The body of this book focuses on the conceptions of Mashiach and Rebbe that lie at the heart of the chassidic tradition. We tend to view these concepts as “spiritual truths,” i.e., lofty ideals applicable in our Divine service, but not necessarily relevant factors in our day-to-day life.

This was the furthest thing from the Rebbe’s way of thinking. Once a noted Rabbi came to the Rebbe and asked that the Rebbe explain the purpose of the Mashiach campaign. The Rebbe did not reply and shifted the conversation to other issues, among them a free-loan fund which the other Rabbi managed.

“Do you know so-and-so?” the Rebbe asked. “Would you give him a loan?”

“Of course,” the other Rabbi answered. “I didn’t know that he was in financial difficulty. I’d be happy to help him.”

“Would you extend the loan until Mashiach comes?”

The other Rabbi hesitated.

“My goal in the Mashiach campaign,” the Rebbe continued, “is to eliminate this hesitation.”

Several years ago, the Rebbe announced:1 “Our Sages have described the Redemption as a feast.2 To echo this analogy, the table has already been set, everything has already been served, and we are sitting together with Mashiach. All we need to do is open our eyes.”

Now the Rebbe was not given to exaggerations, nor did he seek to spur people’s emotions with unfounded hope. His message was always realistic, if on occasion, several years ahead of the times. As indicated by his subsequent talks,3 he was implying that the world at large had created the back-drop for the Redemption and what is necessary is for us to appreciate this message and spread the awareness necessary for Mashiach to be a reality.

It has become almost a cliché to say that our society is undergoing a transition of enormous scope as radical, discontinuous changes are causing the existing frameworks of economics, education, and politics to give way to new definitions. But the Rebbe did not merely tell us change was happening. He gave us a perspective to appreciate the trends motivating these changes and, as a result, see beyond our immediate horizons.

To explain: At the conclusion of his description of the era of the Redemption, the Rambam writes:4

In that era, there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d for.... “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”5

Let’s look at these prophecies one by one:

“There will be no famine.” In 1900, one-third of all Americans worked on farms. By and large, there was no shortage of food, but there was little left over for export. Today, the American population has grown several-fold and only 3% work in agriculture. Nevertheless, this 3% produces enough food not only to feed the entire population but to export throughout the world.

Moreover, these phenomena are not only confined to the United States. Breakthroughs in science and technology have enabled us to grow crops in deserts, swamps, and other areas where one would never have thought possible.

This has brought about a paradigm shift from previous ages. To quote as commonplace a source as the Encarta Encyclopedia:

In the early 1990s the world produced more than enough food for the 5.3 billion people on the planet, and it is probably capable of growing enough to feed the significantly larger population projected for the first part of the 21st century. To eliminate famine and reduce malnutrition, however, attention needs to focus not only on food production but also on food distribution, consumption, and family planning.

Even in countries as populous as India, similar statements are being made: 6

Let me say from the outset that it is my conviction that there is no reason not to have a hunger-free world some time next century. The world will be able to produce enough food for everyone. It already does so, and it could produce more.

Yes there are still pockets of starvation in the world today, but that is a factor of sociology, not of agriculture. In previous generations, the question was whether it was possible to produce enough food to feed all mankind. Today, the question is only: Can we learn to live together harmoniously and distribute the food that we grow? As globalism continues to spread within our society, the age-old afflictions of poverty and famine are about to be overturned by tidal waves of innovation in science and commerce.

“Nor war.” It’s true that at this very moment, there are skirmishes and mini-wars going on in several portions of the world. That said, as a whole, mankind is beginning to look differently at violence and warfare, for the climate in the world has changed. What are the chances of there being a war that involves the nations of Asia’s Pacific Rim, North America, and Western Europe? Almost nil. The stakes are simply too high. A war would destroy the underpinnings of the global economy on which all these countries have begun to rely.

In nations like Serbia and Sierra Leone that have not been sufficiently integrated into the world’s economic structure, war is tolerated by people at large. For the leading industrialized nations do not yet realize how these seemingly local wars damage them. On the contrary, they profit from the arm sales. But within those portions of the global village where cooperation bodes well for the prosperity of all involved, no one would risk the current affluence to fight a war.

