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.
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.
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.
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.