The Messiah will come as soon as the most unbridled individualism of faith becomes possible – when there is no one to destroy this possibility and no one to suffer its destruction; hence the graves will open themselves. This, perhaps, is Christian doctrine too, applying as much to the actual presentation of the example to be emulated, which is an individualistic example, as to the symbolic presentation of the resurrection of the Mediator in the single individual.
The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.
- Franz Kafka
One of my favorite Kafka parables is the one above, which I find captues the essence of Messianic madness; it can come only when it’s no longer needed…
Messianism is the anticipation of deliverance from dire circumstances. Although not yet definitely messianic, biblical prophets like Daniel, or Ezra, presented visions of a better humanity or the renewal of the Davidic, ideal, Kingdom. Mostly, though, as we find in the books of Isaiah or Amos, it is an event of enormous catastrophe, of utter destruction at the end of time; redemption along these lines is a murky affair wrought with utopian visions, such as God’s justice that will be revealed in the last days or a paradise-like state of ideal harmony between man and nature.
It is no wonder then that the Hebrew expression for messianic anticipation, “messianic pangs,” expresses the pain inherent in messianic expectations. This apt metaphor has been utilized to perceive times of historical calamities, like world wars, revolutions, or plagues, as the signs of imminent redemption.
Generally, the Kabbalah interpreted messianism as a cosmic drama that will expose the mystic meaning of the commandments. In such a world, man’s moral nature will undergo a complete change that will render prohibitions obsolete; there will be no point in the do’s or don’t’s of the different laws which aim at suppressing evil and bringing up the good.
The individual of Messianic time will enjoy an unbridled freedom and unexpected forms of self-fulfillment. Humanity will be by definition ethical and will no longer know the fear of succumbing to temptations. It’s clear how such an assumption plants the seeds of the anarchic notion of a lawless society.
So while biblical visions describe an event independent of human intervention, the kabbalist belief in the practice that will speed up the arrival of the Messiah verges on heresy.
A Kabbalistic legend tells us about the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Joseph Della Reina from Safed. The rabbi conjured Samael (Satan) in order to slaughter him and bring the Messiah. However, his prayer was the doomed-to-fail act of witchcraft, and he himself fell prey to Satan’s temptations.
Despite his failure, or perhaps for that very reason, Rabbi Della Reina’s dark figure has thrived in Jewish literature, featuring in the works of Nobel laureates like Bashevis Singer and Agnon, and finally made it into the comics team of the Doom Patrol series… (Come to think of it, the Messiah could be considered a superhero prototype of sorts.)
Since the Middle Ages, the idea of Messianism and redemption was adopted by the Kabbalah to become a prominent theme that shaped Kabbalistic speculations on the one hand, and on the other, burst the confines of esoteric studies to shape historical movements that initiated bitter polemics which echo up to this day.