Divine Contingency Plans, From Antoninus to Trump
Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius by Eugène Delacroix [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Torah is a compendium of contingency plans, the ultimate goal of which is to ensure that the Divine Plan is fulfilled. This process has been marked by failures, miracles, warnings, and corrections - all of which are evidence of a wondrous design. The spiritualization of the physical world into one to which HaKadosh Baruch Hu (lit. The Holy One, Blessed be He) can “return” to bestow upon mankind His ultimate goodness has taken a sinuous route. In his many lectures on hashkafa (the Torah worldview) and the messianic process, Rabbi Mendel Kessin deconstructs this design — its twists and turns, its contingencies, and its current condition.
According to Rabbi Kessin, there are contingency plans that kick in when the expected outcome of the Divine Plan is not fulfilled due to the rebellious inclinations of humankind. When Adam haRishon failed to perform the one task required of him - to dematerialize the physical creation - and added to that the damage of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Cain and Abel inherited his job. That was contingency plan number one. When they too failed, there was Noah.
Esau and Ya’akov
By the time history arrived at Ya’akov (Jacob) and Esau, G-d’s Plan to bestow ultimate good on mankind expanded to include two custodians who could succeed: Esau would subdue evil while remaining true to G-d in a fallen world, and Ya’akov would inspire people to seek G-d and bring Him “back” to dwell among humans. When Esau deviated from his mission, choosing instead to rebel against G-d’s Will, both jobs were foisted upon Ya’akov. The brothers have been on their separate singular paths since that time, with the exception of three instances when those paths came together as G-d had intended.
The first occurred when the brothers' met when Ya’akov returned to Cana’an (Gen 32:4 - 33:17); the second instance was during the Roman occupation of Judea roughly 2,000 years ago. The third is happening now.
When it is decided that 'Esau' lacks the humility and spiritual inclination to act as the patriarch he was meant to be, his blessings go to 'Ya’akov'. His role as assistant and protector of his brother, as per the prophecy, changes to that of oppressor. Such a contingency plan, embedded by its Master Designer, is detectable in the scriptural language (Gen 25:23). The Hebrew word for “serve” in the Torah can be read either as “ya’avod” (“shall serve”) or “ya’aved” (“shall oppress”) due to the absence of nekudot, pronunciation marks, in the text. Therefore two potential meanings emerge. Esau will be involved in the tikun (rectification process) either by assisting Ya’akov when the Jews do G-d’s Will, or causing them to suffer when they defy Him. Both constitute Esau’s avoda (spiritual service).
The first attempt at restoration was when Ya’akov combated Esau’s angel, the satan himself, and won during an all-night fight (Genesis 32:25-33). The victory signified Ya’akov’s subduing of the rebellious nature of Esau by weakening the influence that his guardian angel, the satan, had upon him. Esau was then inclined toward t’shuva (repentance), borne out by his behavior upon their epic reunion. He was conciliatory, and even alluded to retracting his claim to his father’s blessings that Ya’akov took by stealth.
Esau’s t’shuva was at hand but was unknowingly rebuffed by Ya’akov, who did not recognize the telltale signs. The two part ways. The lost opportunity results in another contingency plan two millennia later, which not only brought temporary restoration, but fulfilled two other requirements for the Divine Plan to press forward.
Antoninus and Rebbe
The brothers’ unresolved feud and Esau’s failed patriarchy was reconciled for a time in the embodiment of Esau as Rome’s governor in Tiveria (Tiberias), Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Ya’akov’s embodiment was Yehuda Ha’Nasi, better known as “Rebbe.”
Fearing that the oral tradition might be forgotten when exile seemed inevitable, Rebbe undertook the mission of convening a conference of the Tannaim (rabbinic sages) for the purpose of consolidating the various opinions of the oral tradition into one body of law that could be taken into exile — the Mishnah.
This could not have been accomplished were it not for the benign government of Antoninus bestowing relative peace and serenity in occupied Judea. This propitious environment was enhanced by the close and brotherly relationship that developed between Antoninus and Rebbe. Antoninus was solicitous, gracious, and even servile toward Rebbe. Through G-d’s conductorship, the fully restored relationship that Esau and Ya’akov will eventually have, as well as the preservation of the oral law, were both realized in this alliance between a Roman emperor and a Jewish leader.
But the oral law was not the only precious cargo the Jewish people harbored that was in danger of suppression or destruction. So too did the written Torah need a conduit for mass dissemination. Christianity’s adoption by Rome/Edom was just such a conduit, according to the Rambam.
For all its distortions among the gospels, Christianity did offer a haven and a transmission mechanism for the Torah. G-d's monitoring of actors and history - Antoninus’ admiration of the Rebbe and his Torah - helped ensure that Torah would be both preserved and publicized universally despite the Jewish exile and persecutions that were to come, both being functions of Esau’s tikun.
Trump and Am Yisrael
The Grand Design whose early scenes were set in Cana’an and continued in occupied Judea has found its present-day climax in the US presidency of Donald Trump and his relationship to Am Yisrael, the Jewish nation. Trump is a kind of Roman Emperor. Like a present-day Antoninus, Trump can create an environment that can enormously raise Israel’s stature in the world, appropriating a period of prosperity like that which enabled Rebbe to compile the Mishnah. A strong and wealthy America can prompt other nations to curry favor with Israel, America’s ally.
Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and his putting a note in a crevice of the Kotel are public testimonies to the supremacy of the G-d of Avraham (Abraham) and the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to the land. His defense of Israel in the U.N. is akin to Esau’s capitulation to Ya’akov's ownership of the blessings that Ya’akov “stole.” All these actions are evidence for Trump as a repentant and rectified 'Esau'.
Contingency plans imply dynamic design — made, unmade, and re-made at each moment. With quantum facility, within the possibilities and probabilities and the unfolding of events, a Grand Design is discernible with the aid of fertile minds steeped in Torah.
Anyone seeking further clarification and explanation of current events and the messianic process are invited to visit Rabbi Kessin’s website, torahthinking.com, for the complete “21st Century” series of video lectures along with 300 shiurim which deal extensively with the hashkofa of the Ramchal. His videos can also be found at https://www.torahanytime.com and on YouTube.
Rabbi Kessin received smicha from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the greatest posek ha’dor of the previous generation. The rabbi also received a doctoral degree in psychology from Fordham University, NY. In 1987, Rabbi Kessin helped found the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation. Rabbi Kessin is considered an expert in the writings of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal; he lectures extensively and internationally on the Torah of the Ramchal.