Rav Kessin: Why the Sages Dreaded Seeing the Messiah
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אמר עולא ייתי ולא איחמיניה וכן אמר [רבה] ייתי ולא איחמיניה...
They discussed the coming of the Messiah: Ulla said, “Let him come — but after I am dead, so I won’t see him.” Rabba agreed, saying, “Yes, let him come after my death…
וכן אמר ר' יוחנן ייתי ולא איחמיניה...
And so too Rabbi Yoḥanan said: “Let the Messiah come, but after my death, so that I will not see him…”
Rabbi Mendel Kessin explained these puzzling statements during the continuation of his shiur on “Revealing G-d’s Justice: Fear of Coronavirus May Bring Our Redemption.” Rav Kessin, who received smicha [ordination] from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, reviewed the three causes of today’s global coronavirus pandemic: (1) the prevalence of zima (immorality, corruption, depravity) in the world; (2) the frequency and vehemence of lashon hara (slanderous speech) with its attendant sinat hinam (baseless hatred); and (3) the world’s obsessive preoccupation with material acquisition and the pursuit of physical pleasures.
Speaking from the isolation of his home, the rabbi turned to the statements of chazal (the sages of the Talmud) presented above. These revered sages, responsible for writing the Talmud, possessed an elevated degree of ruah ha’kodesh (divinely inspired knowledge). Many of them agreed with the thought expressed above by Rabbi Yochanan, the compiler of the Talmud Yerushalmi, who said of the messiah, “Let him come, but I don’t want to see him.”
Most students mistakenly presume chazal were fearful of the physical sufferings prophesied for the time of the hevlai ha’mashiah (the birth pangs of the Messiah), an era marked by travail and suffering, including persecutions, political upheaval, bankruptcies — even plagues. But that is not what frightened the sages.
According to Rabbi Kessin, these wise teachers had a greater fear — being deprived of the very source of their spirituality. Chazal feared me’at ohr (a diminishment of spiritual light) with its accompanying lack of justice, righteousness, and holiness. Sensitive to the spiritual tenor of the times, they were particularly pained by reductions in goodness, righteousness, and holiness. From these Talmudic passages we are warned about what will be at the end of time — an existence of profound hoshech (darkness), an environment chazal did not want to experience.
The flow of Light
Then why would the Divine Agenda include such an era of darkness? In his essay, Secrets of The Redemption, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, the Ramchal, used the concept of shefa (flow) to address this point. Shefa — sometimes called ohr (light) — is the divine emanation of energy and holiness. This emanation flows through Creation via the sefirot (mechanisms that dispense energy and create reality); if the energy were to stop, the entire universe would cease to exist.
Shefa was ample — even luxurious — from the beginning and throughout early history; so much so that we conceive of it as a flow coming through a sha’ar (gate). The 'gate' was open for a long time, particularly during the time of Moses and during the Temple eras. The Jews were rectifying Creation, which Rav Kessin explained is their mission, through the performance of G-d’s commandments.
But the flow was diminished and then blocked primarily by the sins of the Jewish nation. As these accumulated, the Divine “light” dimmed and the 'gate' narrowed, with consequences not just for the Jews themselves but for all of Creation. Sin impacted Creation directly, depriving it of the Divine light that sustained it.
Using an allegory, the rabbi depicted this process. G-d gives the Satan access to Divine energy because Satan will need it to “balance the books” between a sin and the retribution for it, which is meant to bring atonement. As such, Satan — understood to be the illusory obstacle that hinders progress toward G-d — acts to regulate the extent to which justice prevails.
In this schema, Satan acts as the prosecuting attorney, bringing a sin to the attention of the Heavenly Court — particularly when a person engages in lashon hara (defamatory speech). Until that time, one’s misdeeds are unlikely to have been examined. But when Jews sin, the Divine energy which should have been theirs, goes instead to the Satan from which he is yanak (nourished), thereby growing more powerful. If the Jews repent (teshuva) they “take back” that Divine flow, weakening the Satan. The Jews also ‘take back’ the energy when they suffer, because suffering is a second mechanism that can restore holy energy to the Jews.
