I don’t know why the city hums. I used to ask people about it when I was younger, but they’d just laugh. “Silly child,” they’d say, at least at first. “Stop wasting our time.” Then I grew older, and suddenly, nobody seemed to think the question was funny anymore. They’d shoot me weird looks when I’d ask it; mutter among themselves, back away as I approached them in the street. So I stopped asking, and did my best to keep busy—to distract myself with whatever it took to get that hum out of my ears.

It isn’t easy, though. I can go days without hearing it—idling away my time in the grass, humming a tune with my head thrown back and an airy smile dancing across my face. Then I’ll be at work, hammering at a board or driving a jackhammer through cement, and I’ll hear it and nothing else will matter anymore. It consumes me, that hum—fills me with an itch, with a need, only I don’t know what it’s for or what it means. It can take me hours to snap out of it, and when I do, I always find myself the same way: tools in hand and head cocked to the side, trying desperately to decipher what the city is telling me.

It's on one of those days when the hum is thrumming in my ears and my nerves are demanding action that I take a walk through the city. I’m on the outskirts, where the streets get swallowed by empty plots of land and the houses are boarded up and defaced with graffiti, but as I walk, I glimpse the city for the marvel it is. A twisting maze of iron and steel, of cobblestone roads, of steam and smoke and gears. And it’s alive: teeming with people pulling me aside, telling me to come drink, to come dance, to come forget it all. I lose myself in exploring the city, a few frozen memories of scattered moments my only record of the time I spend. It could be hours, it could be days, it could be years—I no longer know. There’s so much to this city: so much to explore, to see, to do, and if at times I feel like I’m forgetting something along the way, that I only ever came here for a reason, I just drink and dance and party harder, and the feeling goes away.

Then I meet the Stranger. There’s a capital S to this Stranger, because he isn’t just strange to me. The locals shoot him weird looks, edge away as he approaches. He looks like them, even talks like them, but there’s something about him that tells me he’s not from this city. It’s in the eyes. There’s something there—a yearning, a hunger for something lost. Something he’s trying to regain.

He nods at me, though I don’t know why. I’m the same as everyone else—why’s he nodding at me? I nod back, because to ignore him would be rude.

"Where are you from?” he asks me, with no preamble, no hello, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world to just ask someone where they’re from.

“Here,” I tell him, though the word feels weird on my tongue. Here. I am from here, aren’t I? I came here long ago, from . . . I search my memories. That’s strange—I can’t seem to recall where I came from, or how I got here in the first place.

He steps closer, lowers his voice so the other townspeople can’t hear. “Do you still hear it?”

“Hear what?”

He bows his head then, nods, once, to himself. Shoots me a sad smile. “Very well.”

He starts to walk away, and he’s almost out of sight when I remember the hum. The city’s hum, though I haven’t heard it in an age. It used to drive me crazy, that hum. How did I ever forget it?

I run after him. “Wait!”

He turns to me.

“The hum. I can’t . . . I don’t hear it anymore. Why don’t I hear it anymore?”

“Ah,” he sighs, and there is a deep satisfaction in that sigh. He looks up, at the city towering high around us. “It’s hard to hear anything in this mess sometimes. Perhaps a little space might help.”

And then, before I can ask him anything else, he turns and walks away.

I stare after him for a long time, my thoughts racing. Then I run. I don’t really know where I’m running or what I’m trying to escape, but I run anyway. Through alleys, around buildings, over walls and under bridges, until I find myself outside the city, in a green field. I don’t stop, though—I keep running, past the field and into a deep forest, till the city is out of sight and I can no longer tell where I am.

I stop then, gasping for air, lungs burning in my chest. Look around. The trees stretch out in every direction, and it occurs to me that even if I wanted to get back, I have no idea how to. So I walk. I walk through this forest, not paying much attention to what’s around me. I think I cross a stream at some point; weather a storm at another. I’m aware of the sun setting and rising, of stopping every so often to rest. Mostly, though, I pray. For clarity. For answers. For questions, even. I'll take any help I can get. I don’t understand any of it. I can’t recall who I am or how I got here, and all I know is that there’s something inside me calling out for a truth I can’t seem to find.

And then I stop—on a random hill, with some nuts in my hand and a foot poised midair—because I can hear it again. The hum—the city’s hum, except I’m nowhere near the city now. And as I close my eyes, cock my head, and listen, I realize that the hum had never come from the city at all.

It’s coming from me.

And as I listen, I realize it’s not a hum at all. It’s a scream; a cry; a challenge. It’s coming from somewhere very deep inside—coming, perhaps, from my essence. But as I keep listening to it, that scream gets louder and louder, until it’s roaring in my ears and rattling in my throat, and it’s all I can do not to open my mouth and let myself cry out the question etched in the very root of my soul.

And as I keep listening, I recognize that the scream has words: two words, repeated over and over and over:

“Until when?”

Exploring the theme:

There’s a concept in Judaism: when something bothers you to your very core, you cannot possibly stay silent about it. (Similar to the way the shofar symbolizes a cry from the depth of the soul. It’s the expression of a pain, a longing, and a need so deep, we can’t keep it to ourselves anymore.)

This story is built around that concept. The Rambam teaches in his 13 principles of faith that a Jew doesn’t just want Moshiach to come, but “waits for his arrival every day.” With this wording, the Rambam is establishing two fundamental elements to our belief in Moshiach’s coming:

  1. Moshiach is a central concept in Judaism that every Jew is meant to believe in, to the extent that it’s considered a “principle of faith.”
  2. Simply believing in Moshiach’s eventual arrival isn’t sufficient. We’re expected to hunger and wait for that arrival, every single day.

These two elements go hand in hand. Because Moshiach is such a fundamental part of Judaism, it’s not something that we can simply “believe” in without actively caring about. We need to want and long for Moshiach, the same way we want and long to connect with G‑d.

The Rebbe took this a step further. If the need for Moshiach–the need for a time when we will finally, permanently reconnect with our Father in Heaven without any more barriers between us–is so deeply etched into our psyche, we cannot possibly leave that need unvocalized. We need to cry out, “Ad Mosai: Until when (must we wait)?!”

Our need for Moshiach is like a starving person’s need for food. Perhaps if we wait a little, the food will be better. But we’re done waiting. We’re hungry now! How much longer must we wait?

For more on Moshiach and why it’s such a fundamental concept in Judaism, see here.