Steadily, the circle of cooperation is widening. The nations of Eastern Europe and South America are joining and the countries further on the periphery are being drawn closer. How far off is the time when all nations will be swept in?

To quote the statements of a popular futurist:7

One of the things I think may be possible, that I never thought was possible before, is the end of war. This has to do with the economic development we’re seeing today....

All the while we’re getting so economically interconnected as to make war a lose-lose [proposition].... I think we’re moving toward one economy, one single market economy in the world. It will be a long time before we get there, but that is the direction we clearly are going in. Part of that phenomenon is the end of war.... Having lived most of my life under the threat of nuclear annihilation, I find this an uplifting, and real, possibility.

Moreover, the trend is more than financial; there are changes happening within ourselves. As TV has brought war into our living rooms and we see the real horror it wreaks, we are losing our tolerance even for the mini-wars described above. People are becoming sensitized to the message that war is horrible. In Kosovo, we were so revolted by the atrocities that we felt we had to do something to stop them. The only times our resolve was daunted was when we realized that we were also killing, and the victims of our attacks had blood that was as red as our own.

As a result, we are “beat[ing] swords into plowshares,” and using the intellectual and material resources previously devoted to war to benefit mankind. The clearest illustration of this is the Internet. First conceived as part of Reagan’s Star Wars initiative, it is now the information super-highway, fueling growth in education, technology, and commerce. Nor is this the only example, as governments are cutting defense budgets and devoting the freed-up resources to agriculture and social reform.

As stated in a UN sponsored report:8

The signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 symbolizes the turning point in the superpowers’ arms race. The numerous unilateral, bilateral and multilateral disarmament measures signed since then have reawakened an old question in a new international context: How does one convert excess military capacities for civilian use?

“Neither envy nor competition.” Admittedly, the realization of this prophecy is a little bit far off, even today. On the other hand, a fundamental message has taken hold within society. The way to achieve wealth is not by grabbing and hoarding, but by sharing.

The industrial revolution altered the predatory mode of life that had prevailed for centuries and spawned an economic system that gave people a way of producing wealth in which the good fortune of others multiplied their own. Through collaboration and the division of labor, it became evident that when society as a whole grew and profited, the share of every individual increased.9

This motif has been expanded and enhanced as the industrial society gave way to the information and post-information societies. For when wealth comes from materials, it is hard to step above the mindset that the pie is small, and when a piece is given to somebody else, your share is less.

Today, by contrast, it is evident that it is knowledge and creativity, not materials, that produce wealth. Statistics bear this out. The weight in tons of U.S. gross domestic product has dropped 25% in the past two decades, while its value has more than doubled. Material resources are clearly not the primary producers of wealth. This is plainly evident on the personal level. Today’s millionaires are people with ideas that have benefited others, not yesterday’s gold miners, oil tycoons, or factory owners.

Now for knowledge to produce growth and tangible benefit, it must flow freely. And this flow of knowledge across peer networks has tumbled the hierarchies and corporate ladders that used to dominate corporations, as CEO’s were forced to acknowledge — and amply compensate — the superior knowledge of their subordinates. But it is not only that the profits of a corporation are being shared, the fundamental point is that shared efforts and think tanks have become the life-blood of these companies. As opposed to the emphasis on individual effort and entrepreneurship that dominated the past, today’s innovations are products of pooled efforts and synergistic environments.

Similarly, on a larger scale, the nature of the relationships between corporations has also changed. Instead of slugging it out in the dog-eat-dog competition that prevailed in previous eras, today’s companies place an emphasis on finding a market niche, seeing themselves as coexisting, rather than contending with other companies in the same sphere. Indeed, competitors are sharing technologies and cooperating on projects in the awareness that the advance of all involved parties is the surest way for them to push their own positions forward.