Historically, the effect of sin was powerfully seen when the Jews spoke defamatory speech (lashon hara), destroying the ahdut (unity) of the nation, their access to the Divine energy, and both Temples in Jerusalem. One Jew’s lack of love for another was a “killer.” Indeed, if the Jews have the kind of power that can block or diminish Divine energy, they have the power to literally destroy Creation.
G-d had to stop this possibility by creating an opening known as the ẖalonot ('windows'), according to Rabbi Kessin. The 'gate' may have closed but the 'windows' were opened. Creation was able to continue through the reduced amount of shefa or Divine energy flowing through the ‘window.’ The energy was restricted and “the Jews begin to suffer terribly.” They were forced into exile, giving both their holiness and their mazal (fortune) to Satan.
The Jews were exiled in their own land under the occupation of Greece and Rome and were then “evicted” geographically after the destruction of the Second Temple. As the 'windows' began to close further due to their sins, the Jews suffered not only in exile, but the parade of misery from pogroms, crusades, persecutions, inquisitions, and holocausts; what little energy was coming through the closing ‘windows’ went to Satan.
According to Ramchal's work, the 'windows' will close almost entirely before the Redemption, until the opening is a mere “nanometer” allowing only a “slit” of light. The Rabbi taught that this will be the moment the 'window' could shut completely, blocking all flow of shefa and ending Creation.
Closing the ‘window’ on the light
But just at the exact moment that the 'window' shuts, G-d will reopen the 'gate' and the messianic era will begin — a time referred to as the pekida. The actual opening of the 'gate,' allowing the luxurious flow to resume, is referred to as the zehira. Both of these kabbalistic terms literally mean a remembrance. Rabbi Kessin explained that this renewed flow of Divinity brings the first of the two messiahs, i.e., the mashiah ben Yosef (the messiah from the house of Joseph), whose job is to usher in the rehabilitation of the Jews and the restoration of righteousness and holiness in the world.
The intense suffering of this time was discussed by chazal as quoted in the opening passages. If the Jews were not able to bring the Redemption through teshuva (repentance), it will come by suffering. We can understand the agony of the holy sages who did not want to live to see the spiritual darkness of this time.
Today’s situation is like the time of the mabul (Noah’s Flood). Ten generations after Adam and Chava, mankind had sinned terribly and not only did the 'gate' shut, but the 'windows' were also closing. Just at that ignominious threshold of utter annihilation, G-d said, “No,” and brought the Flood that killed most of mankind but preserved the Creation. Rav Kessin pointed out that mankind was actually destroyed by the asphyxiation caused by drowning, similar to what happens in the deathly respiratory disease of COVID-19.
At the time of the Flood, G-d “swore” that mankind would never again be able to shut the 'window' through grievous sin without the 'gate' being able to open. The Flood was the only time that man’s free will to sin almost brought complete destruction to the entire Creation, were it not for a few righteous people. The rainbow symbol associated with the aftermath of the Flood represents G-d’s oath to never again give mankind the ability to close both the 'gate' and the 'window'. This idea is coming into play now.
Hastening the descent into darkness
“Where are we at today?” the rabbi asked. “Everyone is into physicality, materialism. Who thinks about G-d, serving G-d, submitting to G-d’s commandments? How many people repent their actions? The amount of lashon hara (defamatory speech) is stupendous!”
Human nature has become depraved and corrupt. The internet and immediate access to it through smartphones and other technology allow easy connection to defamation, fake news, and pornography.
The severe darkness we see today intensified with the Shoah (Holocaust). Although we don’t know why the Holocaust happened, the rabbi said, “..what I can tell you is what resulted” and how the ‘light’ has been decreased.
