“I totally disagree!” Elissa interrupted. “‘On the brink of an era of global peace’?! I don’t see the world moving in that direction. Yesterday I was watching the news and saw two local homicide stories. There’s a nuclear buildup in the Middle East. And now anti-Semitism seems to be on the rise. Where exactly do you see the beginnings of world peace?”

“I agree,” I admitted, unabashed. “Immorality and hate are rampant. But who’s to say that societal degeneration is not a sign of Moshiach’s imminence?”

“I always thought that we would need to be in a great place to deserve Moshiach,” Elissa looked at me, puzzled.

“Hey, if we were in such a great place, why would we need Moshiach at all?” I countered. “But I totally get what you are saying.The sages don’t put global perfection as the criteria for Moshiach's arrival It seems counterintuitive to expect an era of peace and spiritual awareness to come to a world that is dysfunctional on so many levels. And yet the sages don’t put global perfection as the criteria for Moshiach's arrival. On the contrary—the Talmud says that ‘the son of David [Moshiach] will not come until the whole world has converted to the belief of heretics!’”

Let’s examine the Talmud’s words in context:

It has been taught, Rabbi Nechemiah said: In the generation of Moshiach’s coming impudence will increase; esteem will be perverted; the vine will yield its fruit, yet wine will be dear; and the kingdom will be converted to heresy, with none to rebuke them. This [statement] supports Rabbi Yitzchak, who said: The son of David will not come until the whole world is converted to the belief of the heretics. Rava said: What verse [proves this]? “It is all turned white; he is pure.” (Sanhedrin 97a)

Rava supports Rabbi Yitzchak by quoting an unusual law about tzara’at (a skin disease commonly—but inaccurately—translated as “leprosy”). A white spreading lesion renders a person impure. Nevertheless, if the whole skin is infected with the white lesion, the person is declared pure.1

This law seems completely illogical! The person covered in leprosy should be worse off than the person with just one white lesion! Why is he rendered pure?

The law can be understood on two levels:

  1. Yes, it is illogical, but it’s G‑d’s law. He defines the criteria for purity; we don’t.
  2. There is a logical explanation for the law. If the leprosy infects one part of his skin, it is clearly a disease. But if it spreads throughout his body, it may be his skin’s natural state and not a disease at all.

Rava draws a parallel between the pure leper covered in white lesions and the heretical universe on the brink of the Messianic Age.

He coordinated a moral nosedive to indicate the onset of global transformation Why can’t people become better, more wholesome, more peaceful and G‑d-conscious as we progress towards Moshiach? Well, says Rava, the answer follows the lines of the unusual law of the pure leper. (Moshiach himself is referred to as a leper in the Talmud.) It is partially above logic, partially logical:

  1. The illogical reason that things will seem really chaotic and corrupt in the world before they begin to get really good is that that’s the way G‑d wants it. He coordinated a moral nosedive to indicate the onset of global transformation.
  2. But like the pure leper, there is something coherent about the heavy grasp of evil that will be felt before Moshiach’s arrival. It’s an indication that all the evil that has been submerged in our culture is now being exposed. In other words, because society’s internal paradigms have become more refined, the base elements are expelled and seen more dramatically. Once they are exposed, they can be cleansed.

Does this seem far-fetched? Here are two examples that illustrate this phenomenon:

Recently there have been a lot of scandals in the political world. Politicians misuse government capital, spending the taxpayers’ money to support their own upscale lifestyle. And how about infidelity? Important people having extramarital affairs. When their sins are exposed, people are understandably outraged. How could a person in a position of honor do something so dishonorable?!

But would political corruption have been considered so outrageous a hundred years ago? Or would it have been almost expected, par for the course?

And since when is infidelity so shocking? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin D. Roosevelt were all known as philandering presidents.

Now society expects more But now society expects more. Corruption is intolerable and infidelity is not accepted. And so it makes big news.

Look at it now from a personal, psychological vantage point. Say one day I become outraged at a dysfunctional dynamic in my relationship with my spouse. It was always there, but today it becomes unbearable. Well, sometimes that’s a very healthy thing. Last week I repressed my discomfort. I wasn’t ready to face it; it wasn't worth rocking the boat. I let it linger in my unconscious. But today my internal channels are healthier and won’t tolerate this decay of integrity. It shoots up to the surface of my consciousness and bothers me. Finally, I’m ready to begin to work it through.

So perhaps there is not more evil, but more attention being given to evil now. And that’s a good thing. Once it reaches the surface, we can begin a healthy cleansing process.2