Prof. Shimon Silman, RYAL Institute and Touro College
“The entire character of a thing is determined by its ending” is a well-known rule in the Talmud. So it is entirely appropriate that Rambam’s magnum opus, Mishneh Torah, which encompasses all of Halacha conclude with the laws of Moshiach for it is in the Messianic Age that the laws of the Torah will be fulfilled in their entirety. The laws of the Torah will be the laws of the new world order. Furthermore, the progressively widespread observance of the Torah itself is what brings the world to the Messianic state of perfection.
The last two chapters of Mishneh Torah are the laws of Moshiach, the first of these discussing Melech HaMoshiach himself, and the second one describing the world in the Messianic Age. The Rebbe MHM has identified two eras within the Messianic Age itself: In the first era, the order of nature prevails; in the second one the world order is a fusion of the natural with the miraculous. Throughout these last two chapters Rambam is discussing the first era of the Messianic Age—except for in the last Halacha…
The Last Halacha
In this concluding Halacha of Mishneh Torah Rambam writes, “At that time [the Messianic Age] there will be no famine nor war, and no jealousy or rivalry for there will be abundant goodness and all the delicacies will be as [ordinary as] earth. The occupation of the entire world will be only to know G-d. Therefore, the Jews will be great scholars, knowing concealed knowledge, and they will attain knowledge of their creator to the full extent of human capacity. As it says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as water covers the sea.”
The Rebbe MHM says that this last Halacha is “briefly hinting at the second Messianic Era when there will be a change in the natural order” (Sefer HaSichos 5752, p. 35). The things mentioned in this Halacha are not of this world as it is now but of a world transformed with a new natural order.
But here’s the thing: In the Sichos of 5751-5752, the Rebbe MHM said that “we are currently in the Messianic Age” and that “all aspects of the Geulah have already begun.” While the Geulah is not yet complete, it has started to unfold and all the changes and events in the world that define the Geulah have already begun to appear.
Among the Geulah events that the Rebbe MHM mentioned specifically as having begun are:
* The return of the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel
* The Third Beis HaMikdosh
* Swords into Plowshares
The return of the exiles began with the Jews of Russia leaving en masse to go to the Land of Israel (even though some of them went to other countries). The distinguishing characteristics of this migration which identify it as the “return of the exiles” were: 1) The Jews left in a peaceful manner as opposed to earlier times when they were fleeing persecution and 2) The Russian government itself assisted them in this emigration, in accordance with the prophecies.
The beginning of the construction of the Third Beis HaMikdosh is more subtle. The Rebbe MHM says that the Third Beis HaMikdosh first appears in the Shul (בית הכנסת ובית המדרש) of Moshiach, which is 770, and from there transfers to Yerushalayim. The recent expansion of 770 is the beginning of that appearance.
Swords into Plowshares—the transformation of military technology and resources to peaceful uses—is by far the most obvious aspect of the Geulah that has already begun. The Rebbe MHM spoke about it extensively in the Sicha of Parshas Mishpatim, 5752 (1992), it is continually being documented in books and other publications. It has even been referred to as “the trend of history.”
The interesting thing about the Swords into Plowshares prophecy of Isaiah is that it’s ultimate accomplishment of “Nation shall not raise a sword against nation, nor shall they learn any more war” is attained in the second Messianic Era, as Rambam writes in the last Halacha, “At that time there will be no famine nor war…”
The Knowledge of G-d
So we are back to the last Halacha. Let’s see what other aspects of that wondrous era have begun. As the Rebbe MHM says, “All aspects of the Geulah have already begun. Rambam writes that “The occupation of the entire world will be only to know G-d.” How has this begun?To answer this question, we must first ask: What kind of knowledge is the world currently seeking? For that matter, what exactly does the world consider “real knowledge?” In modern times—for over a century—it must be said that real knowledge has been considered to be scientific knowledge. Certainly, in recent times there has been a certain degree of mistrust of science especially in areas like medical and pharmaceutical sciences, but that is because the practitioners of these sciences are sometimes narrow minded, as in the case of the medical profession, or even dishonest, in the case of drug companies. But in those cases, it is not so much the science that people mistrust, but rather the scientists. Science itself—honest science—is still highly respected as the way to determine reality.
In fact, historically, science was always considered the enemy of religion. When a society, or an individual, wanted to deny G-d, they would always rely on science for support, saying that there’s no proof of the existence of G-d in science. This was the story of the Greeks in the time of Chanuka, the communists in modern times and many other examples in between. So how does a world that looks to science to determine reality come to the Messianic state of “the occupation of the entire world will be only to know G-d?”
