When millions of Jews were being tortured, gassed, shot and burned to death, five hundred esteemed rabbis marched on the White House just to bring this horrific fact to light. Tragically, the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, refused to meet them even briefly and the Holocaust churban continued unabated.
Perhaps we, too, should have rioted and fought looming extinction with, at least, property destruction. Perhaps we should have literally fought fire with fire. Why didn’t we? The answer is simply that our DNA did not and still does not allow us to wantonly vandalize, to hurt the innocent, to diminish our tzelem Elokim humanity even for the most important of causes. It is true that we should have done more and we have spent seven difficult decades doing a collective cheshbon hanefesh for our sins of omission. But no responsible Jewish leader has ever expressed regret for not rioting and looting for the cause.
Why is this happening now? We know that we are in the period known as chevlei Moshiach or ikvesa deMeshicha, the terrifying time preceding redemption when some Amoraim declared, “I do not want to be alive at that frightening time” (Sanhedrin 98b). The wild animals suddenly invading previously inviolate human space are reminiscent of the words of the Zohar Hakadosh (Terumah 859): “In that era, wild animals will dominate (yishletu) the world.” As a matter of fact, the Gemara there likens the dangers of the pre-Moshiach era to people running from various wild animals. The Maharal (Netzach Yisroel, chapter 36) sees this as a metaphor for a time of “no serenity or tranquility.”
As for uncontrolled bestial chaos in society, we need look no further than the famous description in the last Mishnah in Maseches Sotah: “Chutzpah will be prevalent…the young will humiliate their elders, the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog, the son will not be embarrassed [to rebel against] his father, and we will have no one to rely upon but our Father in heaven.” Now, surely it is obvious to every Torah Jew that these phenomena are designed to impel us to repent. In fact, Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler zt”l (Michtav M’Eliyahu 1:203) sees teshuvah as the entire goal and purpose of this terrifying period of history.
But Chazal, in their kindness and wisdom, have favored us with specific antidotes and remedies for the rigors of the “end of times.” Some of them are not surprising. The Gemara (Sanhedrin ibid.) teaches that we should learn much Torah and perform many acts of kindness. But other Talmudic advice is not so obvious. Scrupulously fulfilling the three meals of Shabbos is a protection from a number of calamities, including chevlei Moshiach (Shabbos 118a). Some poskim (see Bach, Orach Chaim 291:2) attribute our being sheltered from this era to our meticulous fulfillment of the first Shabbos meal.
The Satmar Rebbe zt”l (Vayoel Moshe, Sukkos) quotes Rav Menachem Mendel of Riminov, who says that the zechus of Shabbos that protects us is activated when we fulfill the commitments we made during those wonderful meals. Rav Menachem Mendel notes that when we are on a spiritually higher level during those seudos, we invariably make kabbalos – commitments – to be permanently on a higher level all the time. We do not always adhere to those Shabbos-inspired flights of kedushah, but if we do, they will stand us in good stead during the difficult days.
The Satmar Rebbe himself, however, takes a more global view of the power of our Shabbos meals. He notes that the days of Moshiach themselves, the seventh millennium, are referred to by Chazal as the day that is completely Shabbos. Chevlei Moshiach, the period just before the Great Shabbos, therefore corresponds to Erev Shabbos, the Friday of our world. The Rebbe thus advises us that the best way to be saved from the horrors of chevlei Moshiach is to “free ourselves of all our obligations and distractions on Friday, devoting as much of the day as possible purely to the needs of the coming holy day of Shabbos. In this way, the kedushah and power of Shabbos will spread over Erev Shabbos itself. This will expand to the entire sixth millennium, which represents Erev Shabbos as well, granting the serenity that will make the entire period into a bastion and bulwark against the perils and instability of a time of wildness.
My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l (Maamorei Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach 16), explains that the power of Shabbos to effect such grand cosmic events flows from its identity as being mei’ein Olam Haba, a microcosm of the World to Come itself. Therefore, we may suggest, as a coalescing of the Satmar Rebbe’s approach and the Pachad Yitzchok, that our actions in this world to enhance the honor of Shabbos, to honor its kedushah and expand its horizons, can actually bring the balm of Shabbos to a chaotic and dangerous world.
But why specifically the Shabbos meals? Why are they invested with such vast power to alter the direction of a millennium and to restore order to chaos? The Vilna Gaon (commentary on several aggados, Bechoros 8b) reveals that “the Livyasan meal that the righteous will be granted in the World to Come will fuse the union of body and soul, as we recite at the end of the brachah of Asher Yotzar that Hashem unites body and soul in the form of a human being” (see Rama, Orach Chaim 6:1, and Rav Dovid Cohen of Chevron’s Zeman Simchaseinu on Sukkos, page 324). Thus, we learn from the Vilna Gaon that each Shabbos meal is connected to the perfection of the Future World, where it will be clear that all of gashmiyus – the physical world – was created to serve the spiritual. This is stated clearly by Rashi (Beitza 16a), who says that the entire purpose of the neshamah yeseirah, the special soul that enters us only for Shabbos, is so that we can eat and drink properly for the sake of Heaven.
We may conclude that Hashem has given us a valuable tool with which to overcome the apparent breakdown of the rules of civilization, the age-old barriers between man and beast. To the extent that we strengthen and enhance what makes us unique and singular, the cementing of body and soul into a unit of kiddush Hashem with the nourishing of the neshamah yeseirah, we can stave off the encroachment of the nefesh habehamis into what should be the domain of human beings. We must realize the tremendous power of our seudas Shabbos, zemiros and divrei Torah at the holy Shabbos table to uplift everyone around us and hopefully bring a measure of serenity to a world desperately in need of a dose of Shabbos menuchah.