By Rabbi Dovid Markel
There is an allegory in which the venerated chassid, Reb Mendel Futerfas explained the manner that a Cossack chose his horse.
The Cossack’s arranged an arduous trek for the horses to run through. The path was so treacherous that many horses were deemed unfit from the onset. The horses traveled through mountains and valleys, through thorns, thickets and all manners of difficult terrain. Along the journey, many horses dropped out and even died. At the end of the test – after the herd had been thinned out – there was the last test, to traverse the torrents of the Volga River. Few made it past the river, and most were swept away in the currents. But even then, the test was not over, for only the horse that turned back into the river to rescue other horses was fit to be a horse for the Cossack.
If we were to imagine for a second that after this ordeal the horses were taken to the horse market to be sold, and an individual who knows nothing of this backdrop arrived at the fair, he’d see two horses for sale, one beat up and bruised horse fetching an exorbitant price, and another horse looking healthy and strong being sold for a pittance in comparison. Only a horse expert would know the true strength of the valuable horse, that it passed the most difficult of tests.
When one looks at the story of the Jewish People they can be likened to the horse of our story. To the outsider, unaware of the history of the Jewish people, it is easy to belittle their standing. One can see individuals that transgress many of God’s laws and tenants of basic morality – thieves, murders, and sinners. Other peoples may seem healthier, unblemished and uncorrupted.
This, however, is the mistake; the Jewish People have traversed the most difficult of trials and tribulations, yet we are still standing. We still exist. While true, we are spiritually and metaphorically bruised and broken, were we given the chance to rest and recoup our energies, our true strength and connection to God would become evident.
This is the experience of Moshiach; it is the Shabbat that comes after the arduous toils of the week. True, we come into Shabbos exhausted, but it is for this reason that we were given the day of rest.
This is expressed in Rambam’s sentiment concerning the Messianic era (Laws of King’s 12:5) “In that era, there will be neither famine or war, envy or competition for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.Therefore, the Jews will be great sages and know the hidden matters, grasping the knowledge of their Creator according to the full extent of human potential.”
It is because in that time that there will be no war, famine, and abundance of good that we will be able to recoup our energies and focus on God, so that we can merit the ultimate good.
For in Rambam’s conception, Moshiach is merely the time of rest that serves as the stepping stone for the ultimate good of the world to come. It is akin to the horse that regains its strength so that it can truly be the horse befitting the Cossack.
With this in mind, the statement of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b) can be understood concerning the appointed time of the messianic era: “Rav said: All the predestined times [for redemption] have passed, and the matter [now] depends only on Teshuva and good deeds.”
This can be understood by way of the allegory of the Cossack’s horse as well. After the horse has passed all the tests, there is only one thing left for it to do; to realize that it is the *Cossack’s* horse. For if it is the strongest of horses but serves someone else, it is of no use to the Cossack.
It is this point that is expressed in the statement that all that remains is Teshuva. It is not enough to proclaim “Am Yisroel Chai,” that we have traversed the trials of the exile and we still exist, like the horse that is proud of its miraculous accomplishment. Instead, we are to realize that we are “the Cossack’s horse;” that we exist as the Jewish People, one with God.
This is the essence of the Talmudic statement regarding Teshuva; that though, true, we have passed all the goal points, and proved the strength of the Jewish People, we must realize the central point that we are one with God.
This realization itself is the essence of the Geulah, and it is then where the true strength of the Jewish People and their essential unity with God Almighty will be revealed. As Rambam’s concludes his statement regarding the messianic era with the verse (Isaiah 11:) “The world will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the ocean bed.”