The concrete number of six million Jewish deaths does not reveal the real tragedy. Because every Jewish soul is kadosh (holy), a Jew can affect the spiritual world and can bring about the rectification of Creation. As the rabbi made plain, “...we see from the verse, G-d says ‘I will build them a Temple and I will dwell in their midst;’ so from this we know that when a group of Jews get together… the shekhina (Divine Presence) is in their midst and so prayer is augmented, enhanced. When a congregation forms, the Divine Presence intensifies. So, when six million Jews were killed, G-d eradicated the Divine Presence of six million Jews from the world.” The rabbi described this as G-d “extinguishing the Divine Light itself.”
The Nazis destroyed centers of Torah scholarship, wiping out strongholds and places of expanded knowledge in Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere. We can see the gradual nature of waning Torah scholarship over the many epochs of Jewish life during the last 2,000 years, moving from the years of the tannaim, through the era of the amoraim, and into the time of the geonim and the last 500 years of the ahronim. But by doing away with the “cream of Torah” in the Shoah, G-d accelerated the passage of the world into darkness.
The deaths of so many Jews and the destruction of so many places of Torah wisdom caused people to doubt G-d’s strength. If G-d was helpless to protect and save His “princes and princesses”of the Torah, He was believed to be weak. In this way, the Holocaust perpetuated a terrible diminution and degradation of the ‘light’ of G-d Himself.
Perhaps related to this doubt has been the astonishing rate of assimilation, whether by intermarriage, neglect, or lack of affiliation with any sect or stream of Judaism, causing Jews to “disappear.” The Erev Rav — those leaders who, wittingly or not, work to reduce Judaism to a mere culture — have increased their denial of the covenant between the Jews and G-d. The Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements of Jews in America have also removed traditional links to G-d and, in the Rabbi’s words, “the Darkness intensifies tremendously.”
Today we see a lack of gedolim (Torah masters) and poskim (adjudicators of Jewish law) who could enlighten the world. “Think about that,” mused the rabbi. “There are thousands and thousands of students learning in yeshivas but how many are gedolim? We don’t have any — the way we had even thirty years ago.” The Jewish people no longer have multitude masters of the Torah.
Based on all this, the rabbi stressed that G-d is accelerating the world’s descent into spiritual darkness, as shown by the rapid changes since the Holocaust. It was time for G-d to bring the Redemption but the sins of the Jews had incurred a massive debt which had to be paid, according to the system of justice G-d Himself established. The Holocaust was able to erase a great deal of that debt through the suffering of the Jews.
Such payment would normally have taken five hundred years or more but it was accomplished in the six years from 1939 to 1945, bringing us to a time in G-d’s plan to bring the ‘window’ down and ‘balance the books’ of justice. G-d created a “device” that He can use to intensify the spiritual darkness in the world to unparalleled historic levels, not just for the Jews but for all mankind.
Bringing the ‘window’ down
G-d activated a microscopic tool, the coronavirus COVID-19, to fit the needs of His plan. The virus is global, having “invaded the entire planet.” Every synagogue, every yeshiva, every minyan is forbidden to function during this “bizarre” global shut-down. G-d has stopped the intermingling of Jews with other Jews, shutting down a source of kedusha (holiness).
This disease has brought unusual high death rates to many rabbis, Jewish leaders, and the elderly generation. Holiness is not only found in a place, in learning, or in worship but is also manifest in people, such as the Jewish leaders and teachers. The death of elderly Jews — who were closer to the era of traditional Jewish practice — painfully contributes to the encroaching darkness of this g’zera (Heavenly decree), according to Rabbi Kessin.
Yet even in this intensification, there is mercy. The virus has spread to 194 countries in the very short time span of two months; by contrast, the Spanish Flu lingered, spreading death for a full year. COVID-19 brings relatively low morbidity, particularly when compared to the Black Death, a bubonic plague which killed 75-200 million people, or the Spanish Flu, which took the lives of 50 million. The rabbi pointed out that death is not the primary objective of this pandemic; it is instead pahad mavet (the fear of death) which will satisfy the requirements of justice because the “fear of death is a death-sentence equivalency.”
As the world moves to this last redemption, we learn from Micah (Mic. 7:15) that the last Redemption will be like the first, the Exodus from Egypt. The rabbi noted that at that time, the 'window' of shefa had nearly closed when the suffering of the Jewish people intensified to extreme levels. Pharaoh forced the Jews to gather their own straw for brick making, bringing untold sleepless toil as they gathered straw all night long.
