On Tu Bishvat: A Clear Messianic Sign

[She’al Na #3]

Q: When will the Messiah come?
A: It is known that our Sages rebuked one who engages in messianic calculations. "Blasted be the bones of those who calculate the end" (Sanhedrin 97b)! They will announce the coming of the Messiah, but in vain, and the disappointment causes a horrible crisis of faith.

Q: So when the Messiah arrives we won’t greet him?
A: This is a different question. After he arrives, we will know. The Rambam writes that we will not know these matters until they occur (Hilchot Melachim 12:2). After they occur, however, we will know. When two students came and asked our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook “when will the Messiah come?”, he responded with a smile: He has already arrived a little.

Q: What does "he has already arrived a little" mean? He either arrived or he didn’t!
A: There is also a possibility that he will come "slowly, slowly" - gradually, in stages.

Q: If so, what is this "a little"?
A: This matter is explained by the prophet Yechezkiel. In an extremely special passage, he prophesied in the Name of Hashem to the mountains and the valleys.

Q: How is it possible to speak to mountains?
A: Why not? The Master of the Universe is concerned about the Mountains of Israel. The Shechina is distressed when the enemy rules over them. The Shechinah is distressed when they are destroyed and desolate. The Shechinah is distressed when they are mocked and scorned by the non-Jews. Therefore, when the time arrives, the Master of the Universe will act with great zealousness for the Land, and will decide that from now on these things will change and the non-Jews who are around will suffer their disgrace (Yechezkiel 36).

Q: That is to say, their lands will be desolate?
A: Actually no, rather our Land will bloom. "But you Mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people of Israel, for they will soon be coming" (Yechezkiel 36:8). If the Land is green, this is a sign that Hashem decided to bring salvation for His Nation. And blessed is Hashem, our Land is green both on this side of the ‘Green Line’ and on the other side.

Q: This verse is enough to signal the Redemption?!
A: This is what our Sages stated: "You have no Revealed End [clearer] than this, as it says: ‘And you Mountains of Israel...’" (Sanhedrin 98a).

Q: Why the blooming of the desolate in particular? There are many other important matters.
A: But this is the first matter. "Not on bread alone does a man live" (Devarim 8:3), but bread is in fact essential. Rashi (Sanhedrin ibid.) explains: "When the Land of Israel will generously give her fruit then the End will approach". And soon will be established "for they will soon be coming”. Jews are able to come, since there is food to eat.

Q: Is this the order of Redemption: first the establishment of agricultural settlements and afterwards the Ingathering of the Exiles?
A: Precisely. This is why the "Shemoneh Esrei" was fixed in its order. As our Sages taught: after the blessing over produce comes the blessing of the return of the exiles (Megillah 17b).

Q: If so, why aren’t there the same reservations towards interpreting this sign as towards those who calculate the End?
A: This is not an End for which we wait passively, but rather an End which we create in our fulfillment of the Torah commandment of settling the Land. In this we are emissaries of the Holy One, Blessed be He.

Q: This means that we bring the coming of the Messiah?
A: Indeed. The Midrash of our Sages is known: If you are planting a sapling and they inform you that the Messiah is coming, plant first and greet him afterwards (Avot De-Rebbe Natan, Shechter Edition, chap. 1, version b). Is the Messiah not more important than a sapling? No - these are not two separate matters: by planting a sapling you will greet the Messiah!

Q: But one can claim that these are merely trees and agriculture, with no connection to the Messiah and his coming!
A: The Prophet came precisely because of this! Yechezkel is not talking about upper worlds, but about matters that everyone in this world can see: those trees, that agriculture. The difference is what they see in them: do they merely see trees, or do they see the shining light of the Redemption of Zion and a Divine command to redeem the Nation of Israel?