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Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Struggle at the End of Days

Sukkah 5

True or False?  When Mashiach comes, it will mark the end of our spiritual struggle.  Everyone will do the right thing all the time.  False.

King David writes in Psalms, “The Heavens are the Heavens of G-d and the Earth was given to humankind.”  Explains Rabbi Yossi: The Divine Presence (the Shechina) never descended into this physical world, nor did [any mortal, including] Moshe and Eliyahu ever ascend to Heaven. 

Asks the Talmud, G-d never descended into this world?  How about when He gave the Torah?  No, says the Talmud.  G-d descended but not all the way.

How about when Mashiach comes, when Zachariah prophesied “On that day, His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives?” No, says the Talmud.  Even then, He will descend, but not all the way.

Continues the Talmud to inquire about human beings never ascending.  How about when Moshe went up to receive the Torah?  No, says the Talmud.  He ascended, but not all the way.

How about when Eliyahu went up in a fiery chariot?  No, says the Talmud.   He ascended, but not all the way.

King David is teaching us that there are some questions that must remain in G-d’s hands and some decisions that must remain in our human hands.   The great question of theodicy, why bad things happen to good people, even Moshe could not comprehend.  Even Eliyahu, who ascended to Heaven and remained in the spiritual realm, is still not a heavenly being.   He too cannot understand the ways of G-d.   It may be true that he sees and comprehends more than we do, as the story of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi who once accompanied Eliyahu on his travels demonstrates, but he is still a human being and cannot know G-d’s ways.

Similarly, G-d has given the earth to humankind.  He has given us the great gift of free choice.  He allows us to determine the path of our life.  Even when He gave the Torah, He instructed us as to the good path and the bad path, but left it up to us to choose.  And while many people believe that in the messianic era, everyone will choose the right path, Rabbi Yossi explains that even then G-d will not completely descend into this world.  The only difference between the present time and the messianic era, says Maimonides, is that in the future we will not be disturbed by the nations of the world.  We will live in peace, hopefully to make the right choices in life and become more spiritual beings.

But as spiritual as we become, mortal human beings can never enter the Heavenly Kingdom.  Life on earth is about being challenged and choosing to overcome our earthly desires. 

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