Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond AppleLarry Brandt

Why has the Messiah not come yet?

Everything happens in God’s good time (Isa. 60:22).

The prophet Isaiah says, hama’amin lo yachish, "The believer must not be in a hurry" (Isa. 28:16).

According to the Hassidim, the Rimanover Rabbi assured his disciples before his death that he would refuse to enter Gan Eden unless God agreed to send Mashi’ach.

But it was not time for the redemption, so King David was told to play his harp at the gateway to Paradise, and the music was so entrancing that despite himself the rabbi moved into Paradise… and the Messiah did not come.

Realising what had happened, the Oheler Rabbi said, "When I die, they won’t trick me with David’s harp!"

But the messianic era had still not arrived and they did a deal with the rabbi. He was told, "Just give us one d’rashah, one discourse, and when it is over Mashi’ach will be sent onto the earth."

Of course it took a little time to assemble the heavenly audience, but when he began speaking the rabbi was so inspired that… he is still speaking, and the Messiah has not come ("The Hasidic Anthology", ed. LI Newman, 1963, p. 249).

What does the story tell us about why the Messiah has not yet come?

Perhaps that we are so entranced by the melody of the happier times in life that we forget the thought of redemption. Or that when we do remember we are so taken up with talk that we neglect the practical work of paving the way for the messianic future.

The best possible you

The Torah reading for this past Shabbat focusses on the dispute between Moses and Korach.

Both came from the same tribe of Levi, but dissension bitterly divided them. The Torah clearly sides with Moses and has a poor opinion of Korach and his henchmen.

You would think that what divided them was ideology but that did not seem to be the problem at all. Both sides believed in God, both regarded Israel as a holy people, both had their ethical priorities. Had they all agreed on everything it would have been shalom al Yisra'el.

The problem was that the Korach company were not clamouring to be themselves but to be interchangeable with Moses and his men (Num. 16:10), whereas God had given each group its own place, its own priorities, its own purpose.

God said, as it were, "Korach, I don’t expect you to be Moses; I expect you to be Korach. You have a role to play, but it is your own role. You must not steal Moses’ task but perform your own. Let Moses be Moses – the best possible Moses he can be. Your task is to be the best possible Korach!"

There is a Hassidic saying that in time to come no-one will ask why I was not Moses or why I was not Abraham… what they will ask is why I was not myself!

No repentance

The sages point out that some of Korach’s camp deserted him and some of his sons regretted their support of their father. They repented – but Korach didn’t.

The Torah does not spell out the details, but one can read between the lines that Korach remained adamant (though some of the rabbis say that on the spot where the earth opened and swallowed Korach, a voice may be heard saying, "Moses and his supporters have the truth, and Korach and his company are liars").

It is a good thought for this time of the year as the calendar moves on towards Ellul and Tishri, the months of the Three Rs – remorse, repentance and return.

Being adamant and stiff-necked is the sign of the sinner who cannot move out of his rut.

Blessed is the man whose children are sorry for their father’s lapses. Blessed is the man whose children repent on his behalf.

This suggests the true interpretation of the verse in the Ten Commandments that is usually understood as saying that "God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children". Actually what the verse may be saying is that God recognises in the children the repentance they perform for the sins committed by the fathers.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple AO RFD is Emeritus Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem, where he publishes OzTorah, a weekly email list and website with Torah insights from an Australian perspective..