Like many scholars in the Talmud, Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi yearned for the Messiah’s coming. Living in exile, Joshua dreamed of a perfect world free of suffering, and he prayed for a powerful redeemer–perhaps a supernatural being or a warrior king –who would come to actualize this dream.
Imagine Joshua’s surprise then when, one day, he encountered the prophet Elijah (Sanhedrin 98a). Joshua asked Elijah when the Messiah would finally arrive, and Elijah responded: “Ask him yourself.” Elijah told Joshua that the Messiah was already living in this world. He could be found sitting at the entrance of the city, together with the poor and infirm. Together, Elijah said, the Messiah and the other beggars spend their days tying and retying the bandages on their wounds.
When Joshua found this Messiah-pauper, he asked him: “When will you come, master?”
“Today,” was the Messiah’s answer.
So Joshua learned that the Messianic Age may seem far-away, but Jewish salvation is rooted in the here-and-now. Sitting among the beggars and those who are suffering, the Messiah demands acts of justice and human responsibility–today. We cannot sit and wait passively for redemption.