November 22, 2019

A Reflection on Messianic Yearning

Religious Jews are taught at a young age to yearn for the geulah (redemption). With sophistication, the student comes to learn that messianism is not just about seeking an end but is also a worldview, a process of living with a vision and with a dream. What is one to do if they lack this excitement for life, drive to make change, idealism to envision a better world? Rabbi Luzzatto (Mesillat Yesharim, Chapter 7) writes:

The best advice for the person in whom this desire does not burn is that he consciously enthuse himself so that enthusiasm might eventually become second nature to him. External movement arouses the internal, and you certainly have more of a command over the external than the internal.

Yearning for a better world, for a messianic age, is seen as a Jewish foundational concept. In fact, the Gemarrah, says that whether or not one was “tzipita lishua” (waiting with hope for redemption) is one of the first questions that an individual will be asked on their judgment day. Did one yearn for a world devoid of poverty, human suffering, hate, and cruelty? Did one act to bring this dream into reality?

Today, due to extremists, notions of messianism have become unappealing for many, but we can not lose the inner human emotional need for a notion of salvation and the fruits that that impulse can produce. Discussing the successes of the Zionists’ building and founding of Medinat Yisrael, Rabbi David Hartman z’l writes that

If the messianic vision is abandoned, the resultant anchorage exclusively in the world of immediacy and everyday concerns may lead to cynicism or despair regarding the possibility of achieving anything radical in human history and may discourage responsible action by the halakhic community, (A Living Covenant, page 288).

We need more balance in our lives as justice seekers but we also need more radical visionaries! Becoming one who yearns for and works tirelessly for redemption may be a necessary trait for one who wishes to profoundly shape the world. As Rav Luzzato recommends, we should take on spiritual practices which help to cultivate the internal desire for an ideal world and external practices that help to be makriv the geulah (bring near an ideal human society). May we be blessed with success!


Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder and President of “>Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly