The Messiah Complex

Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael (Steinsaltz)

(draft translation by Dr. Isaac Y. Hayutman)


Just like there are mental complexes of the individual, there are mental complexes of a whole nation. It is proper to distinguish in these national complexes between two sides, that in spite of their similarities are not identical. Sometimes the complex is national - namely, it belongs to the collectivity of the people. To the extent that we can speak about the aims, hopes or dreams of a nation, we can also speak about complexes that belong to this nation and effect it. There certainly are nations that are afflicted by paranoia. There are some that have superiority complexes; there are some that have inferiority complexes. Sometimes it is possible to give an adequate historical explanation why does there develop a certain complex or a certain madness in a certain nation. At other times this has no clear and rational answer. In any case, these complexes, like other national characteristics, have to do with the collectivity. It is possible to say that when the larger majority of the people of a certain nation act with a certain uniformity, a certain unity, then there appear certain characteristics which are mental attributes or modes of behavior which belong to the collectivity as a collectivity.

Because of this, not only is it possible to find many individual cases which do not belong to this collective rule (as it is possible to find with any general rule), but moreover: sometimes a certain characteristic belongs only to the collectivity, to the large public, whereas the individuals themselves do not exhibit these characteristics any more than do the people of other nations and other collectivities. A certain characteristic, be it negative or positive, may become apparent only when there is a large public which acts together on a large extension, and then there may appear in it things which apparently do not show, or show only in a minor way, within the individuals.

These very phenomena of the difference between the behaviors of individuals and collectivities is known, and there is no doubt that individuals act, and to some extent feel and think, in a different way than do crowds. Crowd psychology is different from the psychology of each of the people who constitute the crowd when they act each by oneself.

But there are also national complexes which are not necessarily a part of the public and collective milieu, but which extend and reach the psyche of each individual. The public then acts as an ensemble, a collection of individuals, separate persons, each of which has that mental characteristics.

The People of Israel - not only in its general national being, but moreover: in the being of its constituent individuals - is affected by a certain characteristic complex, namely - the Messianic complex.

The general definition of a complex is a phenomena, or a psychological wish, which resides within the person and which does not manifest in him consciously, but nevertheless it effects him and through its power he does things which he is not aware of their true inner reason. The Messiah complex is the will, intention, compulsion to be a messiah, to be the redeemer and saver of the world.

A Messianic complex is not just the general wish - be it overt or covert - to redeem the world or to improve the conditions of the world, but it also includes another component, which is no less important, which is when this wish is not merely a general wish, not just for improved conditions and not just for changes for the better, but the wish of the private person to become the redeemer of the world.

The sages have commented about the scripture "do not touch my messiahs (=annointed)" (Chr.I 16:22) - "these are the infants of the <beit Raban>". This saying alludes to the same idea. The small children, the infants of <Beir Raban>, all want to be the messiah. Namely: a Jewish child grows - perhaps is born - with the desire to be messiah. Therefore infants of <Beir Raban> are all "mt messiahs", each one of them is of the category of a small messiah. And if he is no messiah, neither from his present capacity nor from his future potential, at any rate he belongs there through the power of his will, the power of his dreams.

From the inner Jewish world view it is possible to say, that each member of Israel has in him, in some way, a messianic spark. Obviously, not each person of the People of Israel is messiah, not in potential and certainly not in actuality; yet a some spark of messiah exists within him. In this sense, just as we believe that within each one of the People of Israel there is a some spark of the Fathers and shepherds of the nation - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - which the person inherits as his essential heritage, likewise in each one of the People of Israel there is a spark of messiah which strives for realization, which is in this sense a spark of the future. Because the messiah that is revealed is the collectivity, the union, of all these sparks of all the generations in one personality, a kind of the final union of a certain essence which is found in each one of the People of Israel and reaches its full expression in one person who contains all these in him.

The essence of the messianic idea is, in its primary sense, the redemption of Israel, the desire to regain the glory of the nation of Israel to its former state, to renew in every sense the glory of the Jewish kingdom. But the messianic idea is undoubtedly much more encompassing, because the redemption of Israel is a stage, a specific step within a wider, much more comprehensive process, which is the redemption of the whole world.

