Contemporary Impatience

One of the first articles appearing on CNN the morning after Osama Bin Laden's assassination included reactions from people on the streets of America. One reaction that particularly drew my attention read, “I never thought this day would come; I had given up hope.”

The war on terror is ten years old, and during the course of the decade much has been accomplished! Yet the average person on the street assumed that Bin Laden would never be caught simply because he was not captured within the first few weeks of the war. To me this attitude highlights the short term focus spawned by the advent of the twenty-four hour news cycle.

Time used to be measured in decades, if not centuries. It took a full century before the conflict between England and France was resolved. Those who lived through the first few decades of that war knew that it would eventually end. They did not lose hope simply because the conflict was not resolved within the first three decades.

Historians use a long yardstick for measuring time. They understand that events taking place at the beginning of a century can play an important role at the close of the century, even if they go relatively unnoticed for the first eighty years.[1]

But today, if something does not happen immediately we relegate it to the “impossible” pile. If it hasn’t already occurred, we simply assume it cannot and will not. Yes, on an intellectual level we knew that intelligence agencies worldwide were working systematically to track down Bin Laden. Nevertheless, we abandoned hope of success. We assumed that if Sadam Hussein could be arrested in a matter of weeks, so could Bin Laden. Since years passed and Bin Laden remained at large, we decided he would never been found.

Stale Prophecies?

A story is told of a man who climbed a mountain and called out, “Dear G‑d, is it true that for You a thousand years is but a moment?” As his voice reverberated across the hills a thunderous echo roared its response in the affirmative. The man rapidly fired off another question, “Is it true that for You a million dollars is but a penny?” To which the distant roar again replied affirmatively. Humbly the man asked, “G‑d, can you spare me a penny?” To which G‑d replied, “Of course. But in a minute...”

As a rabbi, I often encounter a great deal of skepticism when I mention the detailed prophecies that promise the coming of Moshiach. I believe this skepticism is a product of our times. So much time has elapsed since the prophecies were delivered that many have simply lost hope. If it was going to happen, they muse, it would have already occurred.

I fully agree with the sentiment that we have waited far too long. Our current exile spans nearly two millennia! It is high time for Moshiach to come. We cannot afford to wait, but we can much less afford to rescind our faith. Yes, it has been two-thousand years, but, as the Psalmist wrote, to G‑d that is a mere two days.

Short Term vs. Long Term
The second reaction that caught my attention read, “This is a great victory, the war is finally over.” How absurd! There are scores of detached terror cells across the world that must be confronted and defeated before the war will be won.

Here, once again, we observe the fallout of the twenty-four hour news cycle. We have stopped thinking of long-term goals. Instead we seek instant gratification. To us, in this moment, the death of Bin Laden is real but the continued war on terror is elusive. We want a story now. We want a victory now. It is difficult for us to look beyond today to a goal that justifies the additional time it will take to achieve.

Yet no truly worthwhile goal can be reached in one day, and the goal of the Moshiach is no different.

The Goal Of History

G‑d charged Adam and Eve with the task of bringing G‑dliness into our physical world.

The world floundered briefly with the onset of idolatry and lawlessness which led G‑d to send the flood. But shortly thereafter, Abraham picked up where Adam had left off and began to nurture a new breed - one that was familiar with G‑d and faithful to His precepts, one that lived a moral life and infused the world with goodness.

It only took 1,948 years till Abraham was born, but G‑d never lost hope. Even so, had you asked anyone in Abraham's day if he would succeed in changing the world your suggestion would undoubtedly be met with scorn. Abraham was one person up against all of civilization. How could he possibly succeed? Yet only four centuries later G‑d gave the Torah to Jews at Mount Sinai.

In our framework, four centuries is an eternity. But in retrospect, four hundred years was a very short amount of time to succeed the way Abraham did.

Still, receiving the Torah was by no means the end of Abraham's work; it was only the beginning.

Every generation since has helped add another layer of golden bricks to the Divine edifice that this world will become when the era of Moshiach descends. Each generation brings one more layer of order to an otherwise chaotic world. With the passage of time we have gone from one man who believed in a single G‑d, to billions who share a strong belief in monotheism. We have progressed from a world that devalued life and ridiculed education to a world that embraces life and strives to live ethically. We have transformed the world from a place in where debauchery was the norm to one in which it is reviled.

There is no doubt that we would like to accelerate the work and complete it in a much quicker fashion, but this is the pace G‑d set, so this is the pace at which we toil. Every day we grow inexorably closer to redemption. It is a work in progress; long in the making, but no longer so long in coming. That it has yet to arrive does not mean it will not come. It only means that when it finally does, and it is certainly on hand, our rejoicing will be all the happier and our gratitude so much the greater.

[1] The idea that eighty years is a long time is not entirely unjustified. The Torah describes fifty years (the period between Jubilees) as forever. Yet even that is longer than the ten years we gave ourselves for Bin Laden's capture and demise.