Hello Rabbi,

My Chabad rabbi insists that the world is moving rapidly towards an era of peace and wisdom. Of course, he doesn’t watch television and he’s definitely out of the news blogosphere as well. Instead, he quotes the Rebbe, who was speaking many years ago. Maybe things were looking up then for a bit. Right now, the future—like the present—doesn’t look so happy.

So what makes you think that the arrival of Moshiach is more likely now than at any other time in history?

—Pessy Mystic

Hello Pessy,

There’s two misconceptions here that are confusing you. Let’s deal with one at a time.

First off, no one ever imagined the world gradually rolling itself into a messianic stage like you roll your car into the garage. But neither does it have to crash into an apocalyptic brick wall. Don’t expect us human beings to resolve all the world’s problems—for every problem we solve, we create a whole slew of new ones. But don’t rely on space aliens or some celestial beings to do it for us either.

Rather, instead of talking about the world evolving into a new era, talk about it preparing itself for the time when that will happen.

Think of the birth process: From the outside, you see nausea, cranky moods and a swelling belly. From the inside, you see an entire being miraculously forming—and you still have no idea how on earth that baby’s going to make it out of there. That’s a whole other miracle of its own.

Think of the birth process, an orchestra tuning up or a movie set.

Think of an orchestra tuning up in a crescendo of noise and cacophony—until the conductor lifts his baton and the symphony begins.

Or a movie set, with the stage crew running about madly setting everything in place, tearing down and propping up; the camera and lighting crew laying wires everywhere and shining lights in all the wrong places; the actors rehearsing lines out of order, acting out who they are going to be in the most ridiculous ways. But when the director shouts, “Action!” suddenly everything fits together and makes sense in the most magnificent way.

Or, perhaps you’ve been in a Jewish home on a Friday. Dead, naked birds lie on the kitchen counter. Flour has spilled onto the kitchen floor, and the little ones are down there mixing it with orange juice. From upstairs you hear the blood-curdling scream of a teenager, “I have nothing to wear!” And her little brother is screaming even louder because she made his bath too hot. As for the husband, he is running in and out on last-minute errands, relieved that he has an excuse to escape the madness indoors.

Then the doorbell rings. It’s you, the guest, who has politely brought a bottle of wine beforehand, since you can’t carry it there on Shabbos. The lady of the house opens the door, but only a crack—firstly, so that you won’t see the disaster zone inside, and secondly, to prevent the little guy who has escaped the bathtub from running out stark naked into the street.

But the aroma from the kitchen does manage to waft out the door, and you exclaim, “Ah! Shabbos!”

Shabbos?! Shabbos is a day of rest! This place looks like a tornado hit it! And you smell Shabbos?

But you, and the lady of the house, and everyone else involved as well, know the story. Within a few hours, the dead birds will be a tasty chicken soup, the flour a delicious challah, the teenager will find something to wear, the little boy will stand up and tell everybody about the weekly parshah, and the father and mother will sit proudly together over their brood, with you, their guest, imbued with the delight of Shabbos Kodesh.

Those are all parables for the messy, noisy, totally maddening state of our world, especially in its most recent stages of development.

The world, like the human body and like Friday afternoon, is on a clock. From the time it first came into being, it has been steadily moving towards its destiny. The motion is not steady—it rises and falls like the crests of waves. Like the formation of the fetus, there are stages at which new developments occur—developments that would be impossible to predict if you had never watched this before. Especially that last and final step—how on earth that baby is going to get out of the very tight spot it’s gotten itself into. But it will happen—very soon.

If you know what to look for, and you have a wide enough lens, you’ll see those shifts rapidly occurring in recent times—in human attitudes, in technology, in science, and in trends in world events. The world is preparing itself for a shift into a new modality, so that when the music begins, the instruments will be in tune, and we will be attuned to appreciate the concert.

Where Are We Going?

Let’s get come clarity as to our destiny and how this world is really meant to be.

We talk about the messianic times as a world of peace and a world filled with wisdom. But most important, it is a world unlocked.

A world of peace, a world filled with wisdom—but most important, a world unlocked.

Like the movie set, or the orchestra, this world starts off with its true meaning locked inside. The greatest of the kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, “The Ari,” described our mission as human beings: to release the hidden meaning of each thing. As the bits and pieces of the universe that we touch start to sing their true song out loud, more pieces demand tuning up, and then yet more, until the noise drowns out the symphony.

