What prophecies are we supposed to be seeing during the times of Moshiach that we may be seeing right now?
Thanks for your question, though I don’t love it and you’re probably not going to love my answer.
The reason I don’t love your question is because it presupposes a concrete sign, like “there will be a worldwide pandemic” or “a great tower will collapse” so that one can then say, “That obviously means Corona” or “a clear reference to Surfside!” The reason you’re not going to love my answer is because it will be no help whatsoever in figuring out if Moshiach’s arrival is imminent.
The signs preceding Moshiach’s arrival are discussed in the very last mishna in tractate Sotah (9:15), which appears on the last page of the tractate in the Talmud (49b). There, it says:
With the approach of Moshiach, insolence will increase and prices will rise sharply. The vine will yield produce but wine will be expensive. The government will turn to heresy and no one will be qualified to give rebuke. The meeting places will be used for promiscuity, the Galilee will be destroyed and the Gavlan (perhaps referring to the Golan) will be desolate. Those who live on the frontier will wander from place to place (seeking charity) but no one will take pity on them. The wisdom of scholars will deteriorate, people who fear sin will be despised and truth won’t be found. Young people will shame their elders, old men having to stand up for the young, as per Micah 7:6, “A son despises his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A person’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” The face of the generation preceding Moshiach will be like that of a dog; a son will feel no shame before his father. There is no one upon whom we can rely except for our Father in Heaven.
Most of this is pretty straightforward. The only thing that really requires explanation is the statement that “the face of the generation preceding Moshiach will be like that of a dog.” The best explanation I’ve heard for that is that a dog trots ahead of its owner – it looks like it’s leading the way – but it constantly looks back to check on its master, from which we see who’s really in charge. Similarly, the leadership of the generation preceding Moshiach’s arrival will look like they’re in charge but they’ll be constantly looking back to their followers for approval. Only doing what’s popular is not truly leadership at all.
So what do we have? Inflation? Check. A government that’s anti-religion? Arguably, though I’m not going to go there. A promiscuous society? Definitely. Stinginess towards the needs of the displaced? I’d say so. A lower level of scholar? We believe that every generation is of a lesser standing than earlier generations, so such is always the case. A disrespect for religious people? Absolutely. A youth-centric culture? Yup. Leadership more concerned with popularity than with their actual vision? For sure.
With so many signs of Moshiach’s arrival apparent in our own generation, can’t we be sure that his appearance must be imminent? Unfortunately not. That’s because many – if not most – of these signs are to be found in most – if not all – generations.
Consider the part of the mishna that says, “Young people will shame their elders, old men having to stand up for the young… a son despises his father, a daughter rises up against her mother.” Now consider this description of contemporary youth:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company… and tyrannize their teachers.”
That seems to be a perfect match for the scenario described in the mishna. But you know who said it? Socrates. Not only did Socrates live before our generation, he lived about 600 years before Rav Yehuda HaNasi, redactor of the Mishna!
So the signs given in the Mishna won’t much help us identify Moshiach’s arrival; they’ll be much clearer in hindsight. We’d do much better to focus on the final line of this Mishnaic statement, “There is no one upon whom we can rely except for our Father in Heaven.” God is the One Who will get us through trying times. This is so regardless of whether or not those times are signs of Moshiach’s imminent arrival.
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
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