The answer is that science itself has reached a state where questions like “where did the laws of science come from?” beg to be answered. The answer given by Richard Feynman, the famous 20th century theoretical physicist, Nobel laureate considered to be the greatest theoretical physicist after Einstein, was simply, “It’s a miracle that there are any laws of science at all!” (And exactly Who is it that performs miracles?)
Science itself has penetrated to the innermost depths of matter and is now asking, “Where did all this stuff—the matter, the energy, the structure—come from?” The answer that it got here by itself does not satisfy the scientific mind—or any normal human mind. There must be something outside the system…above and beyond.
Let me give some examples…
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project with the goal of determining the sequence of nucleotide base pairs that make up human DNA. It was the world’s largest collaborative biological project. The project started in 1990 and was completed on April 14, 2003.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), who directed the project, in his book The Language of G-d, explains his belief in the Creator this way: “When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of G-d’s mind.”
Professor Antony Flew of England was an atheist. In fact, he was the world’s leading authority on atheism for half a century, lecturing, writing books on it, etc. But when the genetic code was broken, this was too much even for him. In 2004 (on Chanuka!), he announced that he believes in G-d. The structure of DNA, he explained, was so awesomely complex that it could not have just evolved. It must have been designed and created by—G-d. This radical declaration shook up the whole international atheistic community which was relying on him for guidance for half a century. When asked how he could abandon his flock and make such a statement after all those years of atheism, he replied simply, “I am 81 years old and I can say whatever I want!”
Dr. Bruce Lipton is a well-known cell biologist who was interested only in researching the structure and functioning of cells and publishing his research. At one point, he says, he realized that everything we know about cells explains how they function but does not explain how they coordinate as a system to form a functioning human body. There must be something outside the system guiding it. He concluded that there must be a soul.
After the Human Genome project was completed, a growing number of scientists came to understand that the sequencing of DNA was essentially “information” like any other code, and from everything we know, information (as, say, a computer program) can only be produced by intelligence. Thus, there must be an Intelligent Being who designed the humans—G-d.
Professor David Finkelstein, a prominent theoretical physicist who developed a theory unifying Quantum Mechanics with Relativity Theory, described his life’s work as a quest to understand “how G-d might have thought the world into existence.”
A Flood of Knowledge
Of course, we have known all along that there is a G-d—a Creator—and a soul. So, what’s new with this? There is a parable about a group of scientists climbing the steep Mountain of Faith. After a long struggle with many setbacks they finally reach the top and find a group of believers there. The scientists approach them and declare excitedly, “We have finally reached the top of the mountain!” The believers, unimpressed, reply simply, “We’ve been here all along.”
This put-down of the achievement of the scientists is misguided. The believers believe because they were taught to believe and they accepted it. Perhaps they even received a revelation. But what the scientists accomplished was much more profound. They worked from the bottom up. Starting at ground level with tools that were just as likely to lead them to denial of G-d—and often did—they slowly, painfully, working decades and centuries, pulled themselves up “by their bootstraps” to reach a belief—now an unshakeable belief—in G-d. “When the opposition is transformed to a support—going against its nature—this is a new event.” (Sefer HaMa’amorim Melukat 5750, p.27)
In fact, this scenario is intimately connected with this week’s Torah reading—Parshas Noach:
The Torah says, “In the 600th year of the life of Noach … all the fountains of the depths split open and the windows of heaven opened up.” Referring to this, the Zohar makes the following statement:
“In the six hundredth year of the sixth millennium [the year 5600 on the Jewish calendar, corresponding to 1840 on the secular calendar], the gates of wisdom above will open and the fountains of wisdom below, and thus the world will be set to enter the seventh millennium”— the Messianic Age.
In a sicha known in our circle simply as “the Sicha of Parshas Noach,” the Rebbe MHM discusses this passage from the Zohar (Likutei Sichos vol. 15, p. 42ff). We give a brief summary of the discussion in the Sicha:
The “opening of the gates of wisdom above” refers to the tremendous revelation of the deeper levels of the Torah—the teachings of Chassidus, especially the publication of the works of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of Chabad Chassidus). These give us a deeper understanding and greater knowledge of G-d and prepare the world for the coming of Moshiach, when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.”
The “fountains of wisdom below” refers to new discoveries in science and the development of new scientific theories. This requires some explanation: how could scientific developments actually play a role in preparing the world for Moshiach? Science has always been considered the enemy of religion. How could it come about that science not only becomes a friend of Judaism but actually helps prepare the world for the greatest Jewish religious event of all time—the coming of Moshiach?
In the sicha the Rebbe MHM discusses three ways in which the sciences prepare the world for Moshiach. First of all, in describing the unique character of the knowledge of G-d in the Messianic Age, the prophet Yeshaya (Isaiah) says, “All flesh will see that the mouth of G-d has spoken”—G-dliness itself will be visible.
