Who Let the Messiahs Out?

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2015-01-04 – I live in a neighborhood with lots of religious Jews. There a small segment of these Jews who fly flags with a crown and the word “mashiach.” Mashiach is Hebrew for messiah.

Or is it the other way around?

Now, I don’t begrudge these people their beliefs. I don’t begrudge anyone their beliefs so long as they don’t believe that I should be dead or otherwise inconvenienced. If they want to believe in mashiach, fine. But I do find it strange.

The mashiach in question is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavicher Rebbe. The reason I find it strange is that Rabbi Schneerson died in 1994. Christians may not find it strange to believe in a messiah who died. But Jews do. The main reason Jews do not believe in Jesus as the messiah is that he did not bring about a messianic age. Christian’s dealt with this problem by offering the hope of a second coming. Lubavitch messianists are coming to a similar conclusion: the second coming of Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

I could be wrong. I don’t understand any of this. Schneerson himself rejected the idea during his life and the messianists are condemned by the Chabad-Lubavitch organization. But condemnation doesn’t mean that these believers don’t exist. They live in my neighborhood and drive around with mashiach flags flapping from their cars and hanging in their living room windows.

Jews have a long history of claimed messiahs. Jesus of Nazareth was obviously the most widely accepted one. But there were dozens or even hundreds of others over the centuries, most of whom no one except historians remember. Schneerson is the latest.

The question of Jewish messianism comes up because I have been working on a project to illustrate the Passover Haggadah (a book containing the liturgy for the Passover Seder meal). The next drawing I have to do is meant to illustrate something about the cup of Elijah. This is a point toward the end of the Seder ceremony during which celebrants open the door to welcome in the Prophet Elijah. A cup of wine is reserved on the table for his late arrival. Elijah is regarded as a harbinger of the messiah.

I’ve been “working” on this project for nearly 30 years (if you define “working” to include the efforts of hundreds of would-be messiahs to bring peace on earth and goodwill to all). The original concept was to do illustrations (as I am doing now), but I got sidetracked in the mid-‘80s when I decided I should first do my own translation. That was completed in 1987 and the resulting Haggadah (minus illustrations) was used in my Seders for a number of years after that.

In the mid-‘90s, we dropped using that first Haggadah. I had small boys at the time, so I put together as short compilation that would better suit young children, with songs from their preschool. Ten years later I did a kind of update to suit teenagers. My sister-in-law Mary (who was Catholic) liked what I did and encouraged me to return to the original project. A couple months before she died last spring, she got me to promise to do that. I said I wouldn’t be able to finish in time for last year’s Seder, but that I should be able to do it for this year.

I have three months to go. I planned 16 drawings (though I had an idea yesterday that could make it 17). As of today I have 10 drawings complete. The next one is about the cup of Elijah.

My original plan for this drawing was very traditional: an old guy with a beard—looking kinda Greek, like Diogenes the seeker of truth. But I don’t like that idea. It occurred to me that we might be making the wrong assumption when we open the door for Elijah. The assumption is that, when Elijah arrives, he will be schlepping along a messiah who is also on the other side of the door.

But what if Elijah is coming to our house because we are the messiah? Then we’ve been looking for the messiah on the wrong side of the door.

Okay, I have to stop here. I don’t want you to think I have any kind of messiah complex. I don’t believe in this supernatural stuff. At best, it is a metaphor.

What I’m saying is this: We ought to stop looking for the solution to the problems of the world on the other side of the door. We can each bring a little peace and goodwill to the world by acting peacefully and with goodwill toward all. Someone else is not going to hand it to us. The solution is on this side of the door. And not just my door. Everyone’s door.

So, how do you illustrate that—without getting all gooey with halos and angels’ wings? I don’t do halos and angels’ wings. I have some ideas, but it’s really going to stretch my rather limited drawing abilities. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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One response to “Who Let the Messiahs Out?

  1. Pingback: The Millennium . . . + 16 (or Whatever) | Eightoh9·

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