Dvar Torah: The world didn’t end after all

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 21 December 2012

So, we made it.
It turns out that today wasn’t the end of the world, after all.
Now there’s a relief.

The real surprise is that the Mayan prediction got as much publicity as it did – enough that the Guardian website had a section, I assume tongue firmly in cheek: “End of the world – apocalypse live”.  But if you go to the Wikipedia page ‘List of dates predicted for Apocalyptic Events’ you’ll find the best part of 200 inaccurate predicted ends of days – ranging from 634 BCE up to well, today’s non-event.

Before we chuckle with the superiority of moderns, I caution you to keep scrolling down.  For there you will find, among the predictions of the end of days:
2240 – Orthodox Judaism

Yes, it’s true – according to calculations based on an idea found in Talmud, midrashand the Zohar, the year 2240 is the deadline by which the Messiah must appear, and 1000 years later, the end of days, end of days.

The reason cited by the Talmud for this opinion is the idea of the sabbatical year – one fallow year in every seven.  Other texts compare it to Shabbat: Just as the world was created in 6 days, with a seventh of rest, so too the world will exist for 6000 years with an extra millennium of rest – the messianic era – before it is destroyed.

Like most predictions of the end of days, what this text really reveals is a desire to understand the universe – to be able to predict, to control, to explain.  We don’t like the idea that there is stuff we don’t know, can’t predict, can’t account for.

But this is, by its very nature closed to us.

In next week’s Torah portion, as Jacob is about to die, we are told that he gathers his sons: “v’agidah lachem et asher yikra etchem b’acharit ha-yamim”, “And I will tell you about the end of days”.
But he doesn’t.  According to midrash, Jacob is about to reveal the date when the divine presence leaves him. Like the day of our death, the end of days is not ours to know.

The Talmud’s prediction is, I’m sure, as accurate as all the predictions on that Wikipedia page, as today’s prediction, was.

Our job is not to predict the end of life on earth – our job is to live it.