This week’s Parsha discusses false prophets. One of the fundamental beliefs of Judaism is the coming of Moshiach, followed by the resurrection of the dead. We long for the days of the messianic times. However, for the most part, most religious Jewish attitude is very low key towards the Moshiach coming. Yes, you might have a song here and a song there but not much hoopla. It’s more lip service; don’t get me wrong, the pulse of the nation is that they believe whole-heartedly that the Moshiach will come. However, the exiting, anticipated party atmosphere is missing; why so?
The reason for the cold attitude towards the Moshiach is because of the fiasco that happened many years ago, which had left a black eye in the Jewish communities till this very day. It was 1648, and by many accounts of Jewish authorities of the times, it was considered “a messianic year.” In today’s times, every year someone proclaims is a messianic year. There was a slick charismatic, brilliant figure by the name of Shabtai Tzvi. He was a great communicator, a teacher with a photographic memory who got smicha at age 20. He learned Kabbalah which helped in the mystic over-all appearance about him. Shabtai Tzvi proclaimed he was born on Tisha B’ Av, which is one of the signs of being the real deal. He would fast during the week, whip himself, and isolate himself for long periods of times, immerse himself in ritual baths 30 times a day; a real character, a James Dean type. Tzvi convinced everybody he was pious.
Some Rabbis were concerned. Apparently, he was a manic depressive, flight of moods, just an over-all strange kook. At the age of 22, he was married twice and divorced twice with no get. The Rabbinical authorities warned him of ex-communication which made him even more popular.
Wherever he went he had a following, telling people fables of fighting with wild dogs and wolves with his bare hands. In every part of our history, people are susceptible to finding a miracle worker, desperate for a savior. People want to believe what they want to believe.
On one of his visits to Yerushalayim, he met Nathan of Gaza, a public relations genius, who made Tzvi an international star. Within one year, people were believing he was the Moshiach. He affected world economies. The Jews began to sell their property all over the world for the pilgrimage to Israel. The Jews stopped working and even bullied their long time non-Jewish tormentors. Because of years of persecution, they were desperate for the Moshiach, a hero.
At some point, Shabtai Tzvi went too far. He raised eyebrows by marrying a 12 year-old girl, eating non-kosher and making a bracha on it. The ultimate push-over the edge moment was when he was unable to control himself in mimicking and ridiculing the Sultan. One day, he came dressed with a costume similar to the Sultan’s uniform. The Sultan arrested him, brought him to the highest court and made him deny he was the Moshiach. The Sultan gave him a choice to convert, which he accepted. The non-Jewish world laughed at the Jews; persecution increased. Furthermore, war against kabbalah study increased. The faith in the establishment eroded.
Till today, the ripple effects of Shabtai Tzvi is felt. The cold attitude towards Moshiach is a protection as result from the enormous pain this false prophet had brought upon our nation.
Taken from the shiurim of Rabbi Beryl Wein.