Ikvot Meshicha: The Time Immediately Before Mashiach
The time appointed by G-d for the Messianic redemption is a closely guarded secret.29 Nonetheless, we are offered many hints to recognize its proximity: when certain conditions come about, await the imminent coming of Moshiach.
Most of these conditions are quite disturbing, clearly displaying a situation of the very “bottom of the pit.” 30 One major source describes the world-condition in those days as follows: increase in insolence and impudence; oppressing inflation; unbridled irresponsibility on the part of authorities; centers of learning will turn into bawdy houses; wars; many destitutes begging, with none to pity them; wisdom shall be putrid; the pious shall be despised; truth will be abandoned; the young will insult the old; family-breakup with mutual recriminations; impudent leadership. 31
Other sources add: lack of scholars; succession of troubles and evil decrees; famines; mutual denunciations; epidemics of terrible diseases; poverty and scarcity; cursing and blaspheming; international confrontations — nations provoking and fighting each other.32 In short, it will be a time of suffering that will make it look as if G‑d were asleep. These are the birthpangs of Moshiach, bearable only in anticipation of the bliss that follows them.
“When you see a generation ever dwindling, hope for him .. when you see a generation overwhelmed by many troubles as by a river, await him.”33 “When you see nations fighting each other, look toward the feet of Moshiach.”34
Little wonder that some sages expressed apprehensions about those days in terms of, “Let [Moshiach] come, but let me not see him.” 35 The prevailing attitude, however, is to await his coming in spite of all, even if thereafter we shall merit no more than sitting “in the shadow of his donkey's dung!” 36
The troubles and agony of chevlei Moshiach (birthpangs of Moshiach), however, are not unavoidable:
Moreover, there are also good and happy signs indicating the imminent coming of Moshiach: a good measure of prosperity; 38 a renewal of Torah-study; 39 and opening of the “gates of wisdom above and the wellsprings of wisdom below,” 40 evidenced also by scientific and technological discoveries and advances; a manifestation and propagation of the mystical teachings of the Torah; 41 and also — “In the time that Moshiach will awaken, many signs and miracles will occur in the world.” 42
30 . Midrash Tehilim 45:3. See Ma'amarei Admur Hazaken-Ethalech, p. 103 f.; and Besha'ah Shehik-dimu-5672, vol. I:p. 551; relating this to the principle (Midrash Tehilim 22:4; Zohar II:46a ) that the darkest moments of the night are immediately before daybreak. Cf. Zohar I:170a. For this analogy see also the comment of R. Elijah, the Vilna Gaon, cited in Even Shelemah, ch. 11:5.
41 . Zohar I:118a. See Zohar Chadash, Tikunim, 96c; and Mayanei Hayeshu'ah, I:2. Cf. below, note 84. Note also Igeret Teyman, ch. 3, that prophecy shall be restored to Israel prior to the coming of Moshiach.