On Predicting the End
Also interesting from Rabbi Winston's article linked to in yesterday's post is this:
CALCULATING MOSHIACH'S ARRIVAL
The Talmud records:Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonaton: "May the spirit of those who calculate the end expire. For they say, "Since the pre-determined time has arrived, and [Moshiach] has yet to come, he will never come!" (Sanhedrin 97b)
Whoever forecasts the date of Moshiach's arrival has no place in the World to Come. (Derech Eretz 11)
We see that the Talmud is concerned about making calculations regarding the precise day for Moshiach's arrival, since errors in such calculations usually result in national disappointment, and perhaps, revelations of false messiahs. Furthermore, the Talmud states:When Rav Zeira happened upon scholars who were engaged [in calculating the date of Moshiach's arrival], he told them, "I beg you! do not postpone it ... for it has been taught, 'Three things come when the mind is occupied otherwise: Moshiach ...'" (Sanhedrin 97a)
Additionally, there is the concern that believing in a specific date will prevent a person from expecting Moshiach earlier than that date, a violation of the principle of "anticipating him any day." Failure to believe this, says Mamonides, can give such a Jew the status of a heretic (Laws of Kings 11:1).
Yet we see that great rabbis over the ages did attempt to predict the precise date of Moshiach's arrival. This is because the prohibition has been interpreted differently by many rabbis throughout the ages, as follows:
According to the Abarbanel (15th century Spain), it is only forbidden to make calculations based on astrology, however it is permissible to calculate the date of Moshiach;s arrival based on Biblical sources (Maayeni HaYeshuah 1:2).
Nachmanides says that the prohibition applied only to earlier generations, and now that we are on the eve of redemption (he was writing in the 13th century!), there is no prohibition (Sefer HaGeulah, Ma'amer 4).
Signs all around us foreshadow redemption.The Malbim (19th century Europe) provides an analogy of a father and son traveling a long distance. As they start out, the son begins to ask when they will arrive, and of course the father does not answer. However, as they near the town, the son asks the same question, and this time the father readily answers that it is only a short while before they reach their destination. "So too, as the time of redemption is clearly approaching, we cannot help but notice the signs all around us that foreshadow that redemption. As the end grows nearer, doubts will become smaller, and at the very end, all doubts will be removed... As the time grows closer, uncertainty recedes in the wake of increasingly abundant wisdom" (Introduction to the Book of Daniel).
The Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania), whose commentary offers a formula for calculating the end, entreats those who understand the formula not to reveal it to others:"...And from here [what I have just written] you can calculate the time of the Final Redemption if, God forbid, we do not merit [to bring it earlier]. However, I have imposed an oath, in the name of the God of Israel, on the reader of this that he should not reveal it." (Biur HaGra, Safra D'Tzniusa, Chapter Five)
There is a very interesting appendix to the Rambam's Iggeret Teiman written by דוד האלוב in 5634 (1874) that details all the calculations done by various rabbis throughout the centuries. Just to give you an idea who he is - he seems to be an anti-Kabbalist, and even calls R' Moshe de Leon "המזייף הגדול - the great forger". He gets into this topic of Ketz calculations because of the Rambam's tradition from his ancestors mentioned in Iggeret Teiman that the year 1212 (or 1216) is when prophecy would return (but never really said that Mashiah would come at that time).
He seems to be against the idea of calculating the Endtime so much so that he said that ה' ילעג למו - Hashem takes the date predicted and turns it into a tragedy for the Jewish people. As examples of this, he gives the predictions of 1146, 1490, and 1648, which were years of terrible tragedy for Jews.
He then talks about a prediction made by Don Yosef ibn Yahya from Florence in 1528, who gave a Ketz for 1940 and later says it could happen - not that it will be the final Ge'ula, but the hallway to the final Ge'ula, through which we will be able to return to Israel from all the places where we were scattered.
Now, I'm of mixed opinion about this. First of all, didn't he just say that such calculations end up in tragedy? וכך היה - the year 1940 was terribly tragic for the Jewish people!
On the other hand, if he meant the decade that starts in 1940, he's right on the money - in 1948, the State of Israel was established, which was not the final Ge'ula, but like a hallway toward it, and it helped to gather in the exiles.
Perhaps, he meant that one should not make preditions, but once made by someone, one can be overly hopeful at that time.
Anyways, from this appendix, we see that making predictions is a bad thing and could lead to tragedy at the time predicted. Nevertheless, we have the opinions mentioned above that allow it for various reasons.