Baba Sali: The Messiah Is Coming

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The Internet has been around for a while — and, while the immediacy of the medium is unsurpassed in spreading news stories and viral videos of nose-picking politicians and lightsaber duels, the emotion that’s most commonly associated with Internet viral memes is one of acute, painful embarrassment. For every “ZOMG Look At This” that us bloggers have posted, and then proudly bragged to our colleagues that we broke the story, there are a thousand things that would have made the world a better place if we’d totally ignored it in the first place.

And then there are the truly sad ones. The Heaven’s Gate cult, originally thought to be harmless — hey, they weren’t recruiting, and they weren’t affecting anyone but themselves — who were among the early Web presences and whose site endures as a testament to their mass suicide.

Okay, but I wanted to talk about something that also has elements of pathos and sadness, if on a totally different level. It’s all about a watch.

The great Moroccan sage the Baba Sali ostensibly gave a couple of watches to Rav Mordechai Eliyahu, one of the most important Sephardic rabbis in Israel. One was silver, one was gold. The watches are broken — or, rather, they move much slower than normal watches. According to Mishpacha magazine (quoted here), Mordechai Eiliyahu’s son relates how the watches work:

“One day, the Baba Sali’s son came to my father and presented him with a watch. He explained that his holy father had come to him in a dream and told him that he should look in a certain drawer in a certain desk, where he would find this watch. He was to give it to my father and tell him that when the watch reached twelve o’clock, then Mashiach would come. At that time, the watch hands showed twenty minutes to eleven. Since then, my father keeps a very close eye on the watch, and found that sometimes it goes and other times it just stops.”

Recently, I stumbled across, this post on another blog, which reported that one of the watches had struck twelve — that the Messiah’s arrival was imminent. Then I noticed the date of the post, August 2005.

Another Heaven’s Gate, I thought.

My stomach sunk. I’ve always been an insufficient believer in the Messiah — our sages say we should be ready for Mashiach’s imminent arrival at all times. I always want to be. Messiah stories thrill me. But I haven’t been able to get my head around the concept that the world might be changing, that I might actually see my grandfather and my dead best friend again. Shlomo Carlebach says that that’s the kind of thinking that keeps the Messiah from coming. But, hey, I can barely believe that Obama is president — and there he is, tellin’ off the fat cats of Wall Street on the front page of the New York Times.

baba saliSo, what of it now? Well, it turns out that the watch that struck twelve was only the silver watch — and, as of November, there was a report (though unconfirmed) that, while Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was in the hospital, his son had custody of the watch, and it had moved to twelve. Or almost twelve?

I haven’t been able to find anything more recent. But, as the Baba Sali Facebook group commemorates, today is his 25th yahrzeit. And I can’t think of a better way to honor it by thinking that the Messiah might come today. Hey — there’s still hours before sunset. In New York, anyway.

Posted on January 30, 2009

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