In 1777, Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk established a Hasidic community in Tiberias. Living in Eretz Yisrael raised hopes for the coming of the Mashiach and the redemption of the Jewish people from the galut.
After some months, a prankster secretly climbed up the Mount of Olives and blew a great blast from his shofar, signaling that the Messiah had indeed arrived. Word quickly spread through the land, and with it a feverish anticipation. People stopped working, and family matters went unattended. Everyone was obsessed with the news of the Messiah’s coming.
When word of the Messiah’s arrival reached Tiberias, Reb Menachem Mendel’s Hasidim heard it and raced to share the news with their rebbe.
“Rebbe! The shofar was sounded on the Mount of Olives! Mashiach is here!”
Expecting their teacher to leap with joy, his Hasidim were surprised to see the rebbe rise slowly from his study table and walk to the window. Throwing open the wooden shutters, Reb Menachem Mendel stuck his head out the window and took in a long, deep breath through his nose as if he were savoring the aroma of a freshly baked pie. He then pulled his head inside and closed the shutters.
Turning to his Hasidim, he said: “My friends, I wish it were true, but I am afraid the Mashiach is not yet among us, for I smelled nothing new in the air.”
What does the messianic moment smell like? It smells like something new. What does something new smell like? Nothing. If something is new, it cannot be compared to anything else. It is unique, without precedent, and therefore ineffable. What Reb Menachem Mendel smelled was life as usual: the same old frenzied rush of egos and emotions.
Eretz Yisrael: The Land of Israel.
Mashiach: Messiah, the Anointed One. The coming of the Messiah is marked by the restoration of the House of David, the return of the Jews to Israel, and the coming of world peace and universal justice and harmony.
Galut: Hebrew for “exile” or “captivity.” Originally referring only to those Jews taken into captivity in Babylonia in 586 B.C.E., galut came to refer to all Jews living outside the Holy Land after the expulsion of the Jews by Rome in 70 C.E.
Mount of Olives: Tradition holds that the Messiah will enter Jerusalem through the Gate of Mercy (Golden Gate) across from the Mount of Olives, bringing about the resurrection of the dead in the Mount of Olives cemetery.
Shofar: A ram’s horn. The horn is blown on various sacred occasions. The sound of the shofar calls upon the people to repent, and it awakens them to God’s sovereignty, justice, and saving power.