When I was growing up, my extended family included my grandmother’s cousin, Sara. She wasn’t very big, with her face made memorable by a pair of dimples and eyes that twinkled when she smiled, which she did a lot. She lived into her eighties, spending her last years alone in an unremarkable apartment in an unremarkable building next to where our kids went to school. I took them regularly to visit her, and what I remember about her throughout her life is that she was always smiling. I wish I could ask her now for the secret of her happiness–especially in light of the back story of her life.
Family lore has it that when she was of marriageable age, she fell in love with a non-Jewish man. He was said to be a wonderful person who loved her back, but her parents forbade her to marry him.
Sara obeyed them, and the consequences would turn out to be enormous. For one thing, she would never have children. Although she eventually married a Jewish man when she was close to forty, the marriage was said to be mediocre at best (I was in fifth grade when I went to their wedding and even I could tell it wasn’t as exciting as weddings are supposed to be). Either way, after only a few years of marriage, her husband passed away, leaving Sara alone. Fortunately for her, she had a sister Molly, who was also old and alone in the world, and they lived together until Molly passed away.
Recently, when my mother and I were talking about (what else?) intermarriage, she questioned whether Cousin Sara should have disobeyed her parents (and the Torah law that forbids intermarriage), rather than sacrifice her personal happiness.
Which brings me to ponder a question, a biggie, I admit.
Whose life is it anyway?
If my life is my own, then my personal fulfillment is paramount. Truth is what I make it and my behavior is my business alone, as long as it doesn’t directly impact someone else. There’s apparently a lot to be said for this model because a lot of people live by it today.
If my life is not my own, as the Torah contends, then G-d created me for a holy purpose, with a tafkid, a mission, that only I can accomplish for Him in this world. My personal fulfillment is not a goal unto itself, but a by-product of serving G-d through learning Torah and doing Mitzvos. In the afterlife, G-d’s world of Truth, all my deeds are judged and I am rewarded accordingly. (Think Cousin Sara and everyone you know who may have been unrewarded in this world.)
Two very different models. And in this world, at least so far, neither one can be proven to be correct with absolute certainty.
But the unprecedented number of stories in the news today about uncertainty makes it clearer than ever how desperately the world needs truth, and how every one of us needs our own individual truth as well. Only the Torah model provides for an ultimate truth in this world, one that will be revealed with the coming of Moshiach.
And he will bring it with one quality in particular, which is good news for everyone, no matter which model we have been following up until now.
The Talmud predicts that Moshiach will “judge with the sense of smell.” Unlike today, when even the wisest judge is limited to the faculties of hearing and sight, Moshiach will judge everyone with an “extra-sensory perception,” an ability to “smell” the truth within the soul of each person. With this perception, he will fully understand the reasons why our innate G-d consciousness didn’t materialize fully in our lives. Knowing everyone’s complete inner story will enable Moshiach to favorably judge each and every Jew (and every righteous non-Jew) to be worthy of Redemption. It doesn’t get any better than that.
But we have to ask G-d to send him.
Until then, the world will be plagued by the usual ills–war, hatred, sickness, etc. Uncertainty, too.
But why is it today that stories of uncertainty are dominating the news? One story about a person who is one color but identifies as a person of another color. Story after story about people and their gender fluidity. And although it may not be front-page news, we Jews are grappling as never before with our own national story of who is a Jew.
Why is all this coming out now?
I’m pondering that this new uncertainty, and the drama surrounding it in so many cases, is another way G-d is showing us that we need this ultimate truth, the inner truth, about ourselves and about the world. I don’t profess to know the details of how Moshiach will “smell and judge,” I just know we will all be happy with our outcomes, and we will enjoy a world of good we can’t even begin to imagine.
Instead of resigning ourselves to uncertainty as a fact of life, each of us can ask G-d to replace uncertainty with clarity, by sending Moshiach now. Then, finally, everyone will really have what to smile about.