[Warning: Depressing pre-Tisha b'Av post ahead.]
Remember the poem, Moshiach’s Hat, about how Mashiach arrived and no one would believe that he was Mashiach because he didn’t look like them? He had the wrong type of yarmulka, gartel or no gartel, curled payes or not, and so on?
["He's not the Moshiach!" -- Said one with a grin,
"Just look at his hat, -- At the pinches and brim!"
"That's right!" cried another -- With a grimace and frown,
"Whoever heard of Moshiach, -- With a brim that's turned down?"]
In the past I took that as Hallmark mussar, long on sentiment and short on substance. But lately I’ve been re-thinking it, because it has come to seem spot-on.
Before the last Lubavitcher Rebbe's passing, when I was asked what I thought about the question of his Mashiach-hood, my stock answer was, “He has my vote.” After all, the Rambam defines Mashiach, in part, as someone who leads/compels the Jewish people to follow Torah, and I felt he was doing a good job of it.
Maybe it's because in those days, I didn't have enough of a thought-through ideology to feel that my way was right. I don't know, but in the years since then I’ve changed, I think. Not about a hat, necessarily, but about other matters.
Today, what if I would hear about a Breslover who was doing just that, would I give him my vote? Or would I say, “Great man, but for his shtick of handing out books?”
Or if it was a Yeshivish leader who said secular studies were treif?
Or a political left-winger who wanted to exchange land and create a Palestinian state?
Orthodoxy, by definition, demands that I make the correct decisions, that I use the best information at my disposal and the best talents assigned to me to develop the “right” ideology and practice. But that easily leads me into believing that my approach is, in fact, the right approach, when in fact there is a difference between demanding perfection and guaranteeing perfection.
Over the years, I have come to believe, on some level, in my own Orthodox Infallibility, such that I would have difficulty trusting a Mashiach whose platform did not match mine.
This is wrong, and on Erev Tisha b’Av it does not give me a lot of hope.