The End, Again
From: H M
I read your reply to "Is this the end of the world?" You seem to have said everything, except for "yes" or "no". Are you being kind, and want to soften the blow? We really need to know. Please advise.
Dear H M,
The temptation is great to hope that the "end" is near, because then you can imagine yourself free of all obligations: If the world's about to end, why send the child-support check, show up for your colonoscopy, or invite your brother-in-law for Thanksgiving?
Religious obligations, too, may suffer: Instead of studying Torah and doing good deeds, a person can spend all his time dreaming about the mashiach, dancing on tables at every pre-messianic celebration and making sure he is ready to greet the mashiach in a happy though drunken stupor. (This is an exaggeration, I hope, but you get the point.)
In our article [Ask the Rabbi #324] we showed that there are definite indications that the process of "the end of days" is in motion. There are many correlations between recent historical events and predictions from Tanach (the Jewish Bible). One of the greatest Torah Sages in recent memory, the Chafetz Chaim (1933), said that we (referring to people living in his day) are living in "ikveta d'meshicha" - "the footsteps of the mashiach," i.e., the final period of history before mashiach comes.
So, yes, the "end" (which is also the beginning) seems most certainly to be near, in relative terms. But near, in terms of Judaism's 4,000 year history, could be ten years from now and it could be a hundred. Or it could be today.
Judaism is about the past, knowing what happened to our ancestors, and about the present, knowing how to act toward G-d and our fellow man. Predicting the future is not our thing. While we once had prophets, we no longer do.
The Talmudic Sages warned against delving overly much into midrashic teachings that deal with the end of days and trying to predict it, and the Rambam codifies this view as halacha and says that such pursuits are fruitless, as no one knows what will happen until it happens. Further, he adds, such pursuits add nothing to a person's fear of Heaven, which according to Judaism is man's sole purpose.
Hilchot Melachim 12:2