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Thursday
Jan312019

TO SIT IN THE SHADOWS AND REVEL IN MOSHIACH

Lacking the strength and fortitude to face the suffering of chevlei Moshiach, most Sages were willing to forgo being a part of the onset of the Messianic Era. Rav Yosef, however, was different

Translated by Boruch Merkur

There is a lengthy discussion about many aspects of Moshiach in Sanhedrin (96b, end, ff.). Meseches Sota focusses more on Ikvisa DMeshicha [literally, the Heels of Moshiach, the time leading up to Moshiachs coming, when thefootstepsof Moshiach can be heard approaching], whereas Sanhedrin speaks at great length about the advent of Moshiach, the revelation of Moshiach, and the state of the world in the Messianic Era.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98b) describes the feelings the Sages had in anticipation of that period, how several Amoraim would say, “yeisi v’lo ichminei,” admitting that although they want Moshiach to come, they do not want to be around in that tumultuous time of so much suffering [i.e., they wished to pass away first]. The Gemara explains that these Sages feared that if the merit of the Jewish people is lacking, there would be chevlei Moshiach, the birth pangs of Moshiach [see HaYom Yom of 8 Shvat]. Lacking the strength and fortitude to face the suffering of chevlei Moshiach, they were willing to forgo witnessing and being a part of the zenith of Jewish history, the onset of the Messianic Era.

Rav Yosef, however, is distinguished from his contemporaries in eagerly anticipating experiencing the redemption himself. He was prepared to undergo any consequence related to the advent of Moshiach, even suffering the tribulations of chevlei Moshiach, so long as Moshiach would come and he would merit to see him. Thus, Rav Yosef was distinguished in saying, “yeisi v’azki d’eisiv b’tula d’kupita d’chamrei ­– let Moshiach come and may I merit to sit in the shadow of the dung of his donkey” (as Rashi interprets). Rav Yosef was prepared to suffer such a gross violation of his personal dignity to merit to see Moshiach, saying, “I look forward to even that, so long as I get to see him” (Rashi).

Since every concept in Torah is precise and is meant to teach a lesson, we must understand why the Gemara describes the disgraceful situation of “eisiv b’tula d’kupita d’chamrei.” [What can be learned from that?]

The explanation is related to Rav Yosef saying in Sota 49b, “lo sisnei aniva, d’ika ana.” [That is, the final Mishna in Sota teaches: “When Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi died, humility and fear of sin ceased.” Rav Yosef responds in the Gemara: “Do not teach that humility ceased, for there is [still one who is humble, namely] me.”] In virtue of his extraordinary humility, Rav Yosef yearned for Moshiach even if it required him to “eisiv b’tula d’kupita d’chamrei”:

In saying that he wants Moshiach to come and he is willing to sit in the shadow of the dung of Moshiach’s donkey, so long as he sees Moshiach, to do this one needs an incredible amount of humility. The advent of Moshiach will be an epic historical event that will revolutionize the entire world. Nevertheless, so long as he gets to see Moshiach, Rav Yosef accepts the fate of sitting “in the shadow of the dung of his donkey,” illustrating his great humility as well as the preciousness of Moshiach.

Other Sages also appreciated the preciousness of Moshiach but not enough to truly affect them, not enough that they were willing to “sit in the shadow of the dung of his donkey.” Accepting that disgrace requires a truly exceptional measure of humility.

Rav Yosef so excelled in humility that he said of himself “Do not teach that humility ceased, for there is me.” There were many Tanaim and Amoraim who lived after the Mishna declared that humility had ceased, yet no one said, “Do not teach that humility ceased, for there is me,” until Rav Yosef came along and said it, for his humility was perfect. The other Amoraim, on the other hand, felt that they could not accomplish such utter self-effacement to allow them to be content to “sit in the shadow of the dung of his donkey.” Because of his tremendous humility, Rav Yosef elevated himself to the point where he was honestly content to be in that condition in the Messianic Era, meaning it with total sincerity.

(To be continued b’ezras Hashem)

(From the address of 5 Sivan, Erev Chag HaShavuos 5736; Sichos Kodesh 5736 Vol. 2, pg. 242, end, ff.)

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