Slouching Towards Moshiach

If the Messiah were to ride into Jerusalem tomorrow on a white donkey, it would be a terrible disappointment. We live in the best of times and the worst of times, and this makes us busy. Some of us are busy building, and some busy tearing down. Some trowel the mortar of the status quo, while others push at revolution’s sad spoon. Each of us pushes, in our own small (or, if we want to get really destructive, big) way for “making the world a better place.”

What is “making the world a better place” beyond a repugnant cliché? For many, we refer not to the moral good per se but to the alleviation of physical (and now, increasingly, mental) suffering. It is exactly this that will distract us from Moshiach. He will offer to reveal God within the world and we will say, we are too busy fixing our own suffering and the suffering of others. He will assure us that with God’s revelation within the world suffering will burn up like a cloud shredded by the morning. We will tell him that sounds terrifying because then there will be nothing for us to do.

In short, our joy, as noted in many Science Fiction films, seems to derive from our imperfection, because a human being cannot be perfect and be human, and if the messianic age is an eternal life of goodness, then by definition is cannot be a human life, and the Messiah’s imminence begins to sound like the looming existential impotence of death, like a crushing boredom that will not let us wring free.

But Moshiach is not death because what we take for life is not life. We have chosen, in our modern pursuits, the life of the body and the life of the soul, but not the point of their interweaving that in earlier times was taken to constitute a man.

The soul and the body make a strange pair. They are opposites, spirit and material, form and matter. Yet, paradoxically, the more they are themselves, the more they are each other. In other words, the essence of the soul is close to the essence of the body, and vice versa, whereas at their superficial points of coarsest expression they are as far from each other as East and West. It is the secret of the body that it needs a soul, and the secret of the soul that it needs a body, but both must leave the house in the morning and go to work and pretend they wish the enemy’s destruction. Or something.

Look, because bringing the Moshiach is the hardest thing in the world(tm), it shouldn’t surprise us too much that our natural tendency is to sort of work around the edge of the idea, getting as close as reason dares and always circling around the center point. That’s why we cannot just apply our soul’s choice and will to make decisions that reveal G-d in the world but must be distracted by dumb garbage that involves either the body or the soul screaming at the top of their lungs but never at each other.

The body taken roughly on its own will, for its own good, reject Moshiach. Not the truth of the body, which points toward the soul, but the thing materialists think makes the whole man. These bodies are terrified of Moshiach. The time will come when they are not needed. A Messianist’s input isn’t needed on this. It’s happening already. With “smarter” AI developed all the time, machines are quite likely to continue taking away more of the body’s work. What used to take a farm full of workers now takes a man; some factories are nearly completely automated; McDonald’s has started rolling out its kiosks. What, if we are not at work, and sustaining food is so cheap, are we to do with our time? The Messianic age of delights common as dust weighs on the soul like the void.

The soul taken on its own also rejects Moshiach. It is a being of pure will; it claims that the apparent facts are irrelevant before the inner truth of a man. And this superficial soul is just as busy as the superficial body. While the body is busy at work or play, the soul fights against reality. Practical concerns are, for it, notwithstanding. Thousands of years of viewing the sexes in one way must come to a close. Money must be paid with no concern of where it comes from. Love can solve all problems because all problems are soul perspective problems; problems of those who want the wrong thing. The soul, too, is afraid of Moshiach removing its purpose. Then, there will be no beauty higher than G-d, and no need to seek out a unique story or point of view. There will be no compassionm, empathy, or love to set us apart and define us. It will be obvious to all that many of the things we love now are empty compared to the eternal Creator. What is desirable will be objective and shared. We will not desire otherwise.

If man is a body, he will be replaced by machines, and if man is a soul, he will be replaced by angels and spiritual realms.

If we do not have a purpose when Moshiach comes, what purpose do we have now?

And indeed, what applies to man applies here to the whole world alike. Why is Moshiach a time when the world becomes more itself rather than simply ceasing to be? Perhaps the “Chad Charuv” is the Messianic Devourer, come to return the world to naught, for it no longer serves any need.

But on the contrary: we and the world have purpose as a soul and a body, tied together at their cores.

The reason why man becomes more a man and the world more the world when Moshiach comes is because Judaism is a monotheism that believes G-d actually created and sustains the creation. This is more revolutionary than it first sounds. A G-d who actually creates the world in its entirety, who creates everything and is bound by nothing, therefore creates for some end. And the end is Moshiach.

What is Moshiach? Moshiach is the commandments carried out.

What are the commandments carried out? A soul in a body, fulfilling their purpose.

And because the commandments are the soul and body fulfilling their purpose, the soul and body are not merely means to an end but part of the end itself. The commandment is only performed if it is performed by a soul in a body. And so these things persist.

Soon a time will come when all of our causes and protests and well-reasoned positions and well-sculpted muscles will be unnecessary.

Soon a time will come when everything we think we live for will fade away to dust.

Why are we not terrified?

Because though ranks of infinite angels cry out to G-d with divine wisdom, souls in bodies are why they exist. The robots are coming to do our work, and our various protests will soon be pointless. But the printing press has not turned the scribe obsolete, nor has a machine been found that can tie the Tztizit with intention. Never will the Seraphim’s perfect prayer be as essential as a half-asleep Sh’ma that falls from our cracked lips.

That a soul says the Sh’ma, is necessary.

That the lips are involved, is necessary.

This is all that matters.

This is what we must live for, if we want to want Moshiach.

