At some point in our lives, many of us have shared a relationship with a parent, teacher, or employer which deeply affected us. That person had high standards. He stood for something and invited others to stand with him.
He was demanding; he never gave in and never accepted mediocre performance. But he also never gave up, and constantly communicated high expectations and the trust that we could meet them.
Such trust and confidence empower us. When we look up to someone with well-earned respect and feel that he genuinely knows us and believes in us, it is natural to want to live up to his expectations. With a pride that goes much deeper than self, we apply ourselves to the tasks before us, for our goal is not merely to earn reward, but to give shape and form to the ideal we share.
What would happen -- and with modern communications this is a possibility -- if a leader of this nature were to arise and to reach out to all mankind?
This is what the coming of Mashiach will be like.
The concept of Mashiach is hard for modern man to accept. We no longer have kings, and even charismatic leaders are few and far between. Our institutions have moved toward decentralization, but even these smaller systems need leaders in order to function effectively.
The scarcity of genuine leadership is a source of concern in politics, business and culture. Analysts have complained that America is over-managed and under-led. They indict the individuals at the heads of our organizations for being far too concerned with the bottom line, for trying to maintain a structure that produces a favorable annual report, instead of desiring to inspire creative change.
True leadership requires vision. People can be forced into following, but even while that control is enforced, negative feelings will be aroused, for humans have a natural tendency to resist coercion.
Similarly, compliance can be obtained through exchange. Goods and services can be bartered for conformity. Many of the relationships in our homes and workplaces operate because bargains of this nature are constantly being made.
When leadership which promises rewards of this nature is exercised fairly, it can be functional and satisfying. Nevertheless, such a system encourages selfishness rather than idealism and teamwork, for the basic motivator is the person's own benefit, the payoff.1 Nor will this form of leadership inspire true growth. For a person barters for what he perceives is good, and thus can never advance beyond the level of his immediate understanding.
Genuine leadership must inspire people with a longterm vision that gives meaning to their efforts. It must point them in a new direction, endow them with deeper understanding and higher aspirations, and show how their actions form an indispensable part of a purposeful whole.
It is important to emphasize the difference between inspiration and demagoguery. A demagogue can get people excited, but he speaks about unrealistic expectations.2 The vision with which a genuine leader inspires others, by contrast, rings true.
Like an idea which makes a listener say: "Aha! I always understood that, but never had words for it," a leader's vision touches a chord within the inner self of others. The framework which a leader offers is unique and different, enlarging his followers' horizons, but is nevertheless something plainly possible -- a goal with which others can identify.
Mashiach will share such an ideal with all mankind. Mashiach's dream is to make our world a dwelling for G-d. On one hand, this vision is unique and radical, for it requires an understanding of existence far different than that found in our ordinary approach to life. On the other hand, this vision can be appreciated by everyone; indeed, it relates to every dimension of existence. For this is the intent which motivated the very creation of the world.3
And this message echoes within the heart of each of us. We would all like to live in security and abundance, with a chance to develop our potential to its fullest.
The factors enabling the expression of these values are already at work. The forces of change within our society are sweeping away the old systems and dogmas, and have created systems that enable us to anticipate the ideals of peace, wisdom, and unity that will characterize the Redemption.
Nevertheless, if the backdrop for Redemption is in the process of being created, it is only a backdrop; in the foreground, the newspapers are still filled with violence, poverty, and war. Our technology has advanced more quickly than we have, and until we attain more wisdom, sensitivity and truth, the dream of the Redemption will not be realized.
What is going to make the difference? How will we translate our aspirations from the abstract to the practical?
For change to be purposeful rather than random, it must be brought about by people sharing ideals and principles with others. This leads to one of Judaism's fundamental concepts: that the Era of the Redemption is not merely an age of awareness and peace, it is Yemos HaMashiach, "the days of Mashiach."4
Mashiach's teachings will inspire a series of real changes in our approach to life.5 As people throughout the world become aware of his message, they will desire to take part in spreading the atmosphere of spiritual purpose, knowledge and peace. This will create a bridge between the ideal and the actual, allowing mankind to create an environment appropriate for a world that is G-d's dwelling.
This ideal is fundamental to Judaism's concept of Redemption. For Judaism sees the coming of the Redemption as dependent on the growth and spread of human wisdom. Mashiach will not descend from heaven. He will be a human being who will teach others to be more human, and to be more than human by expressing the G-dly potential we all possess.
There is no alternative. There is no way that we can develop a perfect society without perfecting people; we must refine our characters. And it will be a flesh and blood human being, Mashiach, whose personal example and leadership will inspire others to make such changes -- within themselves, and then within their environment.
When people are dedicated to realizing an ideal, they rise above petty self-concern. They appreciate what another person can contribute, and are eager to accept his input. Such an approach has a tremendous binding power, for there is no bond more potent than a shared ideal.
For a leader's vision to be communicated effectively, it must be reflected in his personal life. Trust is a follower's response to a leader's vision. And we will not trust -- nor entrust our energies to -- a leader unless he embodies the principles he espouses. People must see personal integrity, consistency, and genuine sincerity in a leader before they will consent to follow.
For that reason, not only will Mashiach reveal how the world at large is G-d's dwelling, but this concept will be realized in his own person. The spark of G-d -- the soul which is present in all men -- will burn brightly in him, dominating his personality; "The spirit of G-d will rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of G-d."6
The necessity for Mashiach to serve as an example of realized human potential is reflected in the criteria which Maimonides provides for recognizing a potential Redeemer.7 First, he states that Mashiach must be a descendant of the House of David; i.e., he will be heir to the virtues that distinguish the Jewish monarch. Furthermore, Mashiach will be a Torah sage of deep understanding, whose conduct reflects the spiritual truths he has uncovered.
The next criterion mentioned by Maimonides -- that Mashiach will inspire the entire Jewish people to a deeper commitment to their Jewish heritage -- reflects another important dimension of leadership: A leader cannot be a visionary in the wilderness. He must be a successful communicator, a person who gets his message across, and who makes his followers understand that he appreciates them and their role in shaping the shared vision. This stirs a wholehearted, uninhibited, and dynamic commitment on their part.
This leads to a further point. A leader's vision must translate ideals into applicable principles. Although Mashiach will be a teacher par excellence, communicating wisdom to all people, his intent will not be to impart abstract knowledge, but to bring about actual change throughout the world. As Maimonides continues:8 "Mashiach will... perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G-d together."
1. In a related context, our Sages (Pirkei Avos 5:10) state: "[Saying] 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is yours'... is characteristic of the people of Sodom." For the line between legitimate self-interest and selfishness is a fine one, and can be distinguished only by the guiding light of true values.
2. And often, there is a negative twist to the message of a demagogue: The ideal is not being realized because some people -- or some traits in one's personality -- are preventing it from being realized. And much of the focus goes into combating these opposing forces.
3. Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.
4. Sanhedrin 99a discusses the proposition that the Redemption will not be led by a mortal. Instead, "the Holy One, blessed be He, will rule Himself; He will redeem them." The Talmud, however, rejects this thesis, repudiating it to the extent that the Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah, Responsum 356) states that a person who subscribes to this notion "denies the entire Torah."
5. See Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.
6. Isaiah 11:2.
7. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 11:4. See also the explanation of these criteria in the essay entitled "The Function of Mashiach" in I Await His Coming (Kehot, 1991).
8. Op. cit.
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