We will camp here,” our scoutmaster told us, “by the lake.” Eagerly we set up camp by Lake Goshen in Virginia. I was 15 then and was with other experienced scouts. We should have known the still waters of Lake Goshen would be a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos.
Throughout the night they attacked us in companies, battalions and divisions. Our defenses of insect repellent and mosquito netting could not hold back their determined offense. Though they lost scores to our swats and fire, they found any open and exposed parts of our bodies. They bit me in the ears, the lips, and eyelids where I had not applied insect repellent.
I was a philosophical youth and kept asking myself, “Why did God, who loves us, make these ‘little vampires’—and why so many of them?” While I was at it I added ticks, fleas, poison ivy, leeches and poisonous snakes to the list. I asked him directly during my evening prayers but received no answer during the night. I only received endless buzzing sounds and bites.
The next week at my conservative synagogue the rabbi asked, “How did your camping trip go?” I answered with a question of my own:
“Why did God make mosquitos?” The rabbi suggested I turn to Genesis 1:29-31, which describes creation in its original state.
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it¡I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
“What does the passage say to us?” asked the rabbi.
“It seems that Adam and Eve and all animals including mosquitos were vegetarians,” I said to him. And to myself, I wish God had kept it that way. (But would I give up a Big Mac if mosquitos would give up people?)
“Yes,” the rabbi agreed, “in the beginning God planned for us to eat plants, not flesh. I bet the plants back then tasted better than meat does today. But you know what happened. Adam and Eve rebelled against God and his perfect will for them was altered.”
“But would a loving God leave us with no way out?” I asked the rabbi.
“No,” the rabbi replied. “You see, when the Messiah comes he will restore the Eden-like state of vegetarianism and harmony. The prophet Isaiah describes the world to come when, “‘The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 65:25). When the Messiah comes, there will no longer be hunter and hunted, criminals and victims; God’s perfect plan for us will be restored,” the rabbi explained.
This got me thinking about the Messiah. While he is not frequently mentioned in twentieth century Judaism, the hope of his coming is one of the thirteen principal beliefs of Judaism. In my prayer book I read, “I believe in the Messiah, and though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.” I pondered the Messiah’s coming for several years.
I learned that according to one Jewish theory the Messiah is pre-existent and waits to come and rule from Jerusalem. When he takes his throne he will inaugurate an era without war, pain, suffering and injustice. Death itself will be abolished. To my chagrin, most modern “enlightened” Jews dismiss this as pre-scientific, irrational, childish or merely wishful thinking.
To me, modern Judaism seemed no different from humanism, with its belief that human reason and technology will create a utopia. Or, as some would have it, the messianic age is an abstract idea that we strive after but never achieve.
If God transcends nature and physical law, why should such a belief in the Messiah be deemed irrational? I found it more irrational to believe, as do many contemporary Jews, that a messianic age would be achieved through human efforts. At the time I was considering these things, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the United Nations’ condemnation of Israel and the war in Viet Nam were current events. I was only a teenager, but the idea that people would bring about peace seemed naive to me.
I was also curious about the nature of the Messiah. The teachings of Judaism state that the Messiah is just a man. I wondered, how could a mere man re-arrange creation to fit Isaiah’s description? Also, how could the Messiah rule from Jerusalem when Scriptures say that God is the King of Israel (Psalm 93:1, 95:3, I Samuel 8:7) And according to Psalm 96:10, the Lord will come and “…judge the peoples with equity.”
At the same time, the Messiah will be born of a young woman (Isaiah 7:14) in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). He will “…reign on David’s throne…” (Isaiah 9:7).
I was looking for a kind of Judaism that still believed God was the author of history and moving us toward his plan for a perfect world.
I refused to accept the belief that this world with its suffering, injustice and division in nature between predator and prey was God’s will. Nor did I see any evidence that any man-made movements such as Marxism or World Federalism could alter a broken world.
Then I thought, if, as some of the ancient rabbis had taught, the Messiah pre-existed creation, maybe it would be possible to hear from him. At night I prayed that he would send me some kind of communication. When I awoke the next morning with no answer, I decided to help him out by providing paper and pen.
Still no letter in the morning.
Then one evening I was babysitting at a house with a broken TV. Looking for something to read, I found the New Testament and read the Gospel of Matthew. Here was my letter from the Messiah! It began on a familiar Jewish note: a genealogy. I checked it against my copy of the Holy Scriptures and it was valid.
As I read more, I saw that Jesus not only promised to come and restore the fallen world but he promised to be with me now. Alone in the room, I asked Jesus to be not just the Messiah but my Messiah. And you know, he is!
Mosquitos continue to bite me in the summer, but now I see them as just one more reason to look forward to Messiah’s return.