The first way in which modern science and technology prepare us for the Messianic Age is by enabling us to visualize certain concepts relating to G-d that could otherwise have been understood only abstractly. As an example, the Mishnah tells us to be aware that there is “an eye that sees and an ear that hears.” We believe that G-d is always watching everything we do. Now that we are familiar with communication technology, enabling people to be seen and heard instantly even on the other side of the world, as well as security cameras everywhere we go, it is easy to comprehend—to actually visualize and not just believe in—the omnipresent watchfulness of G-d.Secondly, by making use of the technology derived from the sciences. For example, communication technology can be used to spread knowledge of G-d—Torah—throughout the world. As we said, the Messianic Age is characterized as a time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.” The electromagnetic waves which carry knowledge of G-d over radio or TV bring this information not only to listeners and viewers all over the world, but even to places where there are no listeners, since these waves spread throughout space. Thus, such broadcasts literally fill the world with knowledge of G-d.
Finally, on the deepest level, the sciences themselves—the theories developed and the knowledge derived—prepare us for the Messianic Age in yet a third way: the ultimate knowledge of G-d that will be revealed in the Era of Moshiach is the absolute unity of G-d. The world as we perceive it appears to present an opposite picture of reality—many different forces of nature and many different substances, rather than any kind of unity. Since the “fountains of wisdom from below” broke open almost 200 years ago, however, scientific research has shown that the various forces of nature are just combinations of a few basic forces, and the various substances in the world are built from a few basic components—protons, neutrons, and electrons. This deeper understanding of the underlying unity in the physical world, discovered through scientific research, helps prepare us for the revelation of the ultimate unity—the Achdus Peshuta, or absolute unity of G-d, which is to be revealed in the time of Moshiach.
The unity that exists within nature is an expression of the unity of G-d, the Creator. Since He is one, His creation, with its multitude of materials and forces, has an intrinsic unity. Thus, our awareness of the unity within nature is essentially an awareness of the unity of G-d. The more that science reveals of the unity inherent within nature, the more the unity of G-d is revealed—from below. This sets the stage for the complete revelation of the unity of G-d— from above—in the Messianic Age.
Thus, we may say that 20th century scientists, who came to an awareness of the Creator through their scientific research, were merely riding the crest of a new wave—a wave from the flood of a new type of knowledge flowing into the world. This was knowledge of a type that shows unity in the world and induced the scientist with an open mind and a sensitive heart to recognize the Supreme Power, the Master Planner Who designed and created the universe with a certain purpose in mind.
Theoretical physics, in particular, seems to have developed into a search for G-d. The greatest 20th century scientist, Albert Einstein, expressed this as follows: “I want to know how G-d created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know G-d’s thoughts. The rest are details.”
The G-d of Israel is King
All of this is in fulfillment of what the Rebbe MH”M wrote in a letter to a conference of religious doctors back in 1955:
“True science whose purpose is only to seek the truth—its conclusions cannot contradict the Torah which is the Torah of truth. Rather, on the contrary, the more that [the scientists] will deepen their research, the more they will increase their recognition of the truth of both the principles and the details of our religion, the religion of Israel.”
As a result of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and follow up research, it is now an accepted part of modern science that the universe had a beginning. Previously it was thought that the universe was always here—the so called “steady state” theory. One contemporary authority on cosmology praises the Jews for holding on to the belief that “G-d created the heavens and the earth” throughout history while the rest of the world believed otherwise.
Such admiration for the Jews was foretold in the Torah in the last verse of the Song of Ha’azinu: “The nations will praise His (G-d’s) people.” Rashi explains this to mean that in the times of Moshiach “the nations will praise the Jews saying, ‘Look how praiseworthy this nation is! They remained attached to G-d despite everything that happened to them. They didn’t leave him. They knew His goodness and greatness.’ ”
There is a crisis in atheism. Their former ally, science, has turned against them. It now seems that their only hope (not that we are interested in maintaining them) is to outlaw scientific research because all scientific research is now on the fast track directed toward the recognition of the Creator—the G-d of Israel.
In this last Halacha Rambam says, וכל המעדנים מצויין כעפר which means “all the delicacies will be as [ordinary as] earth.” Some people, partly in jest, switch the ע with the ד so it will read וכל המדענים מצויין כעפר = “all the scientists will be as the earth”—humble as the earth. The time has come for the scientists to be humble and realize that there is a wisdom that is above them, beyond the realm of science, but that their science can lead them to—the knowledge of G-d.
“And all who breathe shall declare: The G-d of Israel is King and His dominion rules over everything!” (Rosh HaShana prayers).
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