Theoretically, this could go on forever. The belief in Moshiach is that at a certain point, a conductor will arrive, the noise will be dispelled, and the concert will begin. The world will have arrived.

That’s what the prophet is envisioning when he hears G‑d saying, “I will pour my spirit upon everybody, and your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Hearing the symphony will be the natural state of living organisms.

That’s never happened before—other than a brief few hours at Mount Sinai. Even at the time when the Israel was filled with many thousands of prophets, prophecy remained a special experience. You had to remove yourself from thoughts of this world, meditate daily for many hours, go with little food and speak only that which was necessary, and, eventually, you may have been privileged to tap into the supernal consciousness of the Creator.

Prophecy, basically, was out of this world. Because you got it from out of this world. You saw the world differently as a prophet, because you were no longer its citizen. You were above and beyond it, seeing a light that shone from above into this world.

But that’s not how the world is meant to be. “All that G‑d created,” the sages taught, “He only created for His glory.” It’s a piece of art—but it’s still in the making. It’s a very messy process, this making. But once done, the Master Artist lifts the veil, and voila!—there’s the masterpiece for all to behold. Even little boys and girls, and wolves and lambs, and every other creature of this world.

The messianic era is not about some great revelation from beyond. It’s about the world singing its own song—and being able to hear itself.

How Are We Getting There?

Now let’s look at how we’re getting there. Or better—as I said—how the world is preparing itself for that time.

Civilizations have risen and fallen in many parts of the world, many times before. But ours, somewhere in the mid-18th century, hit a point that has no precedent in anyone’s history. We call it the Industrial Revolution.

Real GDP from 1-2000CE by world regions. Note that change is hardly noticeable until around 1820.
Real GDP from 1-2000CE by world regions. Note that change is hardly noticeable until around 1820.

Before this time, all but the fortunate few lived at bare subsistence levels, most children didn’t make it to six years of age, the average life span was around 30 years, only a minority knew how to read and write, and almost nobody ever moved out of their class in society. Then, the human world changed more drastically in a hundred years than it had changed in all the years preceding. A caveman would have been more at home in an 18th century European village than the villager would have been in a city of industry and technology a century later.

A caveman would have been more at home in an 18th century European village than the villager would have been in a city of industry and technology a century later.

Undoubtedly, your rabbi has told you this, but it’s an amazing fact: The Zohar predicted the whole thing. On the verse, “In the six-hundredth year of the life of Noah . . . all wellsprings of the great deep burst open, and the windows of heaven were opened,” the Zohar predicts:

In the six-hundredth year of the sixth millennium the gates of supernal wisdom will be opened, as will the springs of earthly wisdom, preparing the world to be elevated in the seventh millennium.

The sixth millennium began in the secular calendar in 1240 CE. The sixth century of the sixth millennium then calculates to the period of 1740–1840. Yes, that’s the century we were just speaking about, when all these changes took off.

But that’s not my point here. My point is the words of the Zohar, that all this was “preparing the world to be elevated in the sixth millennium.” This is when Friday starts preparing for Shabbos. This is when all the props needed for the show are finally being set in place.

What are those props? Well, try to imagine a world of peace and wisdom emerging out of the ignorance and hunger of the masses before industrialization and communications technology. It could only have been by some apocalypse and supernatural magic. Today, we have all the tools to provide for every human being on the planet a life of comfort, along with access to the entire corpus of human knowledge in hi-res video and graphics.

More than that, technology has provided us the tools to discover the underlying oneness of G‑d’s creation. Beforehand, we could only see the world from the outside, and so we beheld only more and yet more fragments. With the aid of modern optics and measurement devices, luminaries such as Maxwell and Einstein were able to decipher the unity of all these forces, even of matter and energy themselves, so that today we speak of the universe acting as a single whole that transcends locality and time. That’s not a revelation from out of this world—that’s the world itself singing the song of its One Creator.

Technology makes that all very real. Our own vast planet has become one global shtetl. Not long ago, a massacre of some village somewhere meant nothing to anyone outside of a fifty mile radius—if they ever heard about it. Today, it shakes the entire planet.

How Are Things Right Now?

Welcome to the most peaceful era of history.

