What do you do when you know the world is about to end? Where do you go if you’re sure the world is going to experience an apocalyptic culmination in the very near future?

If you’re any where near the former Soviet Union, I would suggest that you head over to Nikolskoe, Russia where you can join dozens of like-minded individual holed up in a cave waiting out the final tick of the clock. They, too, like long nights of candlelight vigil, furtive discussions, and paranoia tournaments. (I think the last winner was the guy who said that spoons are concave because they are mini satellite dishes that record what you’re thinking through your mouth and then beam it back up to the mother ship when you take the spoon out of your mouth.)

Last October about thirty people, including four children, barricaded themselves into a hillside to escape an apocalypse their preacher says is looming in either June or July. In reward for staying apart from the rest of the world, they will get to be the ones who judge who goes to heaven and who goes the other way when the rest of the humanity ceases to exist. (Hey, for that honor, I would be willing to seclude myself in a cave for six months too!)

When they entered the cave, they brought supplies for many moons, and about 100 gallons of gasoline that they threaten to use to burn themselves to death if anyone tries to force them out. Pyotr Kuznetsov, the preacher, did not join them in their cozy retreat, as G-d gave him other tasks. Unfortunately, those tasks were cut short because he was carted off by the Russian police for recklessly endangering his followers.

 He didn’t get convicted (which in Russia might have led to an apocalyptic end for him), because psychiatrists determined he was unfit to stand trial. So the leader of “The True Russian Orthodox Church” was shipped off to a psychiatric facility where he was supposed to remain until at least June or July…

Recent developments earned him a surprise trip back to his faithful flock. Intense spring rains caused a collapse of part of the cave, isolating seven women from the rest of the group. They came out and barricaded themselves into a nearby home. Officials are attempting to convince Kuznetsov to tell the rest of his followers to leave the cave, as additional rains could cause the collapse of the entire cave. That would bring the End of Days for everyone inside, including the four children, one only 18 months old.

“Inasmuch as their beliefs have been formed over a long period of time, convincing them to come out is not going to happen quickly,” said Alexander Yelatontsev, an official from Russia’s Penza Oblast region, who has been the chief point of contact for the cult since the siege began. The latest request has been for a live cow, so that they can have a continuous supply of fresh milk. If the cow remains there until June or July, does it also get to judge who goes upstairs and who goes downstairs?

In Judaism we have very different views of the end of days, the time of the Messianic Era. Firstly, we believe that it will happen not by our secluding ourselves and avoiding the world, but rather through our going out and actively improving it.

There is a perplexing verse in Isaiah regarding the Messiah “I, Hashem, in its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22). The Talmud analyzes this verse.

 R. Alexandri said: R. Joshua ben Levi pointed out a contradiction. It is written,” in its time it will come”, while it is also written, “I will hasten it!”  (The Talmud answers) If they are worthy, I will hasten it: if not, [he will come] at the due time. (Sanhedrin, 98A)

Many commentators, including Rashi and Maimonides, explain that there is a designated time for the Messiah to come. This time is hidden from mankind. However, if we are worthy, if we act righteously, we can speed up the process and bring him immediately.

Although many Jews believe in the Messiah, very few truly consider it something that might happen today or tomorrow. And even fewer consider it something they can actually cause with their actions. If we were to live our lives seeing ourselves as people who can affect the world in such a fundamental way, we would crawl out of our caves, and get more involved in learning Torah, doing acts of kindness, and doing more mitzvot. That is why Maimonides included belief in the coming of the Messiah as one of the Thirteen Principles of faith by whihc we should live our lives.

“I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.” (Principle Twelve)

Many people wonder how a generation like ours can bring the Messiah if previous generations with greats like Moses and Aaron didn’t merit bringing him earlier. The Chofetz Chaim (a prolific author, and one of the greatest leaders of European Jewry in the early twentieth century) explained that Messiah will come early if the Jews reach a certain benchmark of cumulative merits. Moses, Aaron, King David, and many other great Jews have filled up the “tank” with merits for years, and now there are just a few more drops necessary to reach its completion. Any one of us can be the one who fills that last drop. Pretty empowering if you ask me!

