Dear Rabbi Jacobson,
Thank you for yet another brilliant and relevant – dare I say visionary – article, The Calling of Our Generation. In it you describe the foresight of the spiritual leaders who recognized, in 1908, 1924 and 1949, the onset of a new period, in which the forces of Edom and Ishmael would dominate and the primary need would be to counter the difficult challenges with the faculties of netzach and hod, endurance and humility/acknowledgment.
My question is: Where do we stand now? Clearly, we are in midst of a confrontation between the Western world (Edom) and the Islamic world (Ishmael). Whether this is as a “clash of civilizations” (as Samuel P. Huntington argues) or not, these two forces are pitted against each other and the battles between them are only accelerating.
With the Arizal’s declaration that Edom and Ishmael are the “final frontier,” what does that bode for us today?
Best wishes for the holiday,
Thank you for your kind words, but frankly any brilliance should be attributed to where it belongs: The Rebbe Rashab’s and Rebbe Rayatz’s discourses. I was simply presenting their words in the language of our times.
Indeed, the prescience of the Rebbe Rashab is even more astounding considering that the challenge of Islam would not rise till the end of the 20th century. In 1908 the long rule of the Ottoman Empire was dissolving giving way to the dominance of the Edomite West. Who could know at the time that the current challenge of Ishmael would reemerge several decades later, in a world ravaged from both World Wars?
The Rebbe Rashab’s foresight can be appreciated when we place things in context of the words of the Arizal cited in last week’s article: Following the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian and Greek empires, the final stage of transforming the world consists of the refinement of the last two powers, Edom (Esau) and Ishmael, the Roman and Islamic empires (netzach and hod), which leads to the Messianic age – a world where all children of Abraham serve one G-d in peace and harmony.
The Arizal is saying that the last two millennia has essentially been dominated by the two powers of Rome, which refers to the general Western World, and Ishmael: From the first century and on Rome and its descendants ruled. Then, in the 7th century Islam rose to power. And the historical narrative ever since, till this very day, has been the confrontations between the West and Islam.
Even in 1908, with the fall of the Ishmaelite Ottoman Empire, the Rebbe Rashab recognized that the story with Ishmael was not over. It would take over a half century until the Arab/Muslim powers would rise again. Armed with rich energy resources – and the Western dependency/addiction to these resources – Ishmael would pose a formidable challenge to the West.
That is where we stand today: Edom and Ishmael are still at each other’s throats, with Israel always in middle of the fray.
Perhaps this helps explain the relevance of Edom and Ishmael to the year 1949, when the Rebbe Rayatz published his discourse on this subject: The Arab-Israeli War of 1948 marked the beginning of the new stage of conflict with Ishmael, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the century.
Thus, we see a pattern emerging: In 1908, when the Ottoman Empire began to dissolve and the stage was being set for the upcoming upheavals, the Rebbe Rashab delivered his discourse defining the historical and spiritual significance of the events to come. In 1924, with the dark clouds descending, the Rebbe Rayatz delivered the same discourse, with his unique additions (as discussed in last week’s article). Then in 1949, in the wake of untold destruction resulting from both World Wars, and following the Arab-Israeli War, the Rebbe Rayatz published the same discourse.
And to complete the cycle, listen to this: The late 70’s and early 80’s marked the beginning of the period, which has by now accelerated beyond anyone’s control, of the current confrontations involving Ishmael and Edom (the Western and Islamic civilizations). And true to form: In 1976 and then again in 1981, when the Ishmaelite powers began to rise (the first obvious Ishmael challenge to the West was the oil embargo in 1973-4, following the Yom Kippur war), the Rebbe (son-in-law and successor to the Rebbe Rayatz) delivers the same discourse, in his own unique style with new additions!
So where do we stand today?
We stand at the end of two thousand years of struggling with Edom and Ishmael, the forces of netzach and hod, and our mission has been defined and reinforced repeatedly – in 1908, 1924, 1949, 1976 and 1981:
We must stand resolute in our relentless pursuit of creating a better world; unwavering in our faith and commitment to fight for morality and virtue. We cannot allow anything to daunt us. This force of will determination is the only power that can vanquish the negative forces of netzach and hod, aggression and (misguided) faith, which terrorize the world.
In the face of passionate beliefs, we cannot afford to be passive bystanders, complacent and reactive; negative netzach and hod can only be countered with positive netzach and hod – an equal if not stronger, passionate embrace of our inner values.
And the end of the story?
In the words of the Midrash: (1)
The King of Poros (Ishmael) (2) will bring destruction to the entire world, and all the nations will be outraged and confused… and Jews will be outraged and confused and say: where shall we come and go, where shall we come and go? G-d will answer them: My children, do not be afraid. Everything I have done, I have done for you. Why are you afraid, do not fear, the time of your Redemption has arrived…
(1) Midrash, Yalkut, Isaiah remez 499.
(2) Maharal, Netzach Yisroel ch. 21. Ner Mitzvah.
Above are some thoughts to ponder as we enter the last days of Passover, which are related to the final redemption — as we read in the Haforah of the last day of Passover Isaiah’s eloquent description of the end of days. The Baal Shem Tov also instituted a custom to eat a final meal before sundown of the last day of Passover, called “Moshiach’s Meal.”