Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 25 March 2006 / 25 Adar I 5766

End of Days

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Matt in DL

Dear Rabbi,
I am generally aware of the Jewish belief in the End of Days, but is it spoken about in the Torah, and how can we know what it will be like?

Dear Matt,

First, let me say that many great Jewish Sages of recent times have said that we are already in the first phase of the End of Days called ‘Ikveta d’Mashicha’, which literally means ‘on the heels of Mashiach’. The saintly Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman wrote a special treatise on the subject in which he remarked, “If we want to interpret contemporary events we must search after verses and statements that deal with the period known as ‘Ikveta d’Mashicha’, that is the period of transition from exile to redemption. If we compare the Torah’s teachings with events, we will see in the Torah a clear vision of all that is happening to us. Everything spoken in those verses has become real and all events were prophesied from the beginning.”

While it is beyond our scope to quote the plethora of Torah sources on the subject, I’ll present an overview of what they say will characterize this period and what will be the general order of events.

One major characteristic of the End of Days is the Jewish people’s lack of belief in G-d. Rambam, in Iggeret Teiman, writes, “Our sources have already revealed to us that toward the end of the exile, as a result of our suffering, many Jews will come to doubt G-d, be led astray from the Torah and eventually abandon their religion. And all this will be because of our lowly position in the exile and the elevated status of the non-Jews. But a few will still remain loyal and not become confused.”

Many verses affirm that before the redemption, the Jews will err after various forms ‘idol worship’, changing their allegiance from one to another. Indeed, during the last hundred years, most Jews have abandoned G-d, transferring their allegiance from one “ism” to another, to which they literally sacrificed their blood, children and money. German Enlightenment, Liberalism, Democracy, Socialism, Communism – yet each of these idols betrayed them. Rabbi Wasserman himself wrote that the Jews’ belief in Nationalism and Socialism caused their own downfall through National Socialism.

The second major characteristic is a lack of commitment to mitzvot. Many sources portend that in the End of Days, most Jews will despise the Torah, the mitzvot, and those Jews who observe them. Ramban confirms this and writes that in the End of Days, the majority of Jews will have forgotten the Torah and will therefore transgress most of the mitzvot. He notes one exception: brit mila. This is based on the verse, “With the blood of your covenant I have freed your prisoners from a pit [exile] in which there was no water [Torah]” (Zacharia 9:11). Interestingly, most non-observant Jews today inexplicably continue the covenant.

Many sources describe the order of events of the End of Days. The Vilna Gaon explicates one such source by noting that ‘Torah’ means instruction. This certainly applies to the explicit teachings of the Torah, but even events described in the Torah are also instructions. This is the meaning of the teaching of our Sages, “The deeds of the Fathers are a prelude for the children”. Inherent in the Torah narratives about the forefathers are all the future episodes to occur to Jewish people.

Thus, the events in Jacob’s life reflect what will happen to the Jews in future times. While returning from exile in Padam to the Land of Israel, Jacob is threatened by Esav (Gen. 30). Accordingly, during the last stage of exile, before returning to the Land of Israel, the Jews will be persecuted by the descendents of Esav, the European nations.

“And a man wrestled with him and smote him on the thigh”. A man refers to the mundane, and Jacob’s thigh refers to the supporting pillar of Israel. This portends that during that period, secularism will undermine the foundations of Torah. Jewish children will cease to learn Torah in favor of secular studies and wealthy Jews will cease to support Torah in favor of secular philanthropies. In either case, this blow to the thigh of Jacob will shake the supporting pillar of Israel.

“And Jacob put the handmaids and their children first”. This alludes to the fact that the descendants of the mixed multitude, who defy G-d and deny the Torah, will stand at the head of the people, particularly upon the Jewish people’s return to the Land of Israel after the long exile. “And Leah and her children after”, represents the Jewish masses that will be lured to follow after the mixed multitude and be deluded into forsaking G-d and the Torah. “And Rachel and Joseph at the end”, corresponds to the observant Jews and Torah scholars who will be put at the very end. They will be considered by the others to be the lowest part of the Jewish people, rejected and despised.

Other sources add, that once the Jews return to their land, they will be greatly distressed by the descendants of Ishmael (Zohar, Vaera p. 32a). Eventually, an extremely numerous and powerful people of the descendants of Esav, after having overrun the rest of the middle east, will invade the Land of Israel from the North (Daniel 11,12; Yechezkel 39). This will initiate the cataclysmic war of Armageddon, a conflict whose resolution will ultimately result in the victory of Mashiach and the final Redemption.

Sources/Notes:

  • Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, ‘Ikveta d’Mashicha’
  • Rabbis of recent times who identified our period as the beginning of the End of Days: Chafetz Chaim, ‘Shem Olam’ vol. 2 ch. 2, ‘Tzipita l’Yeshua’; Chazon Ish, Iggrot vol. 1 p. 96, 111; the Steipler, intro. to ‘Chaye Olam’; Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian; Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, ‘Ikveta d’Mashicha’
  • Ramban, commentary on Shir HaShirim 8:13

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