Throughout the ages, Jews lived their lives in daily anticipation of the Messiah. It is well known that the Chofetz Chaim always kept with him a suitcase with beautiful clothing so that if Messiah came, he would be able to greet him with the proper respect. He lived with the Messiah always on his mind. There are many Jews who go to the Western Wall every night, and at midnight tearfully pray for the Messiah. They long for the Messiah every day and live with an awareness of his possible imminent arrival.

With the rising hatred towards Jews around the world, with the horrific plight of our brothers and sisters being held captive in Gaza, and the tragic loss of our heroic soldiers happening almost daily, we desperately need the Messiah now. As we read in the Haftorah on the last day of Pesach that described the Messianic Era, we need the world to be covered with the knowledge of G-d like the waters cover the sea. We need a world of healing and love, a world of G-d consciousness and a world of peace.

Staying in a cave won’t reward us to be the judges of the coming apocalypse, getting out of our “caves” and doing more will help us end the apocalypse that is already happening all around us. Let’s see if we can find one small new daily action which  we do for the express purpose of bringing the Messiah closer. It can be putting a quarter in a charity box as we leave the house in the morning, it can be calling someone we know will be cheered by our call, or it can be adding a 5 minute session every day studying the laws and ideas of the commandments dealing with gossip. And importantly, when we do it, we should have the kavana, the intention, or even better make a verbal declaration, that we are doing this solely to bring about the world’s redemption, to hasten the Mashiach.

So many of us feel helpless when we hear about what’s going on in college campuses, in the halls of US government, or in our beloved homeland, Eretz Yisrael. Let’s be proactive, and turn the helplessness into help, turn the hopelessness into hope, and start building the Messianic future we want to see.

Parsha Dvar Torah

According to American law, if you were to stand at the edge of a pool doing nothing while watching someone drown, you have committed no crime. Even if you stand impassive while he’s screaming for help and there is a life preserver lying by your feet, you could not be prosecuted. The Torah however specifically prohibits this, “You shall not stand idly by the blood (life) of your fellow (Lev. 19:16)” The Torah sees humans as having responsibility for one another, and mandates it as law.

Interestingly, in the next verse, the Torah tells us that we also have a responsibility to help someone who is struggling spiritually. “You shall surely reprove your fellow,” (Lev. 19:17). Not only does the Torah require us to help people who are making moral missteps, but the Torah also gives us clue on how to successfully do so.

“Reprove not a scorner lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)” Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, otherwise known as The Shelah (1564-1630 Prague/ Safed), tells us that this verse does not necessarily refer to two different people, but rather to two ways of correcting someone. “Reprove the scorner” means that if you call him a “scorner,” i.e. if you point out his negative habits, he will hate you. “Reprove a wise man” means that you call him “wise” or point out his otherwise good qualities that make his behavior unbecoming, and he will love you!

Some even read this into the continuation of the verse in the Torah that tells us to reprove others: “You shall surely reprove your fellow; [but] you shall not bear a sin on his account.” Reprove someone, but not by bearing down on him with the weight of everything wrong he ever did. One of the people who had the greatest effect on my life was a Rabbi who, regardless of what I was going through, would always point out my best qualities and encourage me to live up to the potential he saw in me.

The Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) was once traveling throughout Europe to sell his books, when he stopped at a Jewish inn for the night. As he sat in the corner of the dining room waiting for dinner, he saw a sorry sight. A big burly fellow barged in, sat himself down at a table and demanded a huge meal. He was gruff with the waitress, made rude jokes at the people at neighboring tables, and cursed loudly when anyone said something that was not to his liking. When his meal came, he noisily wolfed it down without reciting any blessings, washed it down with a big mug of ale, and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.

The Chofetz Chaim began approaching him, when the innkeeper intercepted him. “Don’t even attempt to talk to him. That guy was a cantonist, conscripted into the czar’s army at age seven, and he was not let out until twentyfive years later. People have tried to change his ways, but he’s stubborn. It seems he missed the stage of developing his manners or his Judaism.”

Unperturbed, the Chofetz Chaim pulled up a chair and said to him: “Is it true that you were a cantonist, drafted into the czar’s army for 25 years?” The cantonist grunted in affirmation. “You must be such a holy individual! I can’t imagine what it took for you to retain your Jewish identity. Countless times they must have beaten you for not converting to Christianity! You never even had a chance to study Torah and yet you held on! You’ve been through the worst of conditions and yet you stayed strong! I wish I would have the merits you must have! I wish I could have your portion in the World to Come!”

