Do You See That Which You See? – Do You Hear That which You Hear?` (Continued from last week)
Author: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
In my last column I described some of the prophesies, wake-up calls that would befall our people in the days of eekvesei d`Moshiach – in the days when the footsteps of Messiah can be detected. But unfortunately, we have yet to attune ourselves to the sound of those footsteps.
The following is a continuation:
Had you heard the prophesies of which I spoke in my last article when they were written centuries ago, you might have laughed and scoffed – even if you read them as recently as 1970, you would have been hard put to believe it, for of all the Moslem countries, the Shah’s Iran was probably the friendliest. But today, the impossible has become possible, and events are unfolding so rapidly that we have difficulty absorbing their impact. So how are we to understand it all?
The Yalkut compares our suffering to birth pangs. But birth pangs are deceptive, when the contractions begin, it’s easy to ignore them since they are mild and occur between long intervals. As the birth becomes imminent however, the contractions intensify and the pain becomes more intense. And just when it appears that the woman can no longer endure the pain, the baby is born and new life enters the world. It is these labor pains to which we are witness today, How long will the labor last? It’s anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain – please G-d, the birth is sure to take place. In the interim however, we may very well ask. Is it possible to ease the suffering? Is it possible to protect ourselves from these painful contractions?
Every woman in labor needs help to ease her pain and speed the birth of her child. So too, we need help to lessen our pain and hasten the coming of Moshiach. We have been blessed by our sages who are perfect doolas and have the perfect doola – the perfect formula to assure us an easy and painless birth.; “Let he who wishes be spared the birth pangs of Messiah occupy himself with Torah and gemilus chasidim (acts of loving kindness) and let him be scrupulous about Seudah Shlishis – the third Sabbath meal.”
The first two recommendations – Torah and gemilus chasidim are self-explanatory and do not require much elaboration, for he who is committed to Torah and mitzvos and to reaching out with loving kindness, must, of necessity, become a better, more spiritual person. But eating a third Sabbath meal is not as readily comprehensible.
We are enjoined to have three seudos – meals – on the Sabbath, – Sabbath eve (Friday night), Sabbath noon (following prayer in the synagogue) and the third seudah – meal – in the late afternoon as the Sabbath Queen prepares to depart. Through these three meals, we honor the three Patriarchs, the three sections of our Holy Writ (Torah, Prophets, and the Writings), and we also recall the three Sabbath meals of manna that G-d provided us during our sojourn in the wilderness (Exodus 16:25).
This final Sabbath seudah is called Shalosh Seudos, which translated literally, means “Three Meals” rather than Seudah Shlishis – the third meal. Our sages explain that the reason for this is that all three Sabbath seudos are embodied in this one.
This third meal presents a most auspicious time for prayer. And to this very day, when I close my eyes, I can hear the sweet voices of my revered father and beloved husband of blessed memory, leading their congregations in singing Psalm 23, the psalm that is traditionally chanted at the Shalosh Seudos.
Hashem is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” The task of the shepherd is a lowly and lonely one. Day in and day out he is destined to wander from place to place, seeking pasture for his flock, and yet, David did not hesitate to refer to G-d as a Shepherd, for he perceived that G-d’s love is so total, so encompassing, that when it comes to caring for His children, nothing is beneath Him. What a magnificent and fortifying thought – for no matter where life takes us, even if we have to walk in the treacherous valley overshadowed by death, we need not fear, for G-d, our Shepherd, will always be there to lead us to greener pastures, even if at first, we do not recognize that the pasture is green.
Still, it is difficult to comprehend how the mere eating of a third meal, singing Psalm 23, and discussing words of Torah could have such awesome power that they can actually protect us from the suffering that will accompany the birth pangs. But there is a profound lesson at the root of this teaching. The first two Sabbath seudos are eaten when we are hungry, but after a festive noontime seudah, we are hardly in the mood for yet another meal. So it is not to satiate our hunger that we gather around the Shalosh Seudos table. Rather, it is to celebrate the Sabbath and sing her praises, and that is why the Third Meal encompasses them all. The Third Meal is symbolic of the conversion of the physical to the spiritual and ultimately, that is our purpose – to become spiritual beings and to free ourselves from the shackles of materialism – and that is something that our generation, obsessed with materialism and the pursuit of pleasure, has yet to learn.
You might of course wonder, “Why must we experience birth pangs in order for Messiah to come? Why can’t he just announce his presence?” But the Messianic period will be very much like Shalosh Seudos, when we sit around the table – not to satiate our physical hunger nor to glory in our materialistic achievements, but to celebrate our spiritual attainments.
In order for this to happen, we will have to divest ourselves of all the icons that we hold dear. Therefore, our hallowed institutions, the bastions of strength in which we placed our trust, will have to fall away. It is that painful disintegration to which we are witness today, From the corporate – financial world to government to religious institutions to science and medicine, they have all failed us. And worse, we no longer feel safe or secure in our daily lives. Terrorists and suicide bombers have all become a reality of our existence and no army or police force is capable of shielding us from them. Shorn of all our defenses, we stand vulnerable and terrified, and wonder what life is all about as we see our idols crumble before our very eyes. Tragically, it never occurs to us that Hashem is calling us…. His message is loud and clear, so let us seize the moment and return to Him before the fire becomes an inferno that could, chas v`sholom, consume all of us.
How long will these birth pangs last? Until we recognize the simple truth – that “we can rely on no one but Avinu She’bashamayim – our Heavenly Father.” So let us sound the shofar, awaken ourselves from our lethargy, and heed the voice of our Father calling us.