The Voice of Redemption (Geulah)
This first blogpost was inspired by the following story from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a:
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, while meditating near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, was visited by the Prophet Elijah, may he be remembered for good.
“When will the Messiah come?” asked Joshua.
“Ask him yourself,” replied the prophet, “The Messiah is at the gates of Rome, sitting among the poor, the sick and suffering. Like them, he changes the bindings of his wounds, but he does so one wound at the time, in order to be ready to come at a moment's notice.”
And so, Joshua went to Rome and met the Messiah and greeted him, saying, “Peace be upon you, master and teacher.”
And the Messiah replied, “Peace be upon you, son of Levi.”
Joshua then asked, “When will you be coming?”
And the Messiah said, “Today - Hayom!”
Joshua returned to Elijah, who asked him, “What did the Messiah say?”
Joshua replied, “The Messiah said, ‘Peace be upon you, son of Levi.’”
Elijah told him that this meant that he and his father would have a place in the World to Come.
Joshua then said that the Messiah had not told the truth. He promised to come “hayom” but did not keep his word.
Elijah explained, “This is what he meant, ‘I will come the day (hayom) that you hear the voice of G-d.’ He made his coming conditional and the condition has not yet been fulfilled.’”
That is the story in the Gemara. Whether it actually happened or it is a moshol (parable), it is a teaching that contains wisdom and is worthy of contemplation.
The essential question is, “What did Elijah mean when he said that “hayom” meant “the day you hear the voice of G-d”?
The Gemara there says that the words are taken from Psalm 95:7, “Im b’koloh tishmau – if you will hear His voice.” It is a reference to Hashem’s voice (not the Messiah’s voice). So, what does it mean to hear the voice of G-d?
Elijah was not saying that Joshua ben Levi needed to listen to the Torah, which is the voice of G-d. Joshua ben Levi was a great Torah scholar and a holy tzadik, and was listed by Yalkut Shimoni as one of only nine people who never died. Certainly, he heard the voice of the Torah. So what voice of G-d was he lacking that blocked the coming of the Messiah? He lacked prophecy. He had not actually heard the actual voice of the actual G-d talking to him, as in, “And the L-rd said to Joshua ben Levi…”
Prophecy had ceased in Israel 600 years before the time of Joshua ben Levi. The last three prophets were Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi who lived during the building of the Second Temple.
More importantly, the time had not yet come for prophecy to return, as it says (Joel 3:1), “And it will happen after this, that I will pour My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy; your elders will dream dreams and your young men will see visions.”
This is a divine promise that prophecy will return. And as great as Joshua ben Levi was, neither he nor his father were prophets. Prophecy is destined to return at the time of Geulah – the Final Redemption, but Joshua ben Levi’s generation was barely the beginning of the Galut (Exile). In those days, the Romans crucified Torah scholars and the land was sown with salt so that nothing would grow.
Geulah is when Hashem returns the exiles of Israel and Judah, protects them, and gives them plentiful crops. That did not happen in the generation of Joshua ben Levi, but it has happened hayom - today.
The Galut (exile) was a thick curtain between Israel and the G-d of Israel. It blocked the voice of G-d which is “the small still voice” that Elijah heard on Mt. Sinai (1 Kings 19:12).
In Galut, even the wisest and most righteous sage does not hear “the small still voice.” But in Geulah, simple people, even sinners can hear the voice of G-d and see visions and dream dreams. Many people, including sages and scholars, believe that Hayom has arrived and Geulah is here. Prophecy has returned. And this blog, G-d willing, is about hearing the small still voice.