This approach has lead to a “virtuous cycle” of continued and growing prosperity, benefiting all members of society. We have discovered that the pie is ever-expanding and the people who receive the largest pieces are the ones who enable more and more others to partake of it.

“Good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust.” If Maimonides were alive today, he’d certainly say that this prophecy has been fulfilled. We — and I’m speaking about the average man, not only the wealthy — are living better than we ever did. Think about things we take for granted: running water and plumbing, electricity, telephones, central heating and air-conditioning. 100 years ago, in most places in the world, these benefits did not exist or were the province of aristocrats alone.

And beyond our living conditions, other fruits of the industrial revolution — including automobiles, air-travel, modern communication and entertainment — have transformed the quality of our lives indescribably. These changes, however, will be multiplied tenfold in the coming years as the microchip and interactive networks transform the nature of our homes, workplaces, and cars.

These amenities have filtered through almost all strata of society, giving everyone a taste of “the good life.” Beyond this, however, we have recently seen a revolution in the concentration of wealth. Previously wealth was in the hands of a select few. Now, it is spreading to many. Statistically, the numbers of millionaires and billionaires have multiplied tenfold. But what’s happening in the middle of the economic totem pole is more significant than what’s happening at the top. We have become a nation of shareholders. It has reached the point that the wealth effect of our contemporary economy has become a subject of concern for the Federal Reserve Bank.

“The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. There are two implications of this prophecy and both are already at work within our society. First of all, there will be a minimal need for physical work. Man will not have to spend his time and energy working as he does today. Industrial efficiency, smart machines, and robots are already reducing our reliance on human labor. Because of the sociological effects that can ensue, this development is being deliberately restrained. When — and that when is approaching faster and faster — these restraints are lifted, 25-75% of the jobs presently available will be eliminated.

And we need not go far into the future. Even now, the primary aspect of our work is intellectual, not physical. I’m not only speaking of readers of this book. Throughout contemporary society, we are working with our heads and not with our hands.

The second point is that the resultant free time will be used to “know G‑d.” Again, this is not merely a prophecy for the future, but a dynamic already active in our society. The search for G‑d is considered one of the major trends of the present decade. Approximately one-tenth of America’s population professes to be involved in New Age spirituality. When this number is combined with the growth in traditional religious movements, it is obvious that significant portions of our population are seeking spiritual awareness. The expanding power of the religious right and the appeal of the New Age movement are the flipsides of the same coin. People want to know G‑d.

These series of events are not accidental. The Zohar, the fundamental text of Kabbalah, contains a stirring prophecy:10 “In the 600th year of the sixth millennium, the gates of sublime wisdom will open and the wellsprings of lower wisdom [will burst forth, to] prepare the world to enter the seventh millennium.”

The 600th year of the sixth millennium began in 1839. The sublime wisdom refers to the teachings of the Torah and more particularly, to the mystic knowledge of the Kabbalah. “Lower wisdom” refers to secular knowledge, and “the seventh millennium” to the era of the Redemption which, like the Sabbath that follows the six ordinary days of the week, will be characterized by rest, comfort, and spiritual activity.

There is no need to spell out the details of how the Zohar’s prophecy is being fulfilled. We are all aware of the sweeping changes that have occurred since 1839, as advances in science and technology, “the bursting forth of lower wisdom,” produced the Industrial Revolution, the Information Revolution, and the post-information societies of today.

These advances were not self-contained goals. Instead, as mentioned before, they are building the backdrop for the Redemption. In the Ramban’s Commentary to the Torah,11 he explains that chronology is not accidental, but part of a pattern paralleling six days of creation leading to the Sabbath. In that scheme, each day of creation represents a millennium, and Ramban demonstrates how the events of every millennium parallel the contributions of the corresponding days of creation. According to that conception, in the present age, it’s Friday afternoon, past midday. Now at that time, in Jewish homes, the house begins to look a little Shabbosdik. Similarly, at this time, G‑d’s home, the world, is beginning to anticipate the era of the Redemption. By opening our eyes to the Messianic dynamics at work in our lives at present, our waiting for Mashiach can be charged with the force of an idea whose time has come.