Who By Fire, Who By Water
After seven days, the waters of the Flood came upon the earth. In the
hundredth year of Noach's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth
day of the month, all the fountains of the depths burst open; the windows
of the skies opened up. (Bereishis 7:10-11)
The Midrash asks why G-d surrounded all the lands of the world with masses
of waters, and it answers: In order that the people will be afraid to sin
before Him, lest he cover them with the waters of the sea (Bereishis
Rabbah 5:6). In 5765 we were witnesses to just how easily this can happen
and when it does, the damage is enormous.
At the beginning of 5766 we were re-introduced to the devastating power of
earthquakes, as the number of dead in Pakistan and its surrounding areas
at the time of writing this parshah sheet, exceeded 30,000 people. THIRTY
THOUSAND PEOPLE, dead just like that, while in Guatemala a hurricane-
induced landslide buried over 1,400 people alive, turning the destroyed
village into a mass grave.
You are reading this parshah sheet after Succos, but it was written prior
to Yom Kippur. Personally, I found that the words of U'nesaneh Tokef from
the Yomei Norayim prayers, have a much more powerful and immediate meaning
this year as we recall that it is at this time of year that G-d decides
who will live and who will die, and by what means.
According to one chart, between the years 1952 and 1991, a period of 40
years, the most amount of damage resulting from floods, hurricanes,
tornadoes, and earthquakes, over a given four year period during this time
never exceeded 25 billion dollars. Between 1992 and 1996 alone, the
combined damage was 95 billion dollars, a 300 percent increase. This
calculation was before the tsunami in Indonesia, the earthquakes in
Turkey, Iran, etc., the hurricanes of the last few years, and the recent
earthquake in Pakistan.
As to why earthquakes happen, the Talmud writes:
What are zevaos? Rav Kattina said: A rumbling of the earth. Rav Kattina
was once going along the road, and when he came to the door of the house
of a certain necromancer, there was a rumbling of the earth. He
said, "Does the necromancer know what this rumbling is?" He called after
him, "Kattina, Kattina, why should I not know? When the Holy One, Blessed
is He, calls to mind His children who are plunged in suffering among the
nations of the world, He lets fall two tears into the ocean, and the sound
is heard from one end of the world to the other, and that is the
rumbling." Rav Kattina said: "The necromancer is a liar and his words are
false. If it was as he says, there should be one rumbling after another!"
He did not really mean this, however. There really was one rumbling after
another, but the reason why he did not admit it was so that people should
not go astray after him. Rav Kattina, for his own part, said, "[G-d] claps
His hands, as it says, 'I will also clap My hands together, and I will
satisfy My fury' (Yechezkel 21:22)." Rav Nosan said, "[G-d] emits a sigh,
as it is said, 'I will satisfy my fury upon them and I will be eased'
(Yechezkel 5:13). And the Rabbis said, "He treads upon the firmament, as
it says, 'He gives a noise as they that tread grasps against all the
inhabitants of the earth' (Yirmiyahu 25:30)." Rav Acha bar Ya'akov
says, "He presses his feet together beneath the Throne of Glory, as it
says, 'Thus says the L-rd: the heaven is My Throne and the earth is My
footstool' (Yeshayahu 66:1)." (Brochos 59a)
Well, maybe back then, perhaps. Back then, things happened because G-d
made them happen. Events such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and
earthquakes were Divinely-scripted messages.
Even in post-Temple times, because the Talmud was redacted as late as 499
CE, some 1,500 years ago, and the redactors didn't seem to insert in the
text or add as a footnote: This was only true in earlier times, when
Divine Providence was much more apparent. However, in our times of hidden
Divine Providence, long after prophecy has ceased, natural disasters
convey little in terms of Divine response. Thus, our only line of response
can be sympathy for those who have been affected and an outpouring of
Yet, somewhere in history since that time, someone of great authority must
have written that, because that it is certainly the way of the world
today, including the Jewish people, in the way they respond to these
disasters. Long gone are the days of Divinely-directed Noachide floods,
and they say, "if they ever occurred at all."
"It shall come to pass on that day, on the day that Gog shall come
the Land of Israel," says the L-rd, G-d, "My fury shall rise up . . . And,
in My jealousy, in the fire of My anger, I have spoken - surely on that
day there will be a great shaking in Eretz Yisroel. The fish of the sea
and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field, and all the creeping
things that creep upon the earth, and all the people who are upon the face
of the earth, shall shake at My Presence; the mountains shall be
destroyed, the steep places shall fall, and every wall will fall to the
ground." (Yechezkel 38:18-20)
This was written thousands of years ago, in the good ole days when G-d was
still speaking to man directly. This is pure prophecy, not an opinion of
some later day would-be prophet, and if this had happened in Yechezkel's
time, you could be sure that it was G-d speaking, and that to act
otherwise would be nothing short of suicide.
