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The Gemara teaches us that three things come בהיסח הדעת - unexpectedly. One of these three is Moshiach.

This is as in that practice of Rabbi Zeira, who, when he would find Sages who were engaging in discussions about the coming of the Messiah, said to them: Please, I ask of you, do not delay his coming by calculating the end of days. As we learn in a baraita: There are three matters that come only by means of diversion of attention from those matters, and these are they: The Messiah, a lost item, and a scorpion. (Sanhederin 97a)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe translates בהיסח הדעת not necessarily as "unexpectedly", rather as "with one’s reason set aside" (Likkutei Sichos, vol. 5, p. 171. Cited here).

Rabbi Yehoshua Mondshine in his sefer Migdal Oz, relates a story of the Alter Rebbe who was traveling through the city of Vitebsk and a few persons approached the Alter Rebbe and asked him "Rebbe, when will Moshiach come?". The Alter Rebbe famously answered (Migdal Oz, p. 170):

The Mashiach that the world at large wants will never come. The true Mashiach, no one wants. If so, how can he come?!

The Rambam, at the end of Hilchos Melachim u'Milchamos (chapter 12:4), writes that the sages did not yearn for Moshiach because they wanted to celebrate, eat, drink, being exalted over the nations etc.. Rather, they:

desired to be free to involve themselves in Torah and wisdom without any pressures or disturbances

This got me thinking. The Gemara says that Moshiach comes unexpected. The Migdal Oz relates that the Alter Rebbe said that the Moshiach we are waiting for never comes. I think there is an connection between these two statements. But in order for me to understand all this, I really want to know how to understand these two statements.

Therefore, I would like to know if there are (any) explanations given on the words that "Moshiach will come when unexpected". Especially in light of how the Rebbe translates בהיסח הדעת (with one's reason set aside). What does this mean?

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  • No source but I think היסח הדעת is commonly used as meaning an interruption of thought or a lack of attention. So when we’re all comfortable in our lives and don’t even care whether a mashiach comes or not, that’s davka when he will come and save us and pull us out from where we’re spiritually trapped. Connecting to what the Alter Rebbe said, no one would want this mashiach because we all think we’re living the best lives and need no saving or disruption to the normal order of things Jun 11, 2023 at 1:45
  • It means that the state of the world when mashiach comes is not an extrapolation of the current state of the world.
    – The GRAPKE
    Jun 11, 2023 at 6:49
  • @TheGRAPKE are you referring to the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim perek 12: וּבְאוֹתוֹ הַזְּמַן לֹא יִהְיֶה שָׁם לֹא רָעָב וְלֹא מִלְחָמָה ?
    – Shmuel
    Jun 11, 2023 at 8:06
  • @Shmuel he.wikisource.org/wiki/… א"ר חייא בר אבא א"ר יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא למשיא בתו לתלמיד חכם ולעושה פרקמטיא לת"ח ולמהנה ת"ח מנכסיו אבל תלמידי חכמים עצמן (ישעיהו סד, ג) עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך יעשה למחכה לו
    – The GRAPKE
    Jun 12, 2023 at 6:41
  • היסח means "distracted". Usually, whenever the Rebbe uses the term דעת, he empathizes that it means: like אדם ידע חוה. The deeper understanding would seem to be in comprehending what the association is between משיח מציאה ועקרב. Why are they being mentioned together? Jun 12, 2023 at 18:10

3 Answers 3

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B"H

After several weeks of struggling over this Gemara, I've found a possible explanation.

Note: my Hebrew is still a work-in-progress. I might have read things different/interpreted it a my own way. Please feel free, I even encourage all of you, to improve translations/literal translations/interpretions of the quoted/cited sefer.

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Rabbi Menachem Brod, spokesman of Chabad youth movement center Tze'irei Agudas Chabad in Israel and the editor of the nationally distributed Chabad weekly pamphlet Sichat HaShavua wrote an sefer called: "ימות המשיח"- Yemos HaMoshiach - the Era of Moshiach. Let's dissect and analyze the piece, bit for bit.

The Gemara states that three things come בהיסח הדעת - Behesech Hadaas- unexpectedly. One of these three is Moshiach.

