In honor of the 100th post on this blog, I thought we could talk a little bit about redemption.
Underlying most, if not all, religions is the promise of transcendence. This world and our lives have limited meaning, and all will fade in time. Religion offers the possibility of eternal existence and relevance to the individual. Redemption is a related idea. It takes the promise of individual transcendence and applies it to the entire nation of believers, and by extension, to the world.
Judaism has a few different models for redemption, both personal and national. My trouble-making uncle asked me “why do we need olam habah (the world-to-come) if we have techiyat Hametim (resurrection of the dead)? And what does Gan Eden have anything to do with either of those?” Each represents a different point in the spectrum of Jewish beliefs about the afterlife, and the End Times. The truth is that there is tremendous confusion about these terms, and others, like Yemot HaMashiach (The Days of the Messiah), Acharit Hayamim (The Latter Days, or perhaps, the End of Days), Yom Hashem (Day of the Lord), and many others. For an excellent treatment of this topic, I suggest reading Simcha Paull Raphael’s Jewish Views of the Afterlife.
What I want to highlight is that there are different ways to think about redemption. In the Orthodox tradition, redemption is something that happens out of time. It represents the final moment in our linear history, and as such, it is the end to history. As such, the expectations for the Messianic Age are revelation, revolution, and an end to the natural order. For many, the Messianic era is seen as a transition from the physical world to the spiritual world.
My vision for redemption does not discard the physical world. I’m not really waiting for the kind of redemption described above, with its God-like Messiah, anachronistic Temple, and precursor wars and devastation. For me, the Holocaust was war enough, and the Return to Zion was redemption enough. I believe we already live in redemptive times.
My model for redemption is the return to Eden. When Man eats from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge he becomes discerning, but in so doing he also becomes alienated from everyone. He no longer lives at ease with God, or the Garden, or even Eve, the flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Enmity is sown between Man and Man, Man and God, Man and Nature. Our job is to resolve this enmity, and our redemption is restore harmony within God’s creation.
In very real ways, the Jewish nation has been redeemed from the long night of 2,000 years. What remains for us is not to pray for God to descend from on high and shatter the Golden Dome with thunder and lightning. Nor should we pray for Isaiah’s Christ-like
king, or Maimonides’ rabbi-warrior. Surely, we need great leadership, but more than waiting for great leadership to bring change, we need to seize the opportunity to bring the change that too often we only pray for.
Redemption is about a harmonious relationship with nature and our fellow man that enables us to unify with God’s will. We can achieve it in our land, in our own homes, and in our own hearts, but we must share it with our family, our friends, and our neighbors throughout this world if true redemption is to come in this world, not the next.