By Rabbi Elie Mischel
Everyone who truly believes in the Bible yearns for the day when this world will be redeemed. But what, really, are we yearning for?
Today, the final day of Passover outside of Israel, we read Isaiah’s extraordinary words:
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the kid; the calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, with a little boy to herd them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
When we read these words, we imagine redemption as a time when the very laws of nature will change – when wolves and lambs will stroll down the boardwalk together, arm in arm, and enjoy a lovely dinner together at the beach!
But is this world of fantasy what we are truly waiting for?
The sages tell a fascinating story:
“Rabbi Joseph the son of Rabbi Joshua became ill and fell into a trance. When he recovered, his father asked him, ‘What did you see?’ Rabbi Joseph said: ‘I saw an upside-down world, where those who are great here are low there, and those who are low here are great there.’ ‘My son,’ said Rabbi Joshua, ‘you [did not see an upside down world. You] saw a clear world.’” (Babylonian Talmud 50a)
We believe that we are living in a “normal” world, for this is the only world we know. And we believe that at the end of days, the Messiah will bring all of us to another world, a holy world, altogether different from the world we know.
But the truth is quite different. It is our world, the world we are living in today, that is not normal! Our world, filled with falsehood and deceit, is upside down!
In our world, evil people are successful, while good people too often suffer. We live in a world which venerates athletes more than teachers, a world obsessed with satisfying temptation and desire, a world in which the things that matter most are ignored!
But because we are so used to living in this topsy-turvy world, we hardly notice how upside down it truly is. We are like people living through the era of slavery, who assumed that slavery was natural and normal; they couldn’t even imagine a world without slavery!
What will redemption be like? What kind of world are we waiting for?
We are waiting for a clear and normal world, where the strong will no longer oppress the weak, when peace among nations will no longer be a dream.
This is the world that Isaiah describes! When he says that “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,” he is not describing a world of fantasy in which the laws of nature are suspended. He is describing a world like ours – except that it will no longer be upside down!
As the great Maimonides writes:
“Do not presume that in the Messianic age any facet of the world’s nature will change or there will be innovations in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern. Although Isaiah states: ‘The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the young goat,’ these words are a metaphor and a parable. The prophecy means that Israel will dwell securely together with those evil nations who are likened to a wolf and a leopard… They will all return to the true faith and no longer steal or destroy.
As we conclude the holiday of Passover, the holiday of redemption, let us strengthen our belief in redemption. And let us pray for the day when our world will once again be “normal”!