Except that Yechezkel was not talking about his time. He was delivering a
message about a future generation, very far in the future from his time, a
generation that would have to survive the final stages of history, and the
final battles in the War of Gog and Magog. It was too early in his time to
mention the names of the countries that might be involved, for example,
America, England, Russia, or even the Arab states.
(Additionally , it would take away free-will from the generation whose
existing countries' names match those of the prophecies of yesteryear.
Therefore, Yechezkel, and the other great prophets of his time, just
referred to them in a generic manner, simply calling them "Gog.")
So, CLEARLY, at some point in time since, as many today seem to assume,
natural disasters stopped being direct messages from G-d, they will once
again become Divinely-tailored events meant to have a direct impact on the
history of mankind, direct responses to the actions of those who
perpetrate evil, especially against the Jewish people.
Who will be, or perhaps already is, Gog?
This is an answer we may only know after the fact. But in the meantime,
what we do know for sure, according to the prophecy, is that:
". . . Gog shall come against the Land of Israel," says the L-rd, G-d . . .
America already did that. And, so did Pakistan:
NEW YORK, Sept 18: In the first ever address to a Jewish congregation by a
Pakistani head of state, President Pervez Musharraf assured America's
powerful Jewish community that he would take steps towards normalization
of ties with Israel if the Middle East peace process moved forward.
Linking Pakistan's recognition of Israel to the establishment of a
Palestinian state, the president said: "Peace process progresses towards
the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, we will take
further steps towards normalization and cooperation, looking to full
diplomatic relations." In his speech to the American Jewish Congress . . .
He qualified his offer of relations with Israel to the granting of rights
to the people of Palestine and said that the Pakistani nation had a deep
sense of sympathy for the Palestinian people and their legitimate
aspirations for statehood.
Clearly, nothing is conclusive here, but the prophet did add:
"My fury shall rise up . . . And, in My jealousy, in the fire of My anger,
I have spoken - surely on that day there will be a great shaking in Eretz
Is this literal or are we really in for an earthquake here? Surely G-d
does not intend to destroy Israel and its infrastructure as a punishment
for the nations of the world for having done the same thing. That's the
trouble with prophecy, it's ambiguous and subject to interpretation and
The fish of the sea and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field,
and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the people
who are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My Presence; the
mountains shall be destroyed, the steep places shall fall, and every wall
will fall to the ground."
Hasn't this begun already? Are we physically entering the period described
by the prophet, but with a mentality that belongs to pre-Gog and Magog?
Never forget how four-fifths of the Jews in Egypt just couldn't accept and
adjust to the new program, and instead, died in the Plague of Darkness, or
how we stayed too long in Spain, and even longer in Europe.
Do we dare simply cope only with the present, or do we now wonder about
the future and ask, "What's next?"
He sent Yehudah ahead to Yosef to prepare for their arrival. (Bereishis
Allow me to share an insight, what might be called a chidush (a new idea).
Many Jews know that the Jewish people are waiting for Moshiach, but not
all know that we are waiting for two of them, Moshiach Ben Yosef and
Moshiach Ben Dovid.
Why must there be two? That is the way it has always been ever since Yosef
HaTzaddik preceded Yehudah, the ancestor of Moshiach Ben Dovid down to
Egypt on behalf of the Jewish people. It seems as if the redemption
process is a one-two punch type of an idea, where Moshiach Ben Yosef is
necessary to clear the path for Moshiach Ben Dovid, who will become the
king of the Jewish people and of the world, for that matter.
Curiously enough, there is a tremendous amount of Torah literature
regarding Moshiach Ben Dovid, but very little discussing Moshiach Ben
Yosef and his role in the redemption process. So-much-so that even many
learned people think only about one Moshiach, the final one, since he is
only one described in any detail in the Talmud and its commentaries.
One work in particular devoted somewhat to the topic of Moshiach Ben Yosef
is Kol HaTor, purportedly the teachings of the Vilna Gaon to some of his
closest and most trusted students. I say purportedly because there is
great controversy in the yeshivishe world as to whether or not the GR"A
actually wrote Kol Hator, primarily because of the emphasis on making
aliyah and participating in the Moshiach Ben Yosef part of redemption.
It is interesting as to how the one work that deals with such a hidden
topic can make it into mainstream Torah literature, even though it seems
as if some kind of conspiracy is keeping the work from gaining the
recognition it truly deserves if it is really from the GR"A. And, indeed
there must be some spiritual barrier, for if Moshiach Ben Yosef is the
path to Moshiach Ben Dovid then, the Sitra Achra, the Opposing Angel
destined to be removed from the world once the Final Redemption occurs,
has to do whatever he can to delay Moshiach Ben Yosef from coming.
This is what the Arizal explained. He revealed that when it comes to
matters of the redemption process, the only way to succeed is by fooling
the Sitra Achra, by giving him the impression that what is happening is
actually contra-redemption. Like Lot fathering sons from his daughters,
like Yehudah taking Tamar, or like Boaz performing yibum with Rus the
Moabitess. This is also why Avraham was born from Terach, and why Dovid
HaMelech's ancestry was so murky in his time.
