Fundamentally Freund: Who’s afraid of the Messiah? (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MICHAEL FREUND 05/06/12)
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Though he has yet to appear, Israel’s long-awaited Redeemer is very
much in the news these days. From the Sydney Morning Herald down
under to the Vancouver Sun up yonder, headlines around the world
trumpeted former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval
Diskin’s charge on Friday that Israel’s “messianic” leadership is
misleading the public on Iran.
Speaking at a public forum in Kfar Saba, Diskin insisted that an
Israeli strike against the Ayatollahs’ nuclear installations would
not halt Iran’s drive to obtain atomic weapons. He lambasted Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak,
attacking them personally and declaring in no uncertain terms
that, “I don’t believe in the prime minister or the defense minister.
I really don’t believe in a leadership that makes decisions out of
Referring to them dismissively as “our two messiahs,” Diskin
added, “I’m telling you, I’ve seen them from up close, and they’re
The press, of course, had a field day, lapping up the fact that one
of Israel’s most senior security establishment figures had taken a
swing at his former bosses on such a sensitive issue. But while much
of the attention was focused on the Iranian angle as well as the
political ramifications of Diskin’s remarks, there is one question
that was completely overlooked: When did having a messianic impulse
become a bad thing? Or, to put it more succinctly: who’s afraid of
the Messiah? To be sure, in our modern political context, many people
are uneasy with the idea that leaders might be influenced by
religious or theological beliefs. We like to think that they make
cold calculations based purely on an assessment of the overall
situation while taking into account nothing other than the national
Clearly, however, that is a naive oversimplification, if only because
every leader is also a human being whose decision-making is shaped
and influenced by the values, principles and beliefs that he holds.
Furthermore, whether Diskin realizes it or not, it was a messianic
world-view that lay the foundation for the birth of this country.
Indeed, as Barak noted when he responded to Diskin’s broadside, it
was none other than David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister,
who said that Zionism is a messianic movement.
Theodore Herzl, too, though avowedly secular, was also inspired by
As the Hebrew University’s Prof. Robert S. Wistrich noted in an
article titled “Theodore Herzl: Between Messianism and Politics,” the
founder of modern-day political Zionism “was attracted to the Messiah
legends of the Jews from early adolescence.”
A year before his death, Herzl confided to the Hebrew writer Reuven
Brainin that he had dreamt as a child of twelve that he would play a
leading role in Israel’s redemption. Herzl described the dream as
follows: “The King Messiah came, a glorious and majestic old man,
took me in his arms and swept off with me on the wings of the wind.
On one of the shining clouds we encountered the figure of Moses...
the Messiah called to Moses: ‘It is for this child that I have
prayed!’ And to me he said: ‘Go and declare to the Jews that I shall
come soon and perform great wonders and great deeds for my people and
for the whole world!’” In light of this, would Diskin now express a
lack of confidence in Herzl and Ben-Gurion and their achievements?
The fact is that since the dawn of time Jews have believed in the
coming of the Messiah, anxiously awaiting his arrival and hoping for
the better world that he will usher in. As the late scholar of Jewish
mysticism Gershom Scholem noted in his groundbreaking work, The
Messianic Idea in Judaism, “Judaism, in all of its forms and
manifestations, has always maintained a concept of redemption as an
event which takes place publicly, on the stage of history and within
Three times daily, Jews appeal to the Creator to send the Messiah. In
the Amida prayer, we say, “May the offshoot of your servant David
soon flower... for we await Your salvation all day.”
And every Sabbath, a special prayer for the State of Israel
authorized by the Chief Rabbinate is recited which states, “Our
Father in Heaven, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, bless the State of
Israel, the first flowering of our redemption.”
The messianic urge, and the hope inherent to it, is in part what kept
the Jewish people alive throughout the ages. Staring long and hard at
the horrors of exile, it was the dream of a brighter future that
sustained our ancestors through their darkest hours and gave them a
reason to carry on. As Jews, we are expected to believe with complete
faith that even if he tarries, the Messiah will yet come.
For Diskin to deride this creed is appalling and he should be ashamed
of himself for mocking one of the fundamental doctrines of Judaism.
But let him say whatever he wishes. I, along with countless other
Jews, will continue to long for the day when, as the prophet Isaiah
(51:11) put it, “those the Lord has rescued will return. They will
enter Zion with singing and everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee
away.” May it happen soon. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/06/12)
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