Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayigash: Are we ready for Mashiach?
If not for Jacob's great merits, he and his family would have suffered from the beginning of the exile, and would have been taken down to Egypt as captives in chains. The Egyptian exile was different from the other four exiles. Everyone has the potential to be part of the coming of Mashiach, even those who have assimilated. The Zohar describes how the descendants of Ishmael will make major attacks in various places, and the descendants of Edom will gather to go to war against them. The war between Gog and Magog was prophesized by Yecheskel. Are we ready for the coming of Mashiach?
Jacob's great merits
In this week's Parasha the Torah relates how Jacob and his family was invited by Pharaoh and Joseph to come down to Egypt and settle in Goshen. This was the beginning of a 210-year exile that became increasingly difficult. The Talmud (Shabbos 89b) teaches that due to Jacob's great merits, Jacob and his family came down to Egypt as free people. Otherwise, they would have suffered from the beginning of the exile, and would have been taken down there as captives in chains.
It is interesting to note that, in general, when our sages discuss the various exiles the Jewish people have endured under different empires, they only refer to four exiles: Babylon, Persia and Media, Greek-Syrian Empire and Edom, that started with the Roman Empire. The exile in Egypt is never mentioned together with the other exiles.
Egyptian exile different
The Ramban, in the beginning of Parashas Vayishlach, quotes from our sages that whatever happened to our Patriarchs is a sign that future generations will go through similar situations. With this in mind, we may be able to explain why the Egyptian exile was different from the other four exiles. The exile in Egypt had a double purpose. On the one hand, G'd had already told Abraham (Bereishis 15:13) that his descendants would be exiled for four hundred years. The four hundred years started as soon as Isaac was born, for although our Patriarchs lived most of their lives in the Land of Israel, it did not yet belong to them. The last 210 years of this exile started with the descent of Jacob and his family to Egypt, and lasted until the Jewish people left under Moses' leadership. However, since this exile started with Jacob himself, it was also one of the situations that our Patriarchs went through as a sign for future generations. Jacob's encounter with Esau was a lesson for Jacob's descendants' how to deal with Esau's descendants (see Torah Attitude, Parashas Vayishlach, Lessons for the end of our exile, November 26, 2015). In the same way, Jacob's descent into Egypt was a sign for our problems with Ishmael's descendants. They actually have a close connection to Egypt. First of all, their maternal lineage leads back to Egypt. The Torah (Bereishis 16:1) relates that Hagar, Ishmael's mother, was from Egypt. Rashi (ibid) mentions that she was the daughter of Pharaoh. Later, it says (ibid 21:21) that Ishmael's wife also was from Egypt. Finally, the Torah (ibid 25:18) describes that the family of Ishmael settled near Egypt.
During most of our exile under Edom, the Jewish people suffered a lot but we always kept our religious observance. Very few people assimilated and intermarriage was almost non-existent. In the last few hundred years, this has changed. As we have now entered an era where we mainly suffer from the descendants of Ishmael, we are losing the vast majority of our people to assimilation and intermarriage. This is somewhat similar to our situation in Egypt, where we suffered physically and saw the spiritual decline of a large portion of the Jewish people. 80% did not merit to be part of the exodus, and many of those who came out had served idols. We must take a lesson from what happened then, and try and prepare ourselves for the coming of Mashiach. Everyone has the potential to be part of it, even those who have assimilated. As we say every day in the prayer called Uva L'tzion, "And a redeemer shall come to Zion and to those of Jacob who repent …" The commentaries point out that not only those who have remained observant throughout the exile will be redeemed, but even those who sinned, provided that they repent and accept to observe the laws of the Torah.
Battle between the descendants of Ishmael and Edom
In this context it is most revealing that we find several references to the suffering the Jewish people will suffer from the descendants of Ishmael at end of our exile under Edom. The Zohar (Shemos 32a) describes how Ishmael's angel begged G'd for four hundred years that Ishmael's descendants should be rewarded for being circumcised. As a result of this request, there will come a time, says the Zohar, when the descendants of Ishmael will rule in the Holy Land and will try to stop the Jewish people to return to their place. The Zohar continues to describe how the descendants of Ishmael will make major attacks in various places of the world, and the descendants of Edom will gather to go to war against them. They will battle both on the sea and land, as well as close to Jerusalem. The Zohar further describes how more nations will get involved and battle each other. Eventually, says the Zohar, it will lead to the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy (34:6) of a massacre in Batzrah.
War between Gog and Magog
This prophecy is mentioned in the song Baruch Hashem Yom Yom that many people sing at the meal Shabbos morning, or at the third meal Shabbos after Mincha. The great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yeshaya Bassan who counts Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto among his disciples, writes in his book, Imrei Yosher (page 87) that it is well known that the year after Shmittah is especially suited for the coming of Mashiach (as stated in the Talmud Sanhedrin 97a). He adds that he heard from his mentor that it was revealed to him that "Batzrah" has the numerical value 297, which is the numerical value of Paris, France. This, writes Rabbi Bassan, indicates that in a year after Shmittah an army unit will come from Babylon and will make an attack in Paris. This is connected to the fulfillment of the war between Gog and Magog as prophesized by Yecheskel (chapter 38). The Malbim, in his commentary on Yecheskel (32:17) explains that the war between Gog and Magog refers to the battle between the Western civilization and the Moslem world. This will happen, says the Malbim, after the Jewish people have settled in the Land of Israel. They will all want to be in control of Israel, but will end up fighting each other. At this point, G'd will punish the various nations for their atrocities, till they all realize and accept G'd's sovereign power (see Yecheskel 3:21-23).
Are we ready?
No one can say for sure when Mashiach will come, and how the events prior to his arrival will unfold. However, it is clear that the way our sages have described the time that is most suited, and what will happen then, strongly indicates that G'd is ready. The real question is, are we ready for the coming of Mashiach? As Rabbi Bassan concludes, "Be aware, not everyone will merit to be part of it. Therefore, one must prepare and sanctify oneself."
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
P.S. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this e-mail, we would appreciate hearing from you. If you know of others who may be interested in receiving e-mails similar to this please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shema Yisrael Torah Network