in some set ups. Enjoyed your thought on the Messiah. I’m already thinking of ways to depict the situation in an image.

  13. This was entertaining, informative, and exceedingly charming in your delivery. I especially enjoyed the tale of “the man with a permanent job” as balanced against “the rabbi with a packed suitcase by the door”. Same story, different interpretations, and entirely different intent. I can see how it could be difficult to translate something that has the ability to be both a solemn statement of faith or a an amusing and simple anecdote, depending on the interpretation being offered. You’ve managed to help us understand the difference, and also how it can apply to any situation in which time is fluid and without end (or, at least, implied to be such).

    In the West (from a Christian point of view), the closest similar analogy I can think of would be the references to The Rapture, or the Second Coming of Christ. Many a late-night comedian has satirized a bumper sticker that can be seen on innumerable vehicles that says “In case of Rapture, this car will have no driver”. Another one shows an illustration of the (popularly accepted) image of Jesus Christ, with BRB written under it in bold letters (Be Right Back). Both bumper stickers are meant to be funny, but both are also statements of faith, depending on how you view it. Both are intended to convey an urgency, as well as a never-ending state of preparedness, which some might call a contradiction.

    I also found it interesting about the white donkey, by the way. I wish I had a more developed understanding of how different faiths share similar stories and beliefs, and how the specific details become part of the teachings. In Christianity, it is widely accepted that in the Second Coming of Christ, that he will arrive on a white horse. (see Revelations 19:11 KJV, which states And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war).

    I’ll be the first to admit that the bible has been used as a tool to promote all sorts of actions that I would never consider to be Christian in nature, so I hesitate to offer a bible verse as a reference, but your story of the white donkey had me remembering the reference to the white horse in Revelations, as it was taught to me in my catechism classes when I was a youngster. Similar idea, but different teachings. In the time that I’ve invested in making comparisons between various teachings, I seem to find many such references where the stories or beliefs are similar in structure, but contain specific differences that separate them from one another.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to head down the path of comparing beliefs. After fifty-six years, I’ve come to the conclusion that whatever way you choose to worship isn’t nearly as important as how you conduct your life, and whether or not your actions are meant to show kindness towards your neighbor. If the people of the world wait for a time to stop having wars until we can all agree on one ideology, then we will surely be finding ourselves to be waiting on the Messiah. I truly love it when you manage to say one thing, and within that context, you also leave room for other interpretations. Just as with art, or photography, or writing, what we see or understand has much to do with where we’re standing, or with what has already been planted in our gray matter, or whether or not we still have the ability to expand on what we know. Let’s hope we don’t wait too long.

    Many good wishes for your own new year. Health and happiness, interesting things to discover, and time spent with friends and family.

    • Thanks so much, Nancy, for giving us a parallel concept in the image of the rapture. I was unfamiliar with the concept and had to go searching for it and its history. Interestingly, I discovered that the concept had been quite popular in the 19th century. Of course, it is not surprising to find many parallels between Judaism and Christianity, since Christianity was seen as an improvement of Judaism in the eyes of many of the early Christian theologians. The image of the messiah coming on a donkey reflected the modesty that was expected of him; that he would seem at first just like a regular guy. If we were to translate it to an American image, we would say that he would arrive in an old Chevy. Of course, white hinted at purity. Like yourself, I believe that most religious messages are meant to elevate our spirits, our consciousness, and our morality, with each aimed at a specific culture. Surely, we all fail at times. We are almost all of us, sinners at our weak moments. But it is that aspiration to do better, that characterizes the religious among us, even if they too have their failures. Thank you for your good wishes, and mine to you. And most of all, peace.

  14. May your new year be filled with love and laughter!

  15. A personal delight to read a few jokes that my mom used to tell my sister and I. Undoubtedly there are some projects and objectives that I consider with such redundancy that it truly may be that the Messiah arrives before they’re ever completed. But the essence of belief and hope – that is always timely. WIshing you and your family the very best of the new calendar year!

    • How wonderful it is, Mimi, to be reminded of jokes we’ve heard from our mothers. Thank you so much for your good wishes, and mine to you and yours. We’re getting some serious winter weather here in Jerusalem, and I eye the window from time to time, watching the drama unfold, and then return my gaze to the cat, who is curled up in fetal position, happy to ignore it all, while enjoying the warmth inside.

  16. Awwww….how lovely. What sweet funny little cards, I love them and your stories, especially about the young man, that reminded me that some people never seem to have enough!
    I do like to hear about your Rabbi, how interesting that he always had a suitcase packed.
    Oh Shimon….you and me both re unfinished projects, where does time go???
    All the very best to you and yours dear friend.xxx

    • Yes, those pictures bring back memories of my work in earlier days… when I worked with big cameras, and very large negatives. How strange that now that things are easier, my pace is slower. We’ve seen time move ever faster. That Rabbi Meir was some guy. He wrote the quintessential book on gossip, explaining that it was the most demeaning for those who indulged in the vice… and though his writings were brilliant, some of his most fascinating thoughts were never written down, but were reported by his students who loved him dearly. I will write more about him. And let’s you and I continue, at a steady pace… and maybe it’ll be enough if we just finish a few of those projects, gaining strength from the knowledge that we still have so much more to do. Most affectionately, xxx

  17. I suppose that it’s good, that every time I read you I have questions. Probably amusing for you but frustrating to me as I have this incessant yearing to learn. I recall many years ago when Finally out of my residency and into active surgical practice I told a dear friend, that I’m happy that I don’t have to learn any more.. Ha. That was definitley a joke. So, I enjoyed your frog pictures, but the first one would seem, to me, to be the second one of a series and the first one is missing.
    Hope you and yours have the happiest and most blessed new year possible. No joke.

    • I have always found curiosity on the part of people older than 15 years of age to be a sure sign of intelligence, and so it is something I naturally expect from you, Bob. What’s more, your questions usually go right to the essence of things. But in this case, the first photo was a stand alone success, as the frog rolled his eyes towards heaven with an anxious expression. A few years later I decided to redo the picture with a smiling frog, to give it a lighter touch. But people still asked for the first edition. And that was the inspiration for the third one, where the smiling frog sits on the earlier photo, looking three dimensional and almost alive on the background of the original message.

  18. This is what occurs to me: waiting is the condition of our lives. We wait for births; we wait for death. We wait for the arrival of those we love, and we wait for the departure of those whom we don’t. Some wait for the Messiah to come, while others wait for Him to return.

    Saddest of all are those who wait for no one, for nothing. Waiting may teach us patience, but above all it teaches hope. I wish you a new year filled with hope, and peace, and joy.

    • Thanks very much for this tribute to waiting, shoreacres. I suppose it does teach us something to wait… good to pause, and see what’s around us and inside of us, without the distraction of activity. I’ve usually been challenged by waiting. And that’s why, for many years, I would always carry a book in my backpack… always ready for those minutes when I had to wait for something or someone.

  19. Informative insight with a smile.

  20. Lovely, heartwarming story. Peace for the coming year.

  21. Pingback: Sharing a post on waiting… | The Project: Me by Judy

  22. I was on vacation and missed your posts. Thank you for the well-written informative post, Mr. Shimon.

    • Hope the spirit of the vacation stays with you for quite some time, and that you will get back to regular life with renewed vigor and joy. Glad you enjoyed the post, Amy.

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