"I believe with complete and perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. And even though he tarries, I will nevertheless anticipate his arrival every day."
- 12th of the 'Ani Ma'amin' principles of Jewish faith
This post isn't about what Maimonides really meant with this principle, whether the paraphrases are corrupt, who disagreed with this principle, yadda, yadda, yadda. There are many books on this stuff out there (like R' SY Weinberg's and R' JD Bleich's, and le-havdil Marc Shapiro's for those who enjoy wading in the kiddie pool of kfirah).
All I really want to do is bust the bubble of those - and there are many of them out there - who think there's some kind of religious obligation to naively believe that the Messiah is really, really coming today. You know who I'm talking about - the bozos who are like "In the event that the Messiah still isn't here, chas ve-shalom, by next Tuesday, I have a dentist appointment then".
Let's get this straight. I believe that the world can and will enter into a state of universal peace and harmony, that the Jewish people and the Land of Israel will be central to the ushering in of that era, and that at some point democracy and theocracy will not be a contradiction in terms. More than that, who knows? There's a lot written about this, too, ve-acamo"l.
What concerns me is the notion of 'waiting' for the Messiah. What does it mean that we're 'waiting'? It's actually a serious question; the Gemara lists 'Did you anticipate salvation?' as one of the questions on the short list that we'll all be confronted with someday. Whatever this list really means, it's clear that anticipating salvation was considered important. But what does it mean?
Anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, I once heard (from R' Frand, I believe) is like waiting for biopsy results. You know that they might take a while, but you can't really live normally until they arrive. I thought this was a brilliant analogy, and want to develop it a bit more.
Sometimes it's hard to remember that there's so much in the world that needs to be fixed, that there's still a great deal of distance between our world and God's vision for it. Anticipating the Messiah means never becoming content with the way things are, even if you're powerless to stop it. It means experiencing the alienation of galut right down to your bones.
I may know it's not gonna happen today, but that doesn't mean that I can live normally. The opposite of waiting for the Messiah isn't denial or non-belief that he'll be here tomorrow; rather, it's living as though we're at the apex, as though there's nothing left to accomplish, as though everything's A-OK.
I'm making plans, and I'll admit that the Messiah doesn't feature too prominently in them. On the other hand, nothing I do is entirely divorced from the consciousness that we have so far to go.