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The Prophet Elijah and the Coming of Messiah

There was once a Torah academy on the edge of town. The Yeshiva enjoyed a modest success. Its rabbis, already middle-aged, were not considered the greatest of scholars or educators, but they were dedicated and sincere. The Yeshiva went along like this for many years without changing.

Then one day, while the Rabbis were sitting together after the evening prayers, the dean of admissions said, “Enrollment is going down. Students are leaving.”

The Supervisor of Students added, “They are not devoted to their studies like they used to be.”

The Rosh Yeshiva sighed deeply, and said, “If so, it is only a reflection of us.”

The other Rabbis considered the words of their leader in silence. As the days turned into weeks, the rabbis began to worry. Students continued leaving the Yeshiva, one after another. If the departure continued, the yeshiva might have to close. Something must be done.

Their positions were in jeopardy and they had no pensions. Their families would suffer, as would their reputations. The rabbis contemplated.We must do something. If the Yeshiva closes, all our work will end with us. The remaining students seemed to sense the rabbi’s worries, but this did not inspire them. Rather they became more removed, less inspired and involved with themselves.

One night the rabbis heard someone talking about a hidden tzaddik who lived deep in a nearby forest. However, it was not their custom to visit ‘holy men’. They themselves were considered ‘holy men.’ But what could they do? They would have to swallow their pride and visit the tzaddik.

A time was set when the rabbis would be able to leave the Yeshiva in secret. They were not convinced of the holy man’s powers, as one knows how stories circulate. But nonetheless, one night after Shabbat when the students were away, the rabbis put on their top coats and hats and were driven deep into the forest.

They found a path that led to a clearing and a simple cabin. Before they set foot on the front step, the cabin door opened. An old man in the white garments of the Sabbath greeted them with a brilliant smile and great honor. He ushered them inside, sat them down before a fireplace and served them according to the traditions of the fourth meal. Once the rabbis were warmed by his fire, they turned to the Rosh Yeshiva. He was to speak for them.

But before he could begin, the holy man opened his mouth and said, “Do not worry. The Yeshiva will be fine.”

He stared at the Rosh Yeshiva. His eyes were deep blue pools of mercy. The Rosh Yeshiva could not hold his gaze.

“Rabbi,” the Rosh Yeshiva began, “I see that you know our problem. But what we have come to ask is what we should do? How can we save the yeshiva?”

The holy man inhaled a long thoughtful breath. Stroking his beard, he nodded, looking into each of the faces of the Rabbis. His simple demeanor and patience struck the visitors with wonder and fear.

“I will tell you a secret,” he said, closing his eyes and pausing. “One of you . . . is the Messiah.”

“I will tell you a secret,” he said, closing his eyes and pausing. “One of you . . . is the Messiah.”

The Rabbis looked at each other. Was he joking? Could it possibly be? Each man wrestled with his own thoughts. Some disbelieved outright. Some continued questioning. Another thought, I can understand why not me, but who? Him? And still others thought, If it is anyone…

The Rosh Yeshiva broke the silence, “But your honor, how do we save the yeshiva?”

The holy man did not answer. He smiled as though smiling to a frustrated child. He arose and led them to the door.

The Rabbis went back to the Yeshiva on the edge of town, perplexed, quiet and thoughtful. They said good night, hardly able to look at one another.

The next morning they began their daily routines as always, but not exactly. When they looked at each other, it was different. They started to notice little things. The way one rabbi made tea for the others; how each one took sugar, milk or lemon, or how a colleague put away books, blowing away dust from the pages. They began to wonder, maybe he is the Messiah, or maybe it is him. . .

And so they went about their days as different men. They started to think, ‘We are in the presence of the Messiah’. If the holy man was correct, (and he had never been known to be wrong), then one of us is the Messiah.

The Rabbis began treating each other with such grace and esteem and compassion that the students could not help but notice. They began to wonder, What has happened to our Rabbis, those stodgy old scholars? What has touched them? And so the students too began to act like their teachers, and follow in their ways of honor and grace and compassion.

When outsiders visited the Yeshiva, they also noticed the change in the Rabbis and the students. They became very curious, and began to visit more often, to sit it on classes, to stay for prayers, to join in the evening meals and to drink the ancient wisdom of the sages.

And so the yeshiva began to come back, and to grow, and new students came, and the spirit was contagious, and the classes were alive with the Voice of Torah. Their learning became famous throughout the land. It was as though a holy fire had swept through the Academy, and people came just to be part of it. Many gave money and the Yeshiva prospered. Joy was in the air and music in the windows. At the end of each day, when the Rabbis met in their study, there was peace and gratitude and humble satisfaction.

One evening the Rosh Yeshiva announced, “We must pay our respects to the Rabbi in the Forest. It is not right that we have not visited him. His advice has changed us and the Yeshiva. We are alive again! This is part of Messiah! We must visit him and bring him a gift.”

The Rabbis agreed and a time was set for when the students were away. Again they were driven deep into the forest. The Rosh Yeshiva carried a beautifully decorated Megilat Purim in a silver canister engraved with beautiful images of Eretz Yisrael.

After a while on the path through the forest, they came to the clearing where the cabin had been standing. But there was nothing there. Not even a sign. The holy man and the cabin were gone. Astounded, the Rabbis looked at each other. How could this be? Even if he had left and taken the cabin with him, there would have been signs on the ground.

The forest seemed to close in on them. A cold wind whispered in the trees. A thought passed through their minds. He already told us. . . . One of us…. is the Messiah. The Rosh Yeshiva raised his hands to the heavens, and called out, “That was no regular holy man! That was Eliyahu HaNavi, who has come to save us.”

And that was how Elijah the Prophet comes to announce the coming of the Messiah.

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