The differences of opinion which are found in Judaism in relation to the messiah, between those who see in the messiah an entrance into a new state of the world by all senses and meanings, and those who see in this an intermediary, and very worldly, step towards a drastic change in the nature of both the spiritual and physical world, they are nevertheless equal in conceiving the messiah as the redeemer of the world and changer of reality. Messiah means not only a new order within the political structure of the world, but a new order in the nature of relationships between human beings, the nature of relations between people and God, and beyond this - in the very structure and nature of the world we live in. Messiah is the entrance to a new world, a world without war, a world without deprivation, a world without suffering, neither mental suffering nor bodily suffering.

The belief in the coming of the messiah is by itself not just an abstract notion about a happier existence: in distinction with the belief in the survival of the soul and a good share in the World to Come, the belief in the messiah is, in essence, a belief in changing the reality of this world. It is clear that in this belief there is also a protest against the difficulty, injustice, sorrow and suffering of this world - the Jewish suffering as well as the general suffering of the world. The Jewish particularity of the belief in the coming of the Messiah is itself a part of the concept of the vocation of the People of Israel.

It is particularly in the messianic conception, with all its particularity, that is stressed the moment of the general duty towards the overall reality, and it is connected to the conception of the vocation of the whole of Judaism as the change, the Tikun, of the whole world. Moreover: whether when a person of Israel thinks and acts in any way one can to bring the final redemption nearer, or when he is not active in this, in any case it is a part of his beliefs that his deeds, relations and activities as a Jew is an essential part in the bringing of the messiah. The messianic vocation is therefore not the wish but the desire, and later - the action, in any way it may be performed, so that the messiah will indeed come to the world.

The meaning of the belief in the messiah draws therefore the religious duty and the Jewish solidarity out of the realm of something which is only attached to the past. Judaism is therefore conceived not only as the continuation of a movement, whose foremost, basic motivation was given in some time in the past, and from whose power Jews continue to move in this way, but simultaneously as an endeavor towards an additional focus. The focus of the messiah is connected to the future. There is therefore not only the continuation of things, but also a continuous activity which goes towards these things.

The bringing near of the redemption is not only in the realm of a national duty or a belief of the collectivity, but specifically because it is detailed and performed within the domain of the world of the Mitzvot, it becomes the business of the individual. His activities, own personal acts, in totality and in specific and idiosyncratic details, are bringing the redemption nearer, just as his shortcomings and sins, in their total and in their various details, are delaying the redemption, prevent the coming of the messiah.

All these cause it that not only the collectivity but the Jewish individual is no longer only in the category of a ra material, the substance upon which the redemption operates, but in the category of a productive power, an actor, who produces the redemption in one way or another. Not only does the collective willing split to parts, but it becomes the role and property of the individual parts. A part of the duty is necessarily put upon each individual, and each individual is therefore, even in the most formal definition, a part of this process of bringing the redemption.

The messianic idea becomes not just an idea for the collectivity but more: it is a motivating power, a prompting power, an idea which by itself is a means for producing things or for persisting in doing them. This idea has its intellectual form as a concept, an idea, a theological topic. This idea has interorization as stimulus for activity. This idea also has influence on the soul when the messianic vocation becomes not only a coordinate in the image of the future, but more than that: when it becomes the messianic dream. Namely: this is not some idea which is the subject of deliberation and consideration, when a person deals with these specialized problems, but a life dream, part of the inner infrastructure of living, something that operates not just in the intellectual part of the soul, but also in its depth and mysteries.

Why does the messianic dream expresses itself in a clearer and fuller form with children? Precisely because they are children. Being younger, they are much more sensitive to the meanings of things, not particularly to the issues which have formal definitions (which they not always can or want to understand), but an feeling attitude towards dreams. Just as children speak openly and in public those things which the adults whisper in hiding, so do children openly dream the things which the adults do not always express in the same explicit and open way. Because they are young they accept ideas with much zeal and simplicity, and they cling to them - albeit in a childish manner - but with all their heart.

Moreover: from this aspect children have another side, namely - that of their <tom> or at times their naivete. Adults, because they have experience, because they have a wider understanding, know or understand to some extent what are the difficulties which impede the execution of a task. They also understand the formidable extent of such a task. They can accordingly evaluate how difficult it is to bring matters to fulfillment. Children, on the other side, just because of their lack of real knowledge, because of lack of experience, because lack of ability to comprehend all the sides, regard them with utter simplicity. Whereas the adult can evaluate to some extent his limitations and to know how much he can do - and still further, what are the things that he cannot do in any way, there is no such barrier in front of the child, and certainly not in front of his dreams. Because he does not recognize his limitations, neither those of his being a private person nor the private ones of his character, therefore he can dream, aim and desire things which he may never perhaps be able to actualize, but this does not yet prevent him from dreaming.

