The message these dynamics convey to us is, however, of a greater scope than the imminence of Mashiach’s coming. As we appreciate the nature of the changes taking place within our society, we can gain awareness not only that Mashiach is coming, but what his coming will mean to us and to the world at large.

As a preface to this concept, let’s focus on a difference of opinion between two of Judaism’s great Sages, Maimonides and Raavad (Rav Avraham ben David). Maimonides states:1 “One should not entertain the notion that in the era of Mashiach any element of the natural order will be nullified, or that there will be any innovation in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern.... Our Sages taught:2 ‘There will be no difference between the current age and the era of Mashiach except [our emancipation from] subjugation to the gentile kingdoms.’”

Raavad differs and cites prophecies from Scripture and from the Talmud which appear to indicate that there will be miracles. Maimonides, in anticipation of those objections, explains that the prophecies are analogies and metaphors for striking, but natural events. For example, the wolf lying down with the lamb, signifies the establishment of peace between Israel and the gentile nations. The commentaries argue back and forth concerning the issue, advancing supports and rebuttals of both positions.

In light of some the changes taking place within our lives at present, we can introduce a new resolution that preserves both perspectives. To cite a personal example: I remember the first time I saw a fax machine. As I watched the document emerge from the machine, I blurted out: “A miracle.” Well, there are many of these types of miracles happening today. Some like the fax machine are really pretty straightforward, but others represent transitions that can truly be seen as miraculous.

To put the subject back into its Rabbinic framework: One of the prophecies Raavad cites as proof of his position is:3 “I will remove wild beasts from the land.” Our Sages4 offer the interpretation that the beasts of prey will lose their predatory tendencies, as Isaiah declares:5 “A wolf will lie down with the lamb.”

An obvious miracle. And yet after having mapped the human genome, is it so far-removed to think that we will be able to identify the gene that causes a lion or a wolf to seek to prey, and breed that tendency out of the species? Not to over-simplify the issue, but far greater modifications in nature based on the manipulation of DNA have been proposed — and these by businessman seeking profits, not by scientists exploring theories.

Or to refer to one of the Talmudic prophecies cited in support of Raavad’s position:6 “In the ultimate future, the land of Israel will produce ready-made pastries and clothes.” A miracle. Yet even today, popcorn seeds are being produced with a genetically engineered buttered flavor. The makeup of produce is being altered, as agriculture is manipulated to suit the fancies of our tastebuds. And with regard to clothing, we find scientists producing tubers which are a better and less expensive source for fibers for garments than synthetic products. Is this so different from what our Sages said?

And this is merely the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, our lives are beginning to look like science fiction. One of my friends told me that he remembered an old Star Trek episode where one of the crew-members said: “And to think that there was once a society that tried to heal people by cutting into their bodies. How primitive and cruel!” And then he received a Wall Street Journal article about a biotech company HGSI which speaks about how the near future will see medicine without surgery.

We have cloned mammals and isolated telomerase, a segment of DNA, which can “be used to establish stable, immortalized human cell lines which can undergo multiple rounds of genetic engineering.”7 Nanotechnology, where the very structure of atoms are manipulated, is already being applied in industry. And today’s breakthroughs are nowhere near what we will see in the future.

Are these miracles? Yes and no. Looking from a vantage point of 100 — perhaps even 25 — years ago, most definitely they are. But according to today’s perspective, this is not a “nullification of the natural order.” What was once considered miraculous and beyond man’s reach is now natural.

This fusion of the miraculous and the natural shows us something of what the era of the Redemption is going to be. Our Sages8 state that G‑d created the world because He desired a dwelling in the lower realms. The lower realms refers to our material world. A dwelling means a home. What is the point of analogy? A home is where a person lets loose, reveals himself as he is, without inhibitions. Our world is the place where G‑d will do that.

There is a great spiritual cosmos with refined, abstract realms of existence which our minds cannot appreciate. They, however, are not designated as “G‑d’s home”; that title is reserved for our material world. Moreover, it is in the physical aspects of our existence that G‑d will be manifest, as the Prophet declares:9 “The glory of G‑d will be revealed and all flesh will see.”

Now, if “the glory of G‑d will be revealed,” it is obvious that “all flesh will see.” With the second phrase, the Prophet is then adding a different point: that flesh as flesh will perceive G‑dliness. Not only will there be a revelation from Above, but man as he exists as a mortal — “flesh” — will appreciate G‑dliness. Our material consciousness, by nature tied to the physical, will be able to grasp G‑dly truth.

Here you have two opposites: G‑d in all of His transcendence and infinity, and finite, mortal man. And yet like the natural and the miraculous mentioned above, these opposites can come together.

How is this possible? We see an example in human experience. When a person’s life is threatened, he will run and jump in a manner that breaks Olympic records. Now is he doing something finite or infinite? On one hand, it’s obviously finite: we can measure how far he jumped and how fast he ran. On the other hand, there is an infinite dimension, because there is no way he could normally carry out these activities.

What is the core of this dynamic? Within each individual, there is an essential desire to live, an unbounded and infinite potential. When that infinite potential is tapped, it makes all our natural limited potentials work differently, charging them with an infinite quality. Hence, the athletic feats described above.

Similar ideas apply with regard to the era of the Redemption. Since G‑d’s essence will be revealed within our world, there will be a redefinition of material existence, charging it with an infinite dimension and producing the natural miracles of the type we mentioned previously.

In this vein, we can appreciate the conclusion of Maimonides’ description of the era of the Redemption, quoting from the Prophet: “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” To focus on the simile: The creatures that live on dry land are readily discernible as separate entities. A vast multitude of creatures likewise inhabit the ocean. Nevertheless, when looking at the ocean, what we see is the ocean as a whole and not the particular entities it contains. Similarly, in the era of the Redemption, although all the world will continue to exist, individual creatures will lose consciousness of their separate identity. They will be totally suffused with the awareness of G‑d, existing as an extension of Him and expressing His Truth.

These concepts also reflect the manner in which we can prepare for the Redemption. For in Judaism, reward and punishment are given measure for measure.10 Following a cause and effect relationship, the reward that one receives is commensurate to the Divine service which leads to it. It follows that to bring about the fusion of the infinite and finite that will characterize the Redemption, we have to bring about a fusion of the infinite and finite in our lives.

It is related11 that the Baal Shem Tov once had a vision of Mashiach and asked him: “When are you coming?” Mashiach replied: “When the wellsprings of your teachings spread outward,” i.e., when people at large begin thinking about and understanding the insights the Baal Shem Tov taught. The Baal Shem Tov’s insights focus on G‑dliness as it is infinite and transcendent and yet brings such an awareness into forms that can be logically understood, creating a fusion of the transcendent and the finite. Establishing such a fusion in our minds will then precipitate its being extended into the world at large.