This is as in that practice of Rabbi Zeira, who, when he would find Sages who were engaging in discussions about the coming of the Messiah, said to them: Please, I ask of you, do not delay his coming by calculating the end of days. As we learn in a baraita: There are three matters that come only by means of diversion of attention from those matters, and these are they: The Messiah, a lost item, and a scorpion. (Sanhederin 97a)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe translates the words "behesech hadaas" somewhat different than others. The Rebbe says:

This teaching does not mean that a person should not (G‑d forbid) think about the Redemption and anticipate its coming. It means that though his reason sees no possibility for Redemption, a Jew persists with an intense belief that transcends his reason. This meaning springs directly from the Hebrew idiom בהיסח הדעת (here translated “unawares”), which literally means “with one’s reason set aside.” (Likkutei Sichos vol. 5)

So, according to the Rebbe, Behesech Hadaas does mean unawareness (peshat reading). However, it should be read as "with one's reason set aside". That's the basis for the explanation of Rabbi Brod in sefer Yemos HaMoshiach.

Beginning from page 59, Rabbi Brod says that daily, we anticipate the coming of Moshiach. We pray about the coming of Moshiach/Redemption multiple times a day. We "express a immense longing for redemption", says the author. Does all of this become puzzling because of the statement of our sages that "Moshiach comes unexpectedly"?

Rabbi Brod goes on to cite a Gemara that talks about Rabbi Zeira, encountering people that were engaging in discussions about the coming of Moshiach (Sanhedrin 97a). The Gemara says that:

when he (Rabbi Zeira) would find Sages who were engaging in discussions about the coming of the Messiah, said to them: Please, I ask of you, do not delay his coming by calculating the end of days.

Rabbi Brod quotes Rashi to explain that this Gemara was referring to people that were busy calculating when Moshiach would come. As Rashi says (ad loc.):

דמעסקי ביה - לידע מתי יבא

Rabbi Zeira responds to these people with:

I ask of you, do not delay

Why? Because "three things come unexpectedly, one of which is Moshiach".

In sefer Yemos HaMoshiach, the author goes on to explain that even "these three things come when not expected", that does absolutely not mean that we should not think about redemption and the coming of Moshiach (p. 60).

שני הפרטים האחרים באותו מאמר מציאה ועקרב ממחישים עד כמה אין המחשבה והציפייה לגאולה סותרות את היסח הדעת' אדם יכול להתהלך כל היום במחשבה שהוא רוצה למצוא מציאה וכי מפני זה לא יהיה רגע המציאה הפתעהנ או אדם שמהלך בשדה מתוך מודעות מתמדת לסכנת העקרבים שבסביבה האם יוכל לדעת מראש מתי בדיוק יעקוץ אותו עקרבנ כך גם הגאולה אנו צריכים לחשוב עליה כל הזמן לצפות לה להתפלל עליה להתכונן לקראתה ועם זה ברור לנו שהיא תבוא בהפתעה A person can walk around all day thinking that he wants to find the object he lost, does that mean that when he finds the lost item that he is not surprised? Or a person who walks in a field with a constant awareness of the danger of scorpions in that area, will he be able to know in advance exactly when a scorpion arrives and sting him? So is redemption - we need to think about it all the time, expect it, pray for it, prepare for it. Even then will it come as a surprise.

The author quotes an explanation of the sefer מאורי החסידות. I am not familiair with that sefer and exact place of the quotation. If someone could please add that in, that would be wonderful.

The sefer מאורי החסידות says that when a Jew looks around him and he does not see (signs) that redemption is coming soon but nevertheless has faith in that it will come, because Hashem says so. That is what בהיסח הדעת - Behesech Hadaas means. He put's away his thoughts and keeps faith in that even though we are still in galus, redemption will come. Somewhat related to this is the Cognitive dissonance-theory.

הדעת זו מתנה מלמעלה שהאדם עצמו אינו יכול להגיע אליה באמצעות דעתו ושכלו אלא הקב"ה נותנה לנו באופן שלמעלה מהדעת It is a gift from above, which a person by himself cannot reach through his own mind and intellect. Nevertheless, G-d gives us the understanding

We can't understand that Redemption is coming, but we are meant to put away this thoughts, e.g. behesech hadaas, because we know that it comes.

Rabbi Brod then cites the Rebbe in Toras Menachem (תורת מנחם התוועדויות - חלק י"א) (could not find it either) and says:

Distraction is the highest form of waiting for Moshiach (תורת מנחם כרך ט עמ' p. 111)

We must distract ourselves from the thought that we want Moshiach because then, everything will be "okay". During Covid, people often said "I want Moshiach because then this is all over". This should not be the thought. Rather, we must want redemption because that is the end-goal of Hashem, e.g.:

שתושלם הכוונה האלוקית בבריאת העולם להיות לו יתברך דירה בתחתונים G-ds intention in the creation of the world was to have a dwelling in the lower place(s).

The author ends with the explanation that when the situation is such that the mind and intellect see no place for redemption to come - this "distraction" is a sign of the coming redemption. This is בהיסח הדעת - Behesech Hadaas.

