Jacob called his sons, and he said: "Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in the end of days. Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel, your father."—Genesis 49:1-2

Jacob wished to reveal to his sons the ketz (end of days), whereupon the Shechinah (Divine presence) departed from him.—Talmud Pesachim 56a

From time to time, especially around the Jewish New Year, I’m either e-mailed or come across some intriguing new theory of when the final redemption will arrive. These theories are usually based on the words of our prophets—especially Daniel—or the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, etc.

Are we allowed to calculate the end of days?

Aside from the fact that many of these new theories don’t even make much sense to begin with, and that Daniel himself states that the meaning of the words revealing the end of days are hidden,1 are we even allowed to calculate the end of days?

As we can see in the above quote, Jacob was aware of when the final redemption would be, but before he could reveal this time to his sons, G‑d made him forget it. So if Jacob himself was not permitted to reveal this information, what makes us think that we can calculate the end of days?

Indeed, the Talmud rebukes those who make this calculation. “Blasted be the bones of those who calculate the end,” the Talmud proclaims, “for they would say, ‘Since the predetermined time has arrived, and yet [Moshiach] has not come, he will never come.’ But [even so], wait for him...”2 Elsewhere the sages tell us that “one who calculates the end of days has no portion in the World to Come.”3 Pretty harsh words.

But things are not so simple...

In the very same segment of the Talmud which chastises those who calculate the end of days, Talmudic sages go ahead and propose various dates! Similarly, Maimonides, in his Iggeret Teiman, cites the injunction against revealing such a date, and just several pages later, he presents a date passed on to him by his ancestors.4

Throughout our long exile, many of our greatest sages have calculated the date of Moshiach’s arrival, including Rabbi Saadiah Gaon,5 Rabbi Sholomo Yitzchaki (Rashi),6 Maimonides,7 Nachmanides,8Why the glaring contradiction? Don Isaac Abarbanel,9 Rabbi Isaac Luria (Arizal),10 Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi,11 Rabbi Eliyahu (the Gaon) of Vilna12 and many others.13

Why this glaring contradiction?

Reasons for the Injunction

There are many possible reasons why we are both told not to reveal this date, and yet many sages did just that:

  • The injunction against revealing the end of days was only for earlier generations who were far removed in time from the actual date. Therefore, if one was to reveal the date, it would cause widespread despair and people would say that Moshiach would never come.14 However, this reason does not apply to the later generations, since we are very close to the end of days.15
  • The reason for the injunction is that revealing the end of days may cause widespread despair. However, the great Jewish sages were able to evaluate the current situation of their generations and found that the Jews were in a degenerative state. Therefore, they revealed the date of the imminent redemption in order to strengthen and inspire the generation.16
  • The injunction only applies to those who give a definite date; however, if the date is just presented as a possible theory, it is permitted.17
  • The injunction applies to people who make the calculations based on astronomical and astrological signs; however, it is permitted to calculate a date based on the words of the prophets and sages. Furthermore, doing so is a sign of the great longing people have for the coming of Moshiach.18
  • The injunction is against calculating the date of Moshiach’s arrival, but not against revealing a date which was received by tradition (as was the case with Maimonides).19

Did the sages make inaccurate calculations?

If the sages’ predictions were valid, why did none of them materialize?

The Zohar explains that every generation has its own special ketz, its own possible date for the redemption.20 All of the dates the sages proposed were especially opportune times for the coming of Moshiach, but unfortunately, we were not worthy of his coming.

The kabbalists explain that these dates were in fact actualized in the spiritual dimensions, though they were not manifested in our reality. Every one of these dates brought us closer to the final redemption, as exemplified by the following story.

Why did none of them materialize?

Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch21 once asked his father why Moshiach had not come during the year that the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, had proposed, 5608 (1848). His father, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, replied that the book of Chassidic teachings, Likkutei Torah, had been printed that year, implying that since this was a significant step in the dissemination of the teachings of Chassidut, it was a spiritual step toward the redemption.

However, Rabbi Shmuel protested, saying, “But we need Moshiach literally!”22 23

Moshiach Can Come Now

If there’s a predetermined date for the final redemption, should we just sit back and wait for it to arrive? The prophet Isaiah states, somewhat cryptically and contradictorily, that the redemption will be “in its time I will hasten it.“In its time” implies that there is a set time, and “I will hasten it” implies that it will be before that time. So which one is it? The Talmud resolves the contradiction by explaining that although there is a predetermined time, Moshiach can come any day before then.24

The Rebbe often emphasized that we can hasten the redemption through our own simple acts of goodness and kindness. Let’s make it happen!