And that’s where the second misconception I mentioned comes in: The world is not becoming a more violent, nasty place. Quite the contrary: Welcome to the most peaceful era of history. There are less violent deaths per capita, worldwide, than ever before. It’s we who have become more aware and less tolerant of that violence and nastiness.

For one thing, because it’s in our faces. In the First World War, there were photographs. In the Second World War, there was film—with the real grim news arriving far too late. In Vietnam, there were embedded reporters getting out the video-record the next day. Today, we are all not just recipients of news, but reporters ourselves.

So the horror is much more real—which is another way that the world is preparing itself for an era of peace. For thousands of years, the world glorified war. Writing from the warfront in 1914, one of the “Poets of the Great War,” Captain Julian Grenfell captured the spirit of the times when he wrote:

I adore war. It’s like a big picnic without the objectlessness of a picnic. I have never been so well or so happy . . . Here we are in the burning centre of it all, and I would not be anywhere else for a million pounds and the Queen of Sheba.

By the time WWI was over, it was hard to find anyone who felt that way. Grenfell fell in battle, and his fellow poet, Wilfred Owen composed the words engraved on his tombstone: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”

When people glorified war, an era of peace had no window through which to enter. Today’s world, revolted by the ugliness of war, is a world preparing itself to embrace peace.

And when we look at the actual statistics, the casualties of military conflict have decreased in the last seventy years more than in all the years of history preceding. Here are some interactive graphics from Our World In Data, where you can find more information:

Number of annual war battle deaths by world region, 1946-2007 – Max Roser

Or look at it this way: During World War II, death by war was running at 5.5 million a year. During the Cold War (1950–1989) that shrunk to 180,000 a year. In the 1990s, they were down to 100,000 a year. In the current century, we’re down to 55,000 a year—one one-hundredth of WWII. Just from the Cold War until now, that’s a shrinkage of over a third. And that’s without taking into account the quadrupling of world population in the last century. Take into account the growing population since the Korean War until now, and you have this:

Yes, there’s these wildcard barbarians plaguing the Middle East with a penchant for beheadings, and a brutal, prolonged civil war in Syria. History, as I wrote, has it’s ups and downs—but it’s something like walking uphill while playing with a yo-yo. Four years in Syria has produced less than a quarter of the casualties of the four years of the Korean War, when three major world powers were embroiled in conflict. And neither compares to the cataclysms of the First and Second World Wars or the Stalinist and Maoist purges of innocent civilians.

Alongside all this, the World Health Organization reports that over a 20-year period, extreme poverty worldwide decreased by a whopping 50%. Health care worldwide is also increasing: As late as 1970, only around 5 percent of infants were vaccinated against measles, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, and polio. By 2000, it was 85 percent, saving about 3 million lives annually—more, each year, than world peace would have saved in the 20th century.

Try to imagine an age of wisdom arriving in 1500, when, in the most advanced countries, a mere 5% of the adult population could read and write. Today, 80% of the entire world adult population is literate.

Here’s just one instance that, for me at least, brings it all alive: When I was young, India was a write-off—mass starvation, multiple natural disasters, disease and the state of its ecology brought predictions of imminent total collapse. A lot of those problems have yet to give way, but now a third of that country’s 1.2 billion people are holding smartphones in their hands. That’s no small deal. A smartphone means a family that has moved into the middle class, with the whole wide world suddenly opened to them wherever they go.

There’s no doubt that, with all its concomitant problems, technology and global commerce has made the world a far more peaceful, prosperous and healthy place than any educated person could have imagined even 100 years ago. Even 30 years ago.

The Answer In Short

Like I said, for every problem we solve, we create plenty of new ones. And only the most naive idealist could visualize all this neatly bringing us into an era of universal peace and wisdom. But then, history has never been predictable. The Berlin wall fell in a week and the Bolshevik party disappeared overnight. The world rode a maverick bronco through the revolutions of technology, commerce, communications and science of the past 200 years—and especially of the last 30 years.

The fetus is already fully formed in the womb. The props are all in place, the instruments all in tune. Your rabbi just wants you to be one of those fortunate enough to have prepared for the grand show to come, with front row seats and dressed for the occasion. All that’s left is for us to switch our mindsets and start living now in the world as it soon will be. At this point, if we can imagine it, we will be there.

For more on the progression of history towards the messianic era, read The Last Day of History.
For more neat graphics and surprising facts on the many ways the world is getting better, see