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    This is the type of answer that really sets the mind racing. If I may, it gives the impression of an optical illusion. You stare at a blob and wonder what on earth is it, and try to figure it out using logic and reason. Then at some point, you can't get it so you just give up, and suddenly you realise that you are looking right at a picture of a man and can't unsee it anymore. Rabbi Friedman mentioned that the world will get very wealthy and we wont notice. The world will become good and Godly and we will be too lost in our distracting thoughts to even notice. Then bam, we see it.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 13, 2023 at 19:45
  • Heads on :) Great observation
    – Shmuel
    Jun 13, 2023 at 19:46
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    A little side point. Many people can only relate to half of what the sages said. They want Moshiach so they don't have to work, and many other people want Moshiach so they don't have to work. But the sages don't want to work, so they can learn Torah! Many people don't think of Torah as the first thing they want to do when they get off work, unfortunately. I think one of the things that is like an optical illusion for many is that the Torah is not exciting or interesting. Something about Moshiach will, in a flash, make them suddenly realise what the sages realised, that Torah's ALL they want!
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 14, 2023 at 12:44
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Rabbi Manis Friedman, a great student of the school of Lubavitch, explains היסח הדעת like this, drawing from the explanations of the etz ha'da'at by the Rebbe and the feeling of self-consciousness that it gave us: If one is considering something with one's da'at, it means they are relating to it personally, they feel a sense of connection and belonging with it.

He gives an example. A man gazes inappropriately at someone on the street. What do we advise him? The old method is screaming at him for being inappropriate, filthy, etc. The היסח הדעת way would be to ask him: what shaychus this person he is looking at has to him.

Etz Ha'da'at's power is strongest felt in this particular urge, so it is a good example. It is a good exercise to compare this with some other thing we gaze at, but without so much דעת, say expensive cars. So, with the gazing at the person on the street, he will have some inner feeling of "this is to do with me" (or worse) about it, and that is what is inappropriate: she has nothing to do with him! Also, a stranger's expensive car has anything to do with him, but he doesn't gaze with such a lust at the car. He looks at it with היסח הדעת: "that's way to expensive for me", and doesn't give it a second thought. In the case of the woman on the street, if he could simply internalise she has nothing to do with him, he wouldn't find much draw in gazing at her.

So now we know what היסח הדעת is. What about the concept of the Moshiach nobody wants coming? Rav Manis Friedman explains 10 minutes in, the navi that says that the whole world thought they were right and the Jews/Torah were wrong, and there's going to be a great ideological shake up when it turns out to be the other way around. So, the shake up is when the thing they thought had nothing to do with them, was irrelevant, and they paid it no reason or mind, היסח הדעת; that thing will suddenly become the truth overnight, and it's very very hard to let go of one's da'at, and make room for another da'at, especially one we despise. So it will be a great struggle for most of the world.

So this is how I understood the connection between your pasukim. Many people are seeking a Moshiach that will improve the world in a way they believe makes sense i.e. in ways that are very relevant and important to them, but actually they are wrong, and something that they didn't consider relevant at all will be the truth of the world of the Moshiach. This will be a huge surprise and cause a big agony for many people. Let me know if there's anything else I neglected to address, or didn't explain unambiguously.

I see you asking in comments, so I'll just add from the rest of the shiur or related ideas that the Rebbe taught: this thing that many don't notice is that the desire for Moshiach comes not for our benefit, but because Hashem wants Moshiach. This is His plan, His deepest desire; all about Him, not us. That was the Rebbe's whole motto practically, it's about Him, not us. It's also going to be a great joy to many people, and there will be a great thirst. Many people will be so glad to know how real and personal Hashem is, and how much there is to know about Him with real da'at, having been starved of that knowledge for so long. It's thinking about Him in this way that really produces our desire for Moshiach, we want Him to get what He created the world for, speedily in our day!

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  • TY. So hesech hadaas is somewhat related to what we call " cognitive dissonance"?
    – Shmuel
    Jun 13, 2023 at 16:03
  • @Shmuel I don't know, it means a person feels that the thing in question has nothing to do with him at all. Not his in any way, not related or relevant. May I strongly recommend watching the first shiur and deciding for yourself. I've never heard such a perfect explanation of such a subtle topic.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Jun 13, 2023 at 19:24
  • @Shmuel here's an amazing sicha that directly and beautifully answers your question. If I had time, I'd write it as a second answer but enjoy: chabad.org/library/tanya/tanya_cdo/aid/7949/jewish/…
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 4, 2023 at 12:46
  • Thanks. Much appreciated. However, I don't get what it means (Therefore, too, Mashiach will come when Israel in general are “caught unawares.” His coming is the manifestation of the innermost point which is universal to all Jews). Could you maybe elaborate?
    – Shmuel
    Sep 4, 2023 at 17:52
  • @Shmuel See footnote 22 for now. I hope to consider converting this into an answer
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 4, 2023 at 18:01
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Rashi has there ועקרב - נושך האדם פתאום: - Scorpion - it bites a man Pitom, suddenly/unexpectedly.

