Traditional sources view the Roman conquest as the beginning of a period that will someday and somehow conclude with the Messianic Era. It is the fourth and final Empire under which the Jewish people are destined to endure. It is the final purge, awesome and seemingly endless. The period comprises most of Jewish history.
During this time, the Jewish people will be subject to circumstances and pressures that will make their survival as a nation seem impossible. Tragically, many will lose their lives, their families, their fortunes, their very grip on Judaism.
Exile after exile will thrust the Jewish people into hostile environments. They have a different mission than the other nations of the world. They are different and dont fit. They will become very lonely. Intolerance will decimate them. Some will try to fit into the other cultures. Those who do so will still be rejected. To make a better fit, some will abandon the instructions for living as prescribed in the Torah and exclusively adopt the life styles of their neighbors. Eventually, they and their descendants will mostly assimilate and lose their link with the Jewish destiny.
Down to this very day, the Jewish people struggle to accept the suffering. They yearn and try very hard to understand the reason for the suffering so that it may be more bearable. Yes, they have sinned, but it is difficult to correlate the severity of the exiles with their misdeeds. Why do they seem to suffer more than any other people? Are all the other nations of the world better than them? Have they not done anything good?
Contemporary Kabbalistic literature views the exile in a soothing, more positive light.
Each individual has a unique role, mission, sub-goals, and a singular greatness to achieve. Everyone has his or her own set of hurdles to overcome. The same is true on a collective level. This period may be viewed as a series of hurdles which the Jewish nation must overcome in order to achieve their pre-destined greatness. The definition of the hurdles, the definition of the greatness, and the relationship between the hurdles and the greatness is a subject of study and mystery.
This period may also be viewed as a series of demonstrations of the existence of G-d. It is a set of dreadful circumstances which seem to make the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people impossible. Throughout, though, G-d's hidden and proactive management maintains the Jewish destiny and mission, as promised from Sinai. The continued existence of the Jewish people, despite all obstacles, shows G-ds complete control.
The Jewish people and all of Mankind are participants in these demonstrations, sometimes as subjects and sometimes as objects, sometimes willingly and sometimes unwillingly, sometimes knowingly but mostly unknowingly. Had previous generations exerted themselves differently, the form and duration of the demonstrations may have been different. Things could have been easier and more comfortable; Things could have been more difficult.
The definition of the demonstrations, their roles and interrelationships, are also a subject of study and mystery.
Every participant will be compensated. Participation will justify the greatness and joy of the eternal existence.
No pain, no gain.
According to tradition, only during the Messianic period will Mankind perceive how everything fits together. Until then, it must suffice for us to have a better understanding of what we don't know.
A finite mortal which lives a common life during this period can not understand, much less defend or justify the suffering and confusion. As cataclysmic events unfold despite the best efforts, one can only pray for hope and strength. We take strength from the good that is in this world that we personally experience. We learn to take one day at a time.
Be it forty years, ninety years, whatever, everyone's period of participation must be taken within the context of the eternal existence, something about which we have yet to experience.
We take strength from the consolations of the Messianic era, which may begin at any moment.
We find the need for humility, to submit and accept. This experience will enable us to build and enhance for ourselves the ability to have an ego and an independent identity within the context of having an appropriate relationship with G-d. We will need this for our eternal existence. Had Adam and the ancient generations perfected this capability, perhaps we would be elsewhere by now.
As stated before, G-d has always managed the world both on a global and on an individual basis. While guiding the world towards completion, He continues to maintain the system of free-will choice so that every competent person has a chance to earn eternal greatness and peace.
There are two agendas. When they conflict, the agenda of completion dominates. Their management is likened to a wheel confined within a wheel. Existence is defined and guaranteed in order to provide an infrastructure for Mankind to participate in the agendas.
Fulfillment of the agendas continue throughout history and this frightening period is no exception. It's business as usual, though most unusual.
Throughout the generations, many will fail. Those who fail may come back to life as other people, to be given additional chances in other contexts and in other generations. G-d is committed to give every person a fair chance and manages affairs accordingly. This is another piece of the mystery, also a bit scary.
The Jewish people now have no Temple, no prophets, no king, no military, and will soon have no land. All that remains is the Written and Oral Torah and its teachers. By process of elimination the Jewish people will come to recognize the true source of their endurance and eternity.
Our tradition speaks of a time in the future when the nations of the world will heap praise upon the Jewish people for their endurance, likening them to a sheep which survived among a pack of wolves. The Jewish people shall respond, "Praise not the sheep. Praise rather the Shepherd."
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