And, as I have said before, it is probably why the modern State of Israel
was founded by people who had no desire to associate themselves with any
of the ultimate goals of the Jewish people. It fits the pattern perfectly.
We have so many hiccups in our long history that it is a proof of Torah
itself; who would make up so many embarrassing moments about themselves?
But, herein lie lessons to the wise who want to help with the redemption
process without becoming the target of the Sitra Achra, that has even
managed to inspire mass burnings of the Talmud and other major Torah
works, and much, much worst.
It would not surprise me one bit to find out that he is behind the
controversy over Kol HaTor as well, keeping many Jews from delving into
its incredible instructions for facilitating the process of geulah. "Hey,"
the Sitra Achra mocks us, "you can talk about Moshiach Ben Dovid all you
want, because he ain't going to come until Moshiach Ben Yosef comes, who
most of you know nothing about, thanks to me and the controversy I have
created regarding seforim like Kol HaTor!"
Having said that, perhaps we can find a little more about Moshiach Ben
Yosef from the very pages of the Talmud, not by what Chazal said, but by
what Chazal didn't say.
In that day will I cause the horn of the House of Israel to bud forth.
If anyone knew the Sitra Achra and how he works, it was the rabbis of the
Mishnah and the Talmud. And, if anyone wanted to initiate geulah, it was
the rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud. The question was, how to do the
latter without arousing the former, for Chazal knew that if they spoke
about Moshiach Ben Yosef in any instructive way, the Talmud would be
obliterated. History proved them right somewhat just by what they wrote
about the gentile world.
Yet, on the other hand, the information had to be available to those who
could use it throughout the generations in order to facilitate redemption.
So, perhaps, like with the case of the Midrash which acts like clothing to
hide the principles of the Oral Law from those for whom it was not meant,
Chazal found a way to talk about Moshiach Ben Yosef and his time without
actually doing so.
How's did they do that?
By talking about what Moshiach Ben Dovid is not, or when he won't come.
For example, the Talmud says:
Reb Chanina said: Ben Dovid will not come until a fish is sought for an
invalid and cannot be procured, as it is written, "Then will I make their
waters deep, and cause their rivers to run like oil" (Yechezkel 32:14);
and it is written, "in that day will I cause the horn of the House of
Israel to bud forth." (Yechezkel 29:21)
Rebi Chama bar Chanina said: Ben Dovid will not come until even the
pettiest kingdom ceases [to have power] over Israel, as it is written, "He
shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut
down the branches" (Yeshayahu 18:5); and this is followed by, "in that
time shall the present be brought unto the Lord of hosts of a people that
is scattered and peeled" (Yeshayahu 18:7).
Zeiri said in Rebi Chanina's name: Ben Dovid will not come until there are
no conceited men in Israel, as it is written, "For then I will take away
out of the midst of thee them that rejoice in thy pride" (Tzephaniah
3:11); which is followed by, "I will also leave in your midst an afflicted
and poor people, and they shall take refuge in the name of the L-rd"
Rebi Simlai said in the name of Rebi Eleazar, son of Rebi Shimon: Ben
Dovid will not come until all judges and officers are gone from Israel, as
it is written, "And I will turn my hand upon you, and purely purge away
your dross and take away all your sin; and I will restore thy judges as at
first" (Yeshayahu 1:25). (Sanhedrin 98a)
There are many others like these, and in most cases, one might despair,
for such scenarios seem far off in the distance making the likelihood of
Moshiach Ben Dovid's arrival very unlikely without some kind of dramatic
turn of events.
Unless, the point of discussion is not Moshiach Ben Dovid, but in fact,
his predecessor Moshiach Ben Yosef, as if to say that he can, and will
come before these results are achieved, specifically to cause them to
happen in order to hasten the arrival of Moshiach Ben Dovid. Thus, when
the Sitra Achra learns this section of the Talmud, he will feel secure in
knowing that nothing life-threatening for him is being discussed, when in
fact it is.
It reminds me of the time when at the height of the Spanish Inquisition,
the Morranos had a burning desire to hear shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah,
which would have certainly blown their cover. It happened to be that the
leader of the Spanish orchestra was a Morrano himself, and he devised a
plan to pay tribute to the music of different cultures in a special
concert to be held on Rosh Hashanah.
After presenting the music of other cultures first, the orchestra leader
blew the shofar as a tribute to the music of the Jewish people, but it was
really for the sake of the mitzvah of all the Morranos there - and right
in front of the heads of the Inquisition! No one caught on, and the rabbis
have said that never before has the Sitra Achra been as outwitted as he
was that day.
Perhaps, but no one knew better how to fool the Sitra Achra than Chazal;
there are sections of the Talmud that are perfect examples and
instructions to us. For, though Moshiach Ben Dovid may seem far off, there
can be no more dramatic turn of events than Moshiach Ben Yosef, who can be
here right now, paving the way so that Moshiach Ben Dovid can finally come.
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.