In a similar way, this virus is bringing unrecognized suffering to the Jews on the spiritual level, asserted the rabbi. Just as the 'window' virtually closed before the Hebrew nation was redeemed through Moses, today the 'window' is again nearly shut.
In Egypt, when the Jews were quarantined in their homes as the plague of the death of the firstborn swept through Egypt, the opening of the ‘gate’ — the pekida — occurred and the Redemption began instantly. This pekida was followed with the zehira when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai — that spectacular event stemming from the unprecedented increase in the Divine flow through the now opened 'gate'.
And yet, even there, we saw how evil attempted to rally and recapture its dominance as Egypt’s armies pursued the liberated Jews to the banks of the Reed Sea. As the ‘gate’ opened wider, Egypt’s forces were devastated. The last attempt by evil to dominate in this Creation, reported Rav Kessin, will be the war of Gog and Magog, a war against the mashiah ben Yosef and a final resurgence of evil to destroy Jerusalem.
As we move toward this Redemption, evil will again be destroyed and mashiah ben Yosef will be revealed ready to bring the Jews back from galut (exile). The rabbi acknowledged the difficulty of this task, considering the extent to which many Jews are wedded to their material lives in whatever country they live.
This mashiah will build the Third Temple, with its attendant new consciousness of holiness. And finally, the mashiah ben Yosef will vanquish the last remnants of evil in the world, ushering in the era of the mashiah ben David (the messiah from the house of David) who will reign as G-d’s representative. At that point, the world will acknowledge that the Jews have long-suffered for the redemption of all mankind and are the foremost nation for having done this.
But right now, the bad news is that the 'window' is about to shut. The good news is that when it shuts, it will cause the 'gate' to open as discussed above. How do we know?
In the Torah, we learn of the sign that will signal the Redemption from Egypt. Just before Joseph dies, he pledges his brothers to take his bones out of the Land of Egypt, once G-d redeems them. He twice uses the phrase, “Pakod yifkod (He will surely remember you)”. Later, when G-d commands Moses to go to Egypt to liberate the people, He tells him to tell the people, “Pakod pakadti (I have surely remembered).”
This passphrase is therefore the sign that Moses is the Redeemer and the Redemption is at hand. The rabbi pointed out that the gematria (numerology) of the phrase is 780 and the current year in the Hebrew calendar is (5)780. Further, the word pakod has a letter vav which is pronounced but not written. The value of vav is “6" which represents the 6th millennium. “Guess what? That is this year!” said the rabbi excitedly.
For the next stage to open, the virus has to disappear. And here the rabbi posed a fascinating, yet possible marvel: “Wouldn’t it be incredible if, on seder night, the 15th day of Nisan, when all the Jews sat alone — in fact in Israel, the police enforced that you could not go out of the house! — can you imagine?
“Was there ever a Passover when people were alone, confined to commemorating the greatest event in Jewish history — the Exodus from Egypt — totally alone or as a couple or with just the immediate family present? No communal seders? No extended family get-togethers? ...For the first time in history since Egypt, in Israel and around the world, it was just like what it says in the Torah! Then there was a decree to avoid the plague of the makat behorot (plague of the death of the first-born sons); now, there was a decree to stay indoors to avoid the plague of COVID-19.
“It is an exact replication of Egypt. So wouldn’t it be amazing, if at hatzot (around midnight), that exact moment that every Jew was in his house — which is the greatest darkness that Jews have ever seen — the 'gate' opened?” He added, “T’hiye shnat pekida — it will be the year of pekida. And the Hebrew letters of pekida — pey, quf, dalet — have the same numerical value as the letters of this Hebrew year 780 — taf, shin, peh… And just as in those days, G-d will say, ‘Pakod pakadti (I have surely remembered you) (Ex. 3:16)’.”