And therefore, the messianic dream - not only in the pattern of the great vocation, as a general dream, but even as a private dream, a private desire, not only to arrive at a certain state but to be himself the person who brings matters to this new reality - this is why the Jewish child dreams about becoming the messiah, why the infants of <bet Raban> are "my messiahs". And what happens to the children when they become adults? This is when they lose the <tom> of childhood through an ongoing learning of the facts of life of all kinds. They come o know that a chang in the world - and not just changing the whole world but even a tiny part of it - is an immense and almost impossible task. They understand what is the meaning of a change in the world, and know how far the world is from the state of redemption. Not only do they discover the evil, the cruelty and the toughness of the world, but they also discover the great power of all these and the immense difficulty of overcoming them.

And along with this, every person, as he matures, learns to know his own limitations. As long as he is a child he can believe that he can do everything. In maturing he learns what are the limits of his own power, both by dint of being an individual and by the assembly of abilities and qualifications he has and the limitations upon each one of them.

And of course, the life of an adult force him to set priorities in his life. These orders of priorities are generally such where things that have necessity and value in a short-range consideration necessarily receive practical priority. People sink inside their work, family life, in activities that are limited from some side or another, and have time for their dreams only as a marginal constituent of their being. The course of life forces them to choose things, and naturally, in accordance with the necessities of life, what is chosen are those things that one must do and those things that he thinks, at any rate, that he is capable of actually accomplishing.

and what happens then to the dream about the messiah? This dream is not annihilated completely, it is not necessarily cast aside as an unwanted thing, but is transferred, on one side, to less emotional, less demanding systems of general beliefs, of activity in various domains, which no longer demand immersion in that dream. And since the messianic dream is not just the sort of wishing for good things that would come, for a wonderful future that will some day come about, but has also a great deal of demand, then as happens to other childhood dreams, this dream id repressed, removed from daily thought, and at times - even from the conscious domain of cognition.

Yet repressed dreams do not get annihilated. They enter through various routes into the depth of being, and what was an overt dream, an explicit desire, becomes hence something that is hidden within the mysteries of the soul, an inarticulate force which gets involved and entangled in the courses of life - namely, becomes a complex.

Because the messianic vocation is such an essential component in the all-national striving, it becomes not just a part of the national consciousness, but also a part of the private consciousness. And even if it does not find its expression in overt and explicit thought, it nevertheless finds its expression as an inchoate and hidden striving, as a messianic complex.

The fact that a child (and to some extent also an adult) dreams dreams of grandeur is, in fact, a general phenomena. Many children dream in some stage or another of their life to become kings, governors, conquerors of the world and its rulers. And without doubt the dream about becoming messiah has resemblance to all these dreams, which are a part of the thinking capacity of the child ____ (end of side A of cassette.)

___ magnificent and grand without considering the practical possibility of achieving them.

But the messianic dream is not only a dream of grandeur: in a certain sense, the difference or the distinction of the messianic entity is predicated in the dream itself. The will or desire for personal greatness is but only a part of the dream. It should be remembered: the essence of the messianic dream is not in greatness and power but in bringing redemption to others. For the messiah, the central problem is not his own greatness, own-rule, but precisely the other, the others, the world.

In order to want to be messiah it is it is necessary to recognize and to feel in some way (whether be it explicit or very dim) the poverty of his people, the suffering and the deprivation of his nation, and in the largest extension - the problems and pains of the whole world. The messianic feeling thus starts with the feeling that existence needs rectification, that existence places a huge task upon man - to bring it into change, into rectification, into redemption. Therefore, in whatever form it manifests, its focus is actually the other, and not the self. The problem, the pain, the deprivation of the other is what raises this feeling with regard to the other. It is because the others are in some <metsuka>, that it is I who want, who desires (at times - is required, forced, compelled) to be the redeemer and savior.

Repression of the messianic dream is prevalent also among the orthodox believers of the the belief of Israel. Also those who say every day that they believe with complete belief in the coming of the messia, even for them the personal dream at any rate becomes repressed. He is no longer the person who dreams and desires to become himself the redeemer and savior, even though he still believes with all his heart and expects every day that the redemption would come.

But this repression is present with a bigger magnitude among those Jews who no longer explicitly recognize the messianic vocation. Nowadays the chances are that a Jewish child - and so much more the adult - will grow up as one for whom his Judaism is some luggage of the past (and often - a luggage he would have liked to get rid off). He can be in his . . .

to be continued

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