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There is No Messiah…And You’re It!


There is an impulse in the human spirit to believe that the world can be better than it is. Call it optimism; call it messianism. We want to believe that things can be different; we want to make a difference.


In Judaism, that impulse gave rise many centuries ago to the idea of the Messiah: a king or spiritual figure that traditional Jews believe will come into the world and make things better. Who will put an end to war, hatred, hunger, and the other ills of society. There is disagreement in traditional Jewish sources over the specifics of the Messiah’s job description: Is he a descendent of David or Joseph? Will he save the entire world or just the Jews? Can people help bring him through their actions or not? But almost all forms of Judaism agree that the world can be different than it is.


In the modern era, Judaism has retained that sense of optimism while moving it in a different, more empowering direction. Instead of a Messiah, we liberal Jews now talk about a Messianic Age. Instead of a person sent by God, we believe that God has given us all a responsibility to do Tikkun Olam, to repair the world through our own actions. In this way of thinking, there can be messianism without a messiah, and it becomes our job to facilitate it. (Hence the title of this article, a play on words that I borrowed from Rabbi Robert Levine’s book of the same name.)


During this time of year, when the world around us is cold and dark, it is up to us to be a light in the darkness. To feed the hungry and clothe the poor; to work toward understanding between people and a better life for our neighbours; to support the organizations that we believe are making a difference with our time, money, and passion. It is worth thinking about: Do you believe that the world can be better than it is? What talents or resources do you have to offer toward that collective goal? What causes or issues do you really care about, and how might you get involved?


Kol Ami’s Social Action committee has a number of ongoing projects, including our support of Out of the Cold, the Farmer’s Market project, and others. (If you are interested in getting involved, please contact me and I can put you in touch with the committee.) As well, our school has recently collected toys to be given to Chai Lifeline, and will begin collecting Tzedakah money on a weekly basis to be donated at the end of the year. Finally, we are reviving our practice of collecting canned food on Shabbat. Please consider bringing something to donate each time you come to shul.


There is an old joke that says that when a shtetl wanted to give a good job to one of its poor citizens, they made him the “Watcher of the Messiah” – whose job it was to sit at the gates and alert people if the Messiah should show up. It may not pay well… but at least it’s steady work.


Sadly, I think the joke is right. We’re not in danger of perfecting our world anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility. In this new year we can make a little bit of a difference, and bring our world a little closer to the way it should be.




Rabbi Micah Streiffer


Sun, February 5 2023 14 Sh'vat 5783