 

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

Modernity As A Delaying Tactic

The moral realm can be defined as that area where we determine not only what is but what human action ought to be. It is also notable for being perhaps the only part of human life in which we are able to weigh the options and use our free will to make a decision. Aesthetics are more connected to the subconscious; our choice of mate or food or residence could come from predetermined nature, but when we are faced with doing the right thing we have the opportunity to step away from all “inputs,”  from all immediate causes, and weigh the matter within ourselves. That there is, at that moment, a correct decision and an incorrect one, and that we are held responsible for the one we choose, and that the choice is truly a free one uncaused by anything other than our own souls, are all fundamental to the notion of divine reward and punishment so central to religion.

However, as in so many other areas, clarity is much harder to find in our times. The very proposition that there is a “correct” decision is of course famously under assault from “moral relativism,” whatever that is; our responsibility in the matter is downplayed by most social theories; those, in turn, are based on a materialist understanding of human beings which does not allow for an “uncaused decision” in what is a more-or-less deterministic universe.

These views on the nature of man and the world that stand against the traditional understanding of morality are made more mysterious by the fact that they do not truly exist. Moral relativism is the somewhat murky general stance that in any question of right or wrong everything is equal from different perspectives. It is unclear whether anyone has actually ever held moral relativism as an actual position, as it seems we’d be hard-pressed to find a person who never judges anyone morally, or who is always willing to see the position of others as correct from a different point of view. Similarly, the social theories that blame, say, the choices of the young latino who robs a convenience store on his position in society, government policies, the hatred of others toward him, etc. seem less inclined to extend the same social theories to the young white racist who hates Latinos, and vice versa; taken to its (truly, at this point, farcical) extreme, there are few who’d say Joseph Stalin is as good a person as, say, Vanna White because both merely played the fated part their biology and upbringing laid out for them. And if no one is excusing Stalin on social grounds, neither are they excusing him on biological ones, despite the fact that his neurons obey the same unchanging and inexorable laws of nature that Vanna’s do and it would be easy to argue he was fulfilling more evolutionary imperatives by opening gulags than she is by revealing game show solutions.

Yet somehow, despite these strange internal contradictions and a seeming desire across the board to at least pay lip service to the old morality, somehow it always comes up from some angle that the action in question is not the fault of the individual. There’s always someone who says, “You know, I’m all for being moral, but if you had been alive during the time of slavery, you probably would have been for it!” I think that the real thrust of the argument is sometimes lost in the fact that it’s true; I agree at once that this point is true whereas its application is false. If we would have been slaveholders in antebellum Georgia, the question then becomes, “So what does it mean to be personally moral within you time?” After all, we will all be sitting under our vineyards one day after the coming of the messiah and telling each other we, too, would have sinned if only we had lived in the dark times when G-d’s presence did not shine in all of reality, and then, too, what we would mean is somehow that there is no morality rather than morality is complicated and must be discussed in context.

It is hard to believe that such questions are merely intended to further moral investigation when the follow-up is almost always some matter of practical concern. It is obvious to many of us who read literature or study history or even mull over in the dark the mysteries of our own fate that the moral question is the question of human existence, and so it is equally obvious when no one around us cares about it. How could it be that something so central could be so undiscussed?

I blame the near-infinite human capacity for distraction.

You see, the enlightenment (on whose dregs and fumes our society still runs) was a great turning, a decision to put aside all of what is to focus on how best to conquer it. This dogmatic narrowing of focus is what gave us that very mechanistic view of the universe codified by Isaac Newton and applied with astonishing success in technology to master nature; it is what diverted public attention away from the mystery of their own moral souls to questions of governance and politics, which can be used to change the circumstances of society and take certain ethical questions off the table.

And this great turning, in whose wake we are still all caught up, is in decay. When it was young and vigorous and had its bright eyes set firmly on mastery over nature, Hume was able to say clearly that one cannot derive an ought from an is; Newton and Descartes were aware that their mechanistic focus was merely the lowest function of a universe full of G-d and purpose and so were content to deal purely with mechanisms. But now, in 2017, we are far beyond the point when the revolution knew what it wanted and well into the part where chaos descends on the now-godless masses.

This is why the people we know propose more and more medical, political, or scientific solutions to tough moral questions or the time. The “solution” for criminality (and most other things wrong with people) is therapy, which we are meant to pretend is purely a medical solution to mental health problems and not an attempt to apply a moral theory (that always remains undiscussed) to the psyche of the patient. Which therapy is it that does not assign to certain moral actions a certain level of responsibility, a causative explanation, and a course of action one ought to follow? The “solution” to poverty is redistribution or central planning of some sort, which we are meant to pretend is purely an economic solution to material resentments and not an attempt to apply a moral theory (that usually remains undiscussed) to large swathes of citizens. Which form of welfare or entitlement does not directly incentivize certain behavior, altering the sort of moral choices one is open to making? The “solution” to boredom and ennui is the continuous march of technology and the new mission to save mother earth, which we are meant to pretend is obviously the reason we are here and not an attempt to apply a moral theory (which is almost never discussed) to the very definition of humanity. Which TED talk on imagination, or progress, or the cause de jour does not attempt to tell us what we ought to do without asking whether it’s right?

Just as the march of science has hit a wall with the problem of consciousness because consciousness was never a problem it was meant to solve in the first place, so, too, has the march of practical solutions and mastery of human nature come to its last breaths.

We have been working on an assumption that we are here to control nature, and many of us find that the more we control her to the detriment of other pursuits the more empty and adrift and purposeless we feel. But if the true reason we are here is for us to come to grips with our souls and our terrifying ability to choose right and wrong, to devote ourselves selflessly to each other and to God, and to find and participate in the truth, most of the solutions of modernity have simply been a distraction and a delaying tactic.