One of the great poets and philosophers of medieval Spain, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, would say: “The past no longer exists; the future is not yet a reality; the present is but a fleeting moment. Why then should one worry?”1

The first three clauses of his statement are very true in the present time. Clearly, “the past no longer exists.” To cite some obvious examples: The types of jobs which built our society for the past half-century or more are no longer viable alternatives for those entering the labor force today. In geopolitics, the fall of the Communist bloc has mandated a rethinking of the positions that have dominated national policies since the Second World War. Even the place in which we live is often no longer the same, for there has been a mass exodus from the industrial northeast to the sunbelt, and within both these regions, mobility is the norm.

“The future is not yet a reality.” That is also plainly true; for although we see changes on the horizon — among them, the proliferation of robots in our factories, revolutions in nutrition and health, and a shifting of power from national to local governments — it will take time before the impact of these changes is fully felt.

“The present is but a fleeting moment.” And its fleeting nature is certainly felt today, when innovations in travel and communications have accelerated the rate of change beyond all expectations.

But the last clause of Rabbi Ibn Ezra’s statement: “Why then should one worry?” is another matter. Within many spheres of society, there is worry. During a transition, people question themselves and their situation, and search for understanding. As they wrestle with an uncertain present and an unknown future, it is natural for them to cling to the past instead of embracing the future.

And the challenge is more difficult than ever because the future is exploding with diversity. Rather than either-or choices, we are presented with multiple options which force us to apply ourselves to the process of decision-making with far more thought than impulse.

We cannot afford to tread water, for the current is moving forward, and if we do not move with it, we lose the opportunity to determine our destiny. When seen in such a light, an awareness of the present is an arrow pointing to the future. For what tomorrow will be is very much a result of what today is.

Once the newly appointed dean of a university was asked to try to prevail upon the students to stop walking on the grass between the library and the student union.

“Why do they walk on the grass?” the dean asked.

“Because it is the most direct route between the two buildings,” his associates answered.

“Then cut a path through the grass,” the dean responded.

In other words, it is useless to try to hinder the inevitable. Instead, one should try to understand the reasons for the changes and seek to find the most appropriate response.

From a Jewish perspective, the changes in our society are symptomatic of a transition of a more encompassing nature. We are on the threshold of the Era of Redemption, and indeed, in the process of crossing that threshold. In that context, the changes occurring throughout our society can be seen as creating the backdrop for this era of peace, prosperity, and wisdom. For example, two of the most important trends in contemporary economics — the existence of a global village and the reduction of the labor force (painful as it is) — can be interpreted as a foretaste of world unity and peace, and the potential for man to devote his energies to personal and spiritual growth rather than to earning his livelihood. Similarly, as mentioned in several previous chapters, in many other ways the physical setting for the Redemption is within our grasp; all that is lacking is the spiritual knowledge that will be revealed by Mashiach.

Moreover, the nature of these changes is creating an openness for such spiritual knowledge. We are moving from an industrial to an information society, and this creates a demand for intellectual creativity. And here, there is a connection to the spiritual, because the mind has the capacity to reach upward, and to seek for depth and meaning above the grasp of intellect alone.

Furthermore, exposure to an avalanche of technology has created a need for spiritual balance. As we are forced to process vast amounts of information every day and do so at a far greater speed than ever before, we feel a desire to balance this element of our lives with a spiritual dimension.

Throughout America and the world at large, people are genuinely searching for spiritual meaning. They want to be more in touch with themselves, with other people, and with nature, and to appreciate the inner spiritual core that binds them together.

This spiritual quest is not otherworldly. The motivation is not to lift oneself into a realm of spiritual consciousness and forget one’s ordinary experience, but rather to permeate one’s ordinary experience with understanding and purpose. In one sense, people are far less idealistic than in the ’60s. Then youth were willing to give up everything, and now they want the comforts of middle-class America. On the other hand, today’s spiritual aspirations are much more realistic, and there is a greater potential for integrating these desires within our daily lives.

And this points to another important trend. Although in the realm of communications and economics, the global village is a reality, when it comes down to day-to-day living, everyone is far more concerned with what is happening in his own backyard. The fact that we can reach the world has caused us to wear mental bifocals, and to narrow as well as to expand our horizons. Before it was possible to have an effect on the world at large, our energy was to a large extent directed outward. As the scope within which we can effect change has grown, we have learned the need for inwardness.

In searching for the appropriate response, many people have adopted a positive selfishness, i.e., a commitment to inner change and personal growth. Instead of blaming others, they realize that they must take responsibility for their lives, and are endeavoring to do so.

Nor is this thrust self-contained. Family has taken on new importance, as people seek to share with their children and develop meaningful relationships. And the process of developing meaningful relationships has, in many sectors, spread into the workplace, as communication skills have become recognized as an important business commodity.

This setting is appropriate to the spiritual purpose of Redemption. As mentioned in previous chapters, the purpose of Creation was that G‑d have a dwelling among mortals,2 and this dwelling is to be fashioned by man’s efforts toward refining and bettering the world. For centuries, consciously and unconsciously, mankind has been busy constructing G‑d’s dwelling, and now it is emerging before our very eyes.

To explain by means of an analogy: A contractor is hired to build a complex mansion. From the moment he designs it, and throughout the building process, a clear picture of the final structure remains before his mind’s eye. His workers may momentarily lose sight of the goal, yet as it takes shape, they too begin to envisage the edifice that their hands are transforming from a blueprint into reality. Indeed, as it nears completion, the building itself shows its builders the goal of their endeavors.

In our generation, at long last, mankind can begin to see the edifice, G‑d’s dwelling, which has been constructed through our efforts, and which will be consummated by the coming of Mashiach.

This relates to a classic concept of Jewish mysticism.3 The Hebrew word for exile, golah (גולה), shares the same letters as the Hebrew word for redemption, geulah (גאולה), with one exception: Geulah possesses an alef (א) which stands for G‑d, alufo shel olam (“the L-rd of the world”).

The relationship between these two terms points to the essence of the Era of Redemption. All the material dimensions of our existence will continue in the Era of the Redemption; to quote Maimonides,4 “There is no difference between the current age and the era of Mashiach except the subjugation [of Israel] to the [gentile] kingdoms.”

What then will be unique about the Era of the Redemption? The alef, our awareness of G‑d’s presence. “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed;”5 i.e., our perception of reality will be suffused with the knowledge of G‑d.6 The setting in which we live our lives will not change from the material to the miraculous. Rather, we will change ; we will be more conscious of the G‑dly life-force that permeates existence.

The above concept also points to the path which will hasten the coming of Redemption. Drawing down the alef, making the awareness of G‑d part of our everyday experience, will prepare us for the era when the knowledge of G‑d will be manifest in all aspects of existence.

As opposed to stable times when everything has a set place, times of transition like ours contain the potential for substantial growth and progress. Thus the present is a time of unique opportunity. By living with the Redemption, i.e., anticipating the knowledge, harmony, and peace of that era in our day-to-day lives, we can precipitate the time when these values will spread throughout the entire world, with the coming of Mashiach; may this take place in the immediate future.