Ben Yehoyada also speaks of the simple meaning - 'ולזה סיים מָצָאתִי דָּוִד עַבְדִּי כמו מציאה. עַקְרָב מְצִיאָה' שבאין בהיסח הדעת like a lost object or scorpion, which happen suddenly/unexpectedly, so it concludes "I have found my servant David" - like a lost object.

"With one's reason set aside" doesn't seem to fit the simple meaning as per Rashi and the BIH.

Also per Chayey Moharan #597 Mashiach will come suddenly, "Pitom," and causing an uproar, "Raash gadol":

שָׁמַעְתִּי בִּשְׁמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר שֶׁמָּשִׁיחַ יָבוֹא פִּתְאוֹם וְיִהְיֶה נַעֲשֶׂה קוֹל רַעַשׁ גָּדוֹל שֶׁבָּא מָשִׁיחַ וְכָל אֶחָד יַשְׁלִיךְ הַמַּשָּׂא וּמַתָּן שֶׁהוּא עוֹסֵק בּוֹ הַשֻּׁלְחָנִי יַשְׁלִיךְ הַשֻּׁלְחָן שֶׁלּוֹ, וְזֶה יַשְׁלִיךְ הַשַּׁעֲוָה וּכְמוֹ שֶׁכָּתוּב בִּישַׁעְיָה וְהִשְׁלִיכוּ אִישׁ אֱלִילֵי כַסְפּוֹ וֶאֱלִילֵי זְהָבוֹ. וְלא כְּמוֹ שֶׁסּוֹבְרִין קְצָת שֶׁכְּשֶׁיָּבוֹא מָשִׁיחַ יִהְיֶה עוֹלָם אַחֵר מִשֶּׁל עַכְשָׁו רַק הוּא כַּנַּ"ל. וְכָל אֶחָד יִתְבַּיֵּשׁ מִשְּׁטוּת מַעֲשָׂיו כָּל אֶחָד לְפִי מַעֲשָׂיו וּצְרִיכִין חֲקִירָה וּשְׁאֵלָה עֲדַיִן, מִי שָׁמַע שִׂיחָה זאת מִפִּיו הַקָּדוֹשׁ

I [R' Natan] heard it said in his [R' Nachman of Breslev's] name that he said that Mashiach will come all of a sudden, and there will be a big uproar that Mashiach has come, and everyone will cast away his commerce that he is engaged in: the banker will throw away his table, and another will throw away his wax, as written in Isaiah, "Yashlikh ha'adam eth elilei khaspo w'eth elilei z'havo/Man will throw away his idols of silver and his idols of gold" [Isa. 2:20]. It will not be like the minority that believe when Mashiach comes it will be a [totally] different world compared to now. Rather, it will be as mentioned, each person being ashamed of the nonsense of his deeds, each person according to his actions. And probing and questioning are still needed as to who heard this conversation from his holy mouth.

An illustration of these events are given in R' Nachman's Sipurei Maasiyot #12 - Tale of the Prayer Meister. The Gibbor (Warrior/Conqueror) is introduced with ויהי היום -- And the day came to pass. A possible connection to your Gemara: The Zohar explains where this phrase occurs in Tanakh it's Rosh Hashanah, Yom haZikaron. Zikaron, memory, is like Metzia, finding a lost object, and happens unexpectedly and suddenly, right? But don't take R"H too literally as a date; it could be the general aspect of R"H is being alluded here.

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  • So, according to this reading of Chayey Moharan, this means that people are not busy with Moshiach. They are busy with earning a life, with commerce etc.. and then... Moshiach arrives, suddenly, no one knowing when? But the question might be: aren't we prepared for Moshiach? Sure everyone needs to do Teshuva, but we pray about Moshiach every day, we study about him etc...
    – Shmuel
    Jun 12, 2023 at 19:35
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    Those who've shed the craving for money and status are already part there or at least way ahead of others. Like the parable that this world is like a coin that's held in front of one's eyes that if he focuses on it blocks his entire view of Alma dAtei Jun 12, 2023 at 20:37

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