`157 The Worst of Times, the Best of Times
Chananya Weissman
November 17, 2021

In Sanhedrin 98B we have a fascinating difference of opinion:

 אמר רב אין בן דוד בא עד שתתפשט המלכות על ישראל תשעה חדשים שנאמר (מיכה ה, ב) לכן יתנם עד עת יולדה ילדה ויתר אחיו ישובון על בני ישראל

 אמר עולא ייתי ולא איחמיניה וכן אמר רבה ייתי ולא איחמיניה רב יוסף אמר ייתי ואזכי דאיתיב בטולא דכופיתא דחמריה

 אמר ליה אביי לרבה מאי טעמא אילימא משום חבלו של משיח והתניא שאלו תלמידיו את רבי אלעזר מה יעשה אדם וינצל מחבלו של משיח יעסוק בתורה ובגמילות חסדים ומר הא תורה והא גמילות חסדים

 אמר ליה שמא יגרום החטא

Rav said, the son of David [Moshiach] will not come until the [evil] kingdom spreads over Israel for nine months, as it says (Micha 5:2) "Therefore he will give them over until the time when the child-bearer gives birth, and the rest of his brothers will return with the children of Israel."

Ulla said, let him come, but let me not see him [because of the troubles in those times]. Rabba also said, let him come, but let me not see him. Rav Yosef said, let him come and let me merit to sit in the shade of the dung of his donkey.

Abaye said to Rabba, what is the reason [you don't want to see when he comes]? If it's because of the birthpangs of Moshiach, but we learned in a Baraysa, the students asked Rabbi Elazar, what can a person do to be saved from the birthpangs of Moshiach? [He answered] he should engage in Torah and acts of kindness. [Continued Abaye] and the master [Rabba] has Torah and acts of kindness!

He said to him, maybe sin would cause it [that I would still not be protected].

Rashi explains that the evil kingdom will spread over the entire world where the Jews are scattered. One world government.

First, we need to understand why Ulla and Rabba didn't want to live when Moshiach would come. How good did they have it? Relative to other periods of exile, the oppression was probably more bearable, but the Jews were always one step away from catastrophe. What makes the period before Moshiach so much worse than all the persecution, torture, and destruction the Jews experienced throughout history?

There is one qualitative difference between now and all the other periods that would make it unbearable for Ulla and Rabba. In previous times, the Jews recognized their tormentors and understood that they were being persecuted. They may have differed on how to respond to the situation, but fundamentally they were on the same side.

Today, millions of Jews are unable to distinguish between friend and foe. They cannot even recognize that they are under physical and spiritual attack from the most evil forces. They believe these physical and spiritual assaults are salvation, that they are worthy of blessings.

In previous times, the enemy would create blood libels against the Jews. Today, Jews have been so ensnared by the evil forces that they create blood libels against their own, and they think it is a mitzva.

No wonder Ulla and Rabba wanted Moshiach to come, but they didn't want to be there to see it. There is no doubt that they would have refused to violate basic Torah law by wearing masks, injecting themselves and their children with bioweapons, and allowing prayer and Torah study to be shut down under false pretenses of saving lives. They would have had to watch helplessly while so many of their brothers and sisters were sucked into a cult of idolatry and fear, turned away from Hashem and the Torah, brought destruction upon themselves and their children, and turned against their own.

I can understand why Ulla and Rabba would have found this so unbearable that they wished for Moshiach to come without having to see the world he was coming to.


Abaye questioned his teacher, Rabba, for not desiring to experience Moshiach's arrival due to the troubles of the time. It seems Abaye gravitated toward the position of his other teacher, Rav Yosef, that it was worth it to wallow in the dung of Moshiach's donkey just to see his arrival.

In Bava Kama 60A we find the following discussion between Abaye and Rav Yosef:

תאני רב יוסף מאי דכתיב (שמות יב, כב) ואתם לא תצאו איש מפתח ביתו עד בקר כיון שניתן רשות למשחית אינו מבחין בין צדיקים לרשעים ולא עוד אלא שמתחיל מן הצדיקים תחלה שנאמר (יחזקאל כא, ח) והכרתי ממך צדיק ורשע בכי רב יוסף כולי האי נמי לאין דומין א"ל אביי טיבותא הוא לגבייהו דכתיב (ישעיהו נז, א) כי מפני הרעה נאסף הצדיק

Rav Yosef taught, what does it mean when it says (Shemos 12:22) “And you shall not go out, each man from the entrance of his home, until morning”? Once permission is given to the destroyer [angel of destruction] he does not distinguish between the righteous and wicked. Not only that, but he begins with the righteous first, as it says (Yechezkel 21:8) “And I will cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.”

Rav Yosef cried, Are all of them [the righteous] also considered like nothing?

Said Abaye to him, It's an act of goodness for them [that they should die before the calamity comes] as it is written (Yeshaya 57:1) “For before the evil the righteous one is gathered in.”

Abaye seems to contradict himself. In Bava Kama he teaches that it is to the benefit of the righteous to die before the calamity comes, whereas in Sanhedrin he favors Rav Yosef's position that it is worth it to live through the times of trouble to see Moshiach.

Perhaps this can be explained as follows. The Chafetz Chaim knew years in advance that European Jewry was going to be destroyed in the Holocaust. Was it not better for him to die a peaceful death before this happened, rather than witness it and be desecrated by the Nazis? This is what Abaye means in Bava Kama; better for the tzaddik to die before the calamity comes.

There will be great troubles before Moshiach comes. In essence, however, it is not a time of destruction; it is the time of redemption. The redemption necessarily involves the separation of good and evil, and the ultimate war between them. There will be great destruction. It is inescapable. However, this destruction is like the blood that comes out of a woman during childbirth. It will be a messy, grueling experience, but ultimately we want the childbirth to happen – we need it to happen – and it will be a joyous occasion once it's over.

It is understandable why Ulla and Rabba preferred to sit this one out, as explained above, but we can also understand the perspective of Rav Yosef and Abaye. Rav Yosef was willing to deal with all the suffering just to see the redemption. Abaye noted that Torah and acts of kindness would shield people from the brunt of the suffering. All things considered, it was preferable for a righteous person to live through this time than to be removed from the world beforehand.

In any case, we don't get to choose. We're here and we have to deal with it.

At the time of the final battle, there will be neither light nor thick darkness (Zecharya 14:6-7). There will be a time when it is neither day nor night, when it is unclear whether we are on the cusp of redemption or destruction. Indeed, today we are on the cusp of worldwide Satanism, yet simultaneously there is a great spiritual awakening. Is it day or night?

We need to study Torah, perform acts of kindness, and hold on tight.

At the time of evening, when it is most dark, the light will emerge.