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Child's Play

Who doesn't wish for a better world? A world in which all our wishes are granted, and all our dreams come true. But what exactly are we wishing for? Perhaps a life of comfort and pleasure, free of pain and suffering, or a world of devotion and empathy, friendship and love. Or maybe our desire is for deeper perception and awareness; to comprehend the mystery of creation, to enter into a mystical union with the divine.

No two people have the exact same concept of a "better world." Our dreams and fantasies are products of our personalities, emotions, and experiences. Against this backdrop, how are we to understand the concept of the Messianic Era? Is it a childish fantasy, a useful but escapist tool to deal with the travails of persecution and general hardships of life? Or does it in fact represent the key to the whole mystery of creation; the why and wherefore of all existence?

Great kabbalistic and chassidic works have been dedicated to expounding upon the deep mystical significance of the Messianic era. But one could hardly be blamed for believing that the whole Messianic concept is nothing more than a nice story for children. After all, traditional Jewish educational practice has always been to describe the Messianic era to children in the most glorious, fantastical manner possible. There are references to sweets growing on trees, lions and wolves being led around like pets, and streets littered with diamonds and jewels.

The scholar will be quick to rejoin that the literal interpretation of those stories is nothing more than a very primitive understanding of a very lofty and delicate concept. With maturity, the child will begin to understand the depth and profundity surrounding the whole topic. He will outgrow his childish cravings for candy and easily accessible comforts, and start to focus more on the more ethereal but enduring joys of life. He will understand the famous quote of Maimonides, "and all delicacies will be freely available as dust," to mean exactly that. All earthly pleasures and delights will be about as interesting to us as dust. On the other hand, being that these pleasures are part of the prophecy of Redemption, it must be that they, too, are part of the spiritual fulfillment of the Messianic age.

Why is it that as adults, we no longer feel the same pleasure in candy, games and toys? Have we gained a new awareness, or have we lost a special gift? The answer is a combination of the two. We gain intellectual awareness. We begin to understand that everything was created with a purpose, and must be utilized for a higher end. We begin to feel shame if we merely indulge in pleasure for our own selfish purposes. Yet our very sophistication causes us to lose touch with that essential divine side of our nature. A dichotomy is introduced into our thinking. In our perception, the physical and spiritual represent two antithetical worlds. What feels good physically must be rejected, or at least suppressed or relegated to secondary status, in order to advance spiritually. However, in an integrated, harmonious world, no such fragmentation exists. All of existence is a reflection of one unified truth. Thus, the most profound spiritual experience is deeply satisfying on a physical level as well.

A child's ability to revel unabashedly in the delights and pleasures of this world are actually an indication of a lofty spiritual status, where the physical does not threaten or negate the spiritual. In the time of Moshiach we will be restored to a time of innocence and wonder, and openness to receive all the goodness in G-d’s creation.

(Based on an address of the Rebbe, Shabbat Parshat Trumah 5741)


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