Homosexuality and corruption are the norm
The rabbi then cautioned, “One other idea that I must mention and which some people will not like, but it is not I who say this. It is contained in midrash rabbah (Rabbah 26:5 on Gen. 6:2): ‘The decree to destroy the world was sealed (cannot be overturned) right before the Flood.’” What sealed the Flood? The midrash says that a man would marry a man… or even an animal. And would actually write a contract to legalize that relationship. And because of that, the midrash says, the decree was sealed to destroy the world.
The rabbi found this incredible because it doesn’t say the decree of destruction was sealed because a man would marry a man, which is obviously against the Torah and carries a death sentence — but it says the world was destroyed “because they wrote a contract for this.” Not only was homosexuality practiced, which would not have ensured the destruction, but it became legal; it became the norm.
The rabbi explained that G-d could not tolerate this, because He “created a world in which people have to have children, have to reproduce.” With legality, homosexuality would spread through the planet and “that sealed the destruction of the world.” Rabbi Kessin applied this insight to America, asking why it and the world are suffering so.
He stated that though it is one thing to commit homosexuality — and the Torah is very severe about it — it is another thing to make it legal and to make it the norm. America has now recognized this as a valid, alternative lifestyle. Beginning last April in the recent run for the Democratic presidential candidacy, a man who was ‘married’ to another man ran for President.
At that time the rabbi realized that this promotion of homosexuality was identical to the behavior of the generation of the Flood. He understood that the world would suffer globally and would have a modern day ‘Flood.’ Just as the flood waters deprived living things of oxygen and they ‘drowned,’ the current coronavirus kills through acute respiratory failure.
Looking to Israel, Rabbi Kessin noted that the current political situation brings G-d’s hand to bear against the Erev Rav — those leaders who want to destroy the primacy of Torah with secularism. After three elections and a cobbled together coalition, there is an absurd situation in which Gantz, who has only 15 or so seats, has been given equal power to Netanyahu who has 58 seats. Gantz has now become the Prime Minister — or will be in 18 months.
The rabbi applied the statement by hazal saying “...is it possible for two kings to serve with one crown?” to this situation. When G-d created the universe, the sun and moon were equal luminaries. The moon objected and though its objection was correct, it was relegated to inferior luminescence to preside over the night. “How can there be a government that has two prime ministers?” the rabbi asked. “And they also want to create 36 ministers costing a billion shekel? Israel can’t afford that! But the question is why is this happening?”
Netanyahu, who is facing trial for three crimes, has allowed himself to be blackmailed. Gantz as Speaker of the Knesset told Netanyahu that he would bring up a law to exclude anyone indicted for a crime from being the Prime Minister. In desperation, Netanyahu allowed himself to be extorted, in what the rabbi calls, “a mockery of government. These men are creating a super government, taking a huge amount of budget from the country when money is needed to even feed the people.” This government is increasing the spiritual darkness in the world. The ability of Jews to be religious in Israel is being diminished by this government’s configuration.
“The darkness is continuing,” says the rabbi. "The Jewish people are being stripped of their kedusha; the world is being stripped or destroyed by the coronavirus. Can we imagine the economic calamity of this disaster for the world? …G-d is saying, ‘I must end it all because the 'gate' must open to restore the shefa (flow) of Divine spirituality,” which the rabbi stated may have happened on the seder night of Pesach.
“The good thing now is that G-d will end it,” says the rabbi. “Even if He shuts the ‘window,’ bringing incredible darkness, when He opens the 'gate', the world will be filled with holiness. It will be the entry of the shekhina (the Divine Presence).
“This is what is meant by: ‘The Earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d, which is the shekhina, as the waters cover the seabed.’ The world will enter into a period of incredible tranquility, success, peace, unbelievable holiness, righteousness, goodness, and justice.”
Rav Kessin's complete shiur can be viewed here:
Anyone seeking further clarification and explanation of current events and the messianic process is 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 hashkafa of the Ramchal. His videos can also be found at https://www.torahanytime.com and on Torah Thinking on YouTube. He can be followed on Facebook at Rabbi Mendel Kessin.
The author has written extensively on Rabbi Kessin’s work; click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.