Any student of history is aware that the transition from one era to the next is rarely immediate, and never immediately self-conscious. Looking at certain dates or events as watersheds can be helpful in hindsight for characterization, but let’s face it, nobody woke up on July 15, 1789 thinking, “Oh my Gosh, it’s the Modern Era” (well, maybe a few French intellectuals). As time progresses, though, people will at some point recognize that the world they occupy is vastly different from past eras, and will then try to name the bygone era, and perhaps even their own era.
So what about the Messianic Era? Will it follow the same rule? I think it might. Meaning, we won’t all wake up one morning to the news that Moshiach has arrived (for those who think that this violates the Rambam’s principle, see what I wrote here). Rather, I think that at some point in the future, we’ll look back and be like, “Hey, all the conditions of the Messianic Era have been fulfilled”. Then there will be, like with all historical eras, a (civil, and somewhat academic) discussion about when exactly that era started, and who exactly started it. Or maybe it’ll be obvious who the central figure is. I’ve thought this way for a while, but until recently, never really thought about the implication that, by the time the Messiah is acknowledged as such, he could be long dead.
At the post-Purim farbrengen with Dovid and Shloime, they were asking me a bunch of questions about what I think about Moshiach. I don’t remember the flow of the whole conversation, but I remember at some point saying “I’m going to continue planting, if you don’t mind” and thinking that they didn’t catch the reference, I never said ‘Yechi’, nor do I remember either of them asking me to. I did suggest my ‘hindsight Moshiach’ theory, at which they grinned broadly and nodded agreement.
I think that this was the first time that I gained any type of sympathy for post-Rebbe Chabad messianism. If the ‘army’ (BTW – the military vocabulary that is so common in Chabad discourse draws directly from Rambam’s description of the Messianic Era, and of the Messiah ‘fighting wars for God’. The Rebbe’s ‘mobilization’ of this ‘army’ was a pacifist, and more attainable for the Rebbe, interpretation of the Rambam’s words) continues to fight, and ultimately wins, then the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ is the victor, even after death.
I don’t think that history will bear out that the Rebbe was Moshiach. I also don’t have sympathy for those who make an aisle for the Rebbe to enter shul. But I really don’t have a theological problem with someone who believes that history will bear the Rebbe out to be the Messiah, and it won’t require that he return from the grave.
I wonder, even, if once the Messianic Era begins, and there’s disagreement about who the Messiah was, if the Rebbe, or Jesus, for that matter, won’t be amongst the names included in the discussion.
One other moment from the farbrengen – perhaps the funniest. Dovid insisted on calling Jesus ‘Yoshke’ (why we were discussing Jesus is for a different post). Shloime said that his name was Jesus, and if he were around today, they would be trying to get him to put on tefillin. I was thinking, he probably wore tefillin. Dovid said, “I don’t need him to put on tefillin; I’d get him to say ‘Yechi’!”. ROTFLMAO!