Ours is not only an age of transition, but of paradox. On the one hand, we can see glimmerings of the peace, unity and prosperity of the Redemption. These, however, are only glimmerings; in actual life, things are very different.
Our Torah tradition explains that the time preceding the coming of Mashiach will be characterized by an enigma of this nature. We will experience a foretaste of the ultimate good of the Era of the Redemption.1 At the same time, we will see a breakdown of values, and selfishness will prevail throughout society.2
Perhaps the most obvious expression of this paradox is the existence of war despite the universal desire for peace. War is nothing new. On the contrary, it appears to be a constant human condition. A short time after Creation, Cain killed Abel; half of humanity was involved in a conflict that destroyed one fourth of the world's population. Or, to take us a little further down the road of history, shortly after the first band of nomads decided to settle down and grow wheat, another band of nomads attacked them and raided their crops.
And, reading the newspapers, one might conclude that mankind has not really progressed since then. We've just gotten better at killing. Then they did it with rocks and clubs and now we have smart bombs, lasers, and atomic, chemical, and biological weapons in reserve if our conventional ones fail. On the other hand, we all desire peace. Moreover, the leading nations of the world have recently begun taking important strides in this direction.
Insight into this paradox can be gained through analysis of a passage from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah:3 "There will be no difference between the current age and the Messianic Era, except [Israel's] subjugation to [gentile] nations."
But a few paragraphs later we read:4 "In that Era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy or competition."
Don't these passages contradict each other? How can Maimonides tell us that the Messianic Era will not change nature, and yet say that men will no longer wage war?
The answer lies in the continuation of Maimonides' words:5 "For good things will flow in abundance, and all the delights will be as freely available as dust."
The world will not change. Man will. Instead of using our intellectual and economic assets to create weapons of destruction, we will use them to enhance life. We will develop our resources successfully and enjoy abundance. Moreover, we will come to understand ourselves and our purpose in life much better. As a natural response, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more."6
On the surface, such an approach makes so much sense. One cannot help wondering why mankind did not adopt it long ago.7
The answer is obvious. The perpetrators of war were concerned with their own immediate desires. Cain was envious of G-d's recognition of Abel; one group of nomads wanted the other's wheat; one nation wants another's oil. A country that goes to war decides it is simply going to take what it wants. For the winner, war pays.
But in the Era of Redemption, "delights will be as freely available as dust." We will all enjoy an abundance and indeed, an over-abundance of good things. Therefore, just as man does not crave dust, we will no longer lose our equilibrium in the lust for material benefits.8 There will no longer be anything to gain by going to war.
An intimation of this process of peace through prosperity can already be seen. In the next decade, the likelihood of military conflict between Japan and the U.S. is next to nil. Both sides simply have too much to lose. The same concept applies in Europe. The probability of armed conflict between the U.S. and the nations of Western Europe, or wars among these nations themselves, is likewise negligible. Why? Because the stakes are too high.
It is not merely that the winners will also lose, that immense damage and loss of life will result on both sides. Beyond that, such wars would destroy the underpinnings of the new global economy on which both sides have come to rely, and that will simply not be allowed to happen.
Where will war be permitted? In nations like Bosnia and Somalia, and others not sufficiently integrated into the world's economic structure. The industrialized nations do not understand how such wars damage them. In fact, they make money by selling weapons to both sides. And so these little wars are allowed to continue. For now. And not for all that long. As the nations of the Third World become integrated into the world's economic picture, it will be clear that even such wars are damaging.
The transition to world peace will not come about miraculously; the change will come about through a shift in our thinking. As Mashiach spreads knowledge throughout the world, war and conflict anywhere will be shunned as primitive and wasteful.
A utopian dream? No, it's a reality shaping itself from day to day. A look at the defense policies of the U.S. and the former Soviet Union provides a preview of how Isaiah's prophecy will come to pass. War for these nations has simply become too expensive, the potential losses too great, and other needs too pressing. So swords are being beaten into plowshares; governments are cutting defense budgets and directing the freed resources to agriculture and social reform.
And not a moment too soon. All over the world, people are realizing that the real winner of the Cold War is Japan. While the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were devoting their trillions to the development and stockpiling of weapons, the Japanese were concentrating on education and trade. The economic and technological advances made by Japan while the superpowers' attention was directed toward national security have propelled that country into a preeminence with few if any parallels.
It is true that these lessons have not stopped people from killing each other in large numbers. As this book is being written, three or four mini-wars are being fought, and others are waiting like tinderboxes for a match to ignite them.
But our willingness to tolerate even such little wars is ending. The communications revolution has brought war into our living rooms. Watching the Gulf War was like watching the Super Bowl. We cheered our troops like hardrooting fans, happy to watch the planes and helicopters take off and knock out "targets."
But then something changed. One of those targets happened to be a bomb shelter, and suddenly the world saw that the "enemy" had human faces and human hearts. Yes, they had supported Saddam, consciously or unconsciously, but they were human and we felt very uncomfortable when we saw that their blood was as red as ours.
In other words, economic self-interest and instant global communications are making war obsolete.
True, in the smaller nations the obsolescence of war is not yet recognized. But that is because their conception of reality remains limited. These populations have yet to experience the benefits of the modern world, and learn its lessons. Until they do, they will continue to promote war and terrorism. It will take time, and perhaps the actual coming of Mashiach, before international peace will become a top-to-bottom reality.
On the other hand, we've come a long way from the days when it was the leading nations that waged war against each other. Affluence and education are making a difference.
There is another dimension to the link between knowledge and world peace. The very concept of Redemption serves as a force promoting change. Not only does the present international situation enable us to see glimmers of the peace which Mashiach will introduce; seeing these glimmers encourages movement towards such peace.9
The climate of the world is changing. People are tired of continual stress, and of politicians who tell them it's healthy. Man has a natural desire for peace and security; we want to live in an environment where growth and knowledge can flourish without danger. As awareness of Mashiach and the Era of Redemption becomes more widespread, these feelings will rise to the surface, and excuses for war will become fewer and fewer.
1. See Shelah, Tractate Shabbos.
2. See the conclusion of Tractate Sotah.
3. Hilchos Melachim 12:2. Similar statements are found in Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2, and in Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to ch. 10 of Tractate Sanhedrin. Maimonides' source appears to be Berachos 34b. See also the explanation of this concept and a discussion of miracles in the Era of Redemption in the essay entitled "Two Periods Within the Era of the Redemption," in I Await His Coming (Kehot, 1991).
6. Isaiah 2:4.
7. This is not to say that we must adopt a policy of pacifism at all costs. On the contrary, there are wars that must be fought, but they are defensive in nature. When there are no more aggressors, even these wars will not be necessary.
8. See the chapter entitled "A Sunrise Picture of Economics," which discusses the prosperity and affluence that will characterize the Era of Redemption.
9. In this context, the Lubavitch campaign to heighten the awareness of Mashiach and the Redemption can be seen as a political force. There are few Americans -- no matter what their faith or where they live -- who have not come into contact with these ideas. And this spread of ideas precipitates change.
There is a concept called spiritual causation. In that vein, the story is told (Meah Shearim, p. 28a) that, at times, the Maggid of Mezritch would deliver teachings which he knew his listeners could not understand so that the messages would be "drawn down into the atmosphere of the world." This would facilitate their comprehension by others at a later date.
The intent here, however, is to "draw down" the much more tangible influence of public opinion. As people become more familiar with the concept of Redemption, they will seek to have these ideals reflected in the societies in which they live.
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