The one Jewish ideal that I can't get my head around is Moshiach - the belief in the coming of the Messiah. What good is achieved by waiting for some future utopia? Shouldn't we focus on the present, rather than dreaming about the future? Why is the belief in the coming of the Messiah so central to Judaism?
Some of the deepest truths I ever learnt were from my cricket coach. He was a sharp guy, with a keen eye for detail. He would observe my batting style and point out what I needed to work on. From him I gained more than just cricket advice.
One consistent flaw in my batting was my follow through. The coach noticed that as soon as my bat hits the ball my arms lock and the bat stops. No good, he said. You need a full follow through. After hitting the ball you must keep swinging, making a complete semi-circle in the air.
This made no sense to me. What difference does it make what I do with the bat after I have hit the ball? Contact has been made between bat and ball, and whatever power I have put into the shot is there already. Will the ball travel further if I follow through? I can understand why backswing is important - the more I pull the bat back, the more momentum the swing has. But once the ball is hit, who cares what I do with the bat? Whether I keep swinging or stop, throw the bat away or eat it should make no difference to the ball that has already been hit. Why follow through?
My coach gave me the answer. The follow through doesn't begin after you hit the ball, it begins as soon as you lift the bat. A swing that will end in a full follow through is a different swing entirely. What will be effects what is. The destination influences the whole journey. Where you are going defines where you are.
This principle is true in cricket, baseball, tennis and golf. And it's true in life too. What you believe about tomorrow shapes how you view today. Where your life is headed determines how your life is lived.
If the world is randomly hurtling through space, bound to eventually collide with an asteroid and return to vapour, if human history is a directionless romp through time, then we are going nowhere, and my life certainly has no significance. Why work, why build, why love, why do anything if it all ends in nothingness?
But if the world is heading toward a purpose for which it was created, if human history is a long journey with a clear and wonderful destination, then my today matters. My efforts today can bring the world a little closer to its purpose. My lifetime builds on the lifetimes that came before me, and gives a better world to those who will come after me, edging ever closer to the times of Moshiach.
We are not just propelled by our past, we are beckoned by our future. Believing in a messianic future, a world of peace and spiritual clarity, inspires me to make today a step further in the journey. Waiting for Moshiach makes the world better now. It may even improve my batting average.