Recently, I have stumbled upon a curious text and decided to share a portion of it with our readers here. The excerpt is from the Mishnah, a rabbinic text dating from the third century CE. The passage speaks of the decline of holiness and piety, and about the increase of shame and sin in Israel. According to the rabbis, these phenomena will accompany the footsteps of the Messiah. The logic is simple: things are supposed to get worse before the Messiah comes. The rabbis’ musings contain an amazing statement that Elijah will announce the universal resurrection from the dead through the activity of the Holy Spirit. In Jewish tradition, Elijah is the herald of the King Messiah whose arrival is thought to come around Passover. Read this passage and note how ancient rabbis call God their “Father in heaven,” await the Messiah, and affirm that piety comes through the Holy Spirit.
R. Pinhas b. Yair (late 2nd century) says, “When the Temple was destroyed, associates (חֲבֵרִים) became ashamed and so did free men, and they covered their heads. “And wonder-workers (אַנְשֵׁי מַעֲשֶׂה) became feeble. And violent men and big talkers grew strong. “And none expounds and none seeks [learning] and none asks. “Upon whom shall we depend? Upon our Father in heaven.” (עַל מִי לָנוּ לְהִשָּׁעֵן עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם)
R. Eliezer the Great (late 1st century) says, “From the day on which the Temple was destroyed, sages began to be like scribes (סָפְרַיָּא), and scribes like ministers (חַזָּנָא), and ministers like ordinary folk (עַמָּא). “And the ordinary folk have become feeble. “And none seeks. “Upon whom shall we depend? Upon our Father in heaven.” (עַל מִי לָנוּ לְהִשָּׁעֵן, עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם)
With the footprints (footsteps) of the Messiah (בְּעִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא): presumption (חֻצְפָּא) increases, and dearth increases. The vine gives its fruit and wine at great cost. And the government turns to heresy (מִינוּת). And there is no reproof. The gathering place will be for prostitution. And Galilee will be laid waste. And the Gablan will be made desolate. And the men of the frontier will go about from town to town, and none will take pity on them. And the wisdom of scribes (וְחָכְמַת סוֹפְרִים) will putrefy. And those who fear sin (יִרְאֵי חֵטְא) will be rejected. And the truth will be locked away. Children will shame elders, and elders will stand up before children. For the son dishonors the father and the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house (Micah 7:6). The face of the generation in the face of a dog. A son is not ashamed before his father. Upon whom shall we depend? Upon our Father in heaven. (עַל מִי לָנוּ לְהִשָּׁעֵן, עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמָיִם)
R. Pinhas b. Yair says, “Heedfulness (זְרִיזוּת) leads to cleanliness (נְקִיּוּת), cleanliness leads to cleanness (טָהֳרָה), cleanness leads to abstinence (פְרִישׁוּת), abstinence leads to holiness (קְדֻשָּׁה), holiness leads to modesty (עֲנָוָה), modesty leads to the fear of sin (יִרְאַת חֵטְא), the fear of sin leads to piety (חֲסִידוּת), piety leads to the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקֹּדֶשׁ), the Holy Spirit leads to the resurrection of the dead (תְחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים), and the resurrection of the dead comes through Elijah, blessed be his memory, Amen.” (Mishnah, Sotah 9; Neusner Translation)