By this time the hardened veteran was crying like a baby, and kissing the hand of the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim continued, “There are just a few things you probably need to work on, but if you could improve in those areas, there would be no one like you!” After this, the man who was previously never affected by the years of people rebuking him became a changed man. For years he remained a close student of the Chofetz Chaim, and truly lived up to his true potential. We may not let people drown, but we don’t help them when we knock them down. The only way to truly help someone is to lift them up and out of their difficult situation!

Parsha Summary

This week’s parsha, Kedoshim, starts off with G-d telling Moshe to tell the Jews “You shall be holy, for holy am I, Ha-shem your G-d.” I could write volumes on this statement alone but then you would all put me on the “Block- Spam” list so I’ll keep it simple. This is G-d’s way of telling us to stay away from excess even in things that are allowed. Even though there is plenty of kosher wine, and good USDA Grade A Angus steaks, that doesn’t mean that we should sit all day drinking wine and eating steaks. Even within that which is permitted to us, we must learn not to overindulge, not to constantly focus on fulfilling our physical desires as that takes us away from pursuing spiritual growth.

The Torah then enumerates so many fundamental laws that Rashi says that “most of the essentials of the Torah depend on it (this Parsha).” Included in them are keeping Shabbos, honoring your parents, not serving idols, being honest in your dealings with others, paying your workers on time, not giving bad advice, leaving certain parts of your harvest in the field for the poor, not perverting justice in favor of the rich or poor. (O.K. lets take a deep breath and we’ll dive right back in!) The commandment to love your fellow like yourself, the requirement to save your friend from physical harm, and to give him reproach in a way that will save him from spiritual calamity. The prohibition against gossiping,  taking revenge, bearing a grudge, and hating your brother in your heart. This portion concludes with the words “I am Ha-shem!” because many of these things cannot be discerned from the outside, such as hating someone in your heart, or giving someone bad advice, so Ha-shem says I am G-d and I know what you’re thinking!

Immediately after the above laws, many of which seem to be moral laws that we as a thinking society would probably institute anyway for the preservation, the Torah brings the laws of Kelaim. Basically, you can’t wear clothes made of wool and linen, you can’t mate two different animal species together, nor plant mixed seeds in your field. These mitzvos seem to have no apparent rationale.

The reason the Torah juxtaposes these two types of commandments is to show us that just like we keep the laws of Kelaim solely because G-d commanded it, so to we should keep the laws that we think are moral solely because G-d commanded it. Human morality is flippant. The “great” Greeks and Romans on whose civilizations our Western world is modeled, killed children on childbirth for the crime of being female and justified it. Some cultures sent elders out into the wilderness to die when they became too old, and justified it. In order for us to be able to really say something is right or wrong, in order to have an absolute morality, it has to come from G-d, who would be the only One who could classify things as right or wrong and everyone would be bound by it. By definition, some parts of it we will understand and some parts we won’t as He is divine and we are human. This is the message of the unfathomable laws of Kelaim coming right after such simple laws as don’t cheat, steal, and take revenge.

The torah continues with more mitzvos including not eating from the fruit of a tree for the first three years, then consecrating its fruit on year four, and only on year five is it yours to enjoy as you please. The prohibition against indulging in sorcery, believing in lucky times, getting tattooed, cutting yourself to show sadness over someone’s death, or totally shaving your head (hence the mitzvah for men to have peyot, or side locks), or of shaving your beard with a razor are also found here. There are some more laws still in this incredible Parsha, but alas, the candle is beginning to dim, and the hour is late, so I’m going to have to sign off here. Let’s try to take one or two of the many lessons in our Parsha and integrate it into our lives, and we will surely find our lives enriched, enlivened, enthused, enervated and energized!

Quote of the Week: Friendship will not stand the strain of very much good advice for very long. – Robert Lynd

Random Fact of the Week: 1995 was the first year Americans used credit cards more than cash.

Funny Line of the Week: Help Wanted – Psychic – you know where to apply.

Have a Superfly Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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