Saved by .000001% and a slight movement of the chest: Jewish and Islamic views of redemption

In one of Art Katz’s talks, he describes a movement within Lubavitch-Chabad who drive round New York in specially outfitted vans to pick up Jews on the street and get them to put on tefillin. If enough Jews did it – the critical mass, whatever that was – Messiah would come. Talking about “critical mass,” here is a comment on a Chabad article “Who is Mosiach? – the basics.” [My square brackets].

“It seems that on a scale it only takes 1 grain of sand to tip two equal portions to one side or the other. When the scale tips it tips completely to one side or the other. I think the critical mass is simply 50.000001% of the Jewish population keeping Shabbos for instance. Possibly 1 of 2 of the greatest gifts Hashem gave us. Those who keep Shabbos understand the value of this gift clearly. Why then aren’t we creating an International Shabbos day and selling it like we sell the Superbowl. With Jewish celebrities promoting it in all corners of the Earth. Chabad is trying this but it needs to be on a much much bigger scale. How can we promote this idea to give all of those who have strayed from the path after all of these generations in gullus [galut – “exile”] – a taste of Gad [Gan – “garden”?] Eden?

The Lubavitcher Rabbi Schneerson (the Rebbe) expressed the “critical mass” idea differently: the Moshiach is waiting for that one tiny act of lovingkindness to tip the scales, then he will come.

I am reminded of a story in Islamic literature, in one of the versions of Hadith 20 (Al-Bhukari) where a murderer of 100 people was saved by a slight expansion of his chest.

20. Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Prophet of Allah (sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said: “There was a man from among a nation before you who killed ninety-nine people and then made an inquiry about the most learned person on the earth. He was directed to a monk. He came to him and told him that he had killed ninety-nine people and asked him if there was any chance for his repentance to be accepted. He replied in the negative and the man killed him also completing one hundred. He then asked about the most learned man in the earth. He was directed to a scholar. He told him that he had killed one hundred people and asked him if there was any chance for his repentance to be accepted. He replied in the affirmative and asked, `Who stands between you and repentance? Go to such and such land; there (you will find) people devoted to prayer and worship of Allah, join them in worship, and do not come back to your land because it is an evil place.’ So he went away and hardly had he covered half the distance when death overtook him; and there was a dispute between the angels of mercy and the angels of torment. The angels of mercy pleaded, ‘This man has come with a repenting heart to Allah,’ and the angels of punishment argued, ‘He never did a virtuous deed in his life.’ Then there appeared another angel in the form of a human being and the contending angels agreed to make him arbiter between them. He said, `Measure the distance between the two lands. He will be considered belonging to the land to which he is nearer.’ They measured and found him closer to the land (land of piety) where he intended to go, and so the angels of mercy collected his soul”.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

In another version: “He was found to be nearer to the locality of the pious by a cubit and was thus included among them”. Another version says: “Allah commanded (the land which he wanted to leave) to move away and commanded the other land (his destination) to draw nearer and then He said: ‘Now measure the distance between them.’ It was found that he was nearer to his goal by a hand’s span and was thus forgiven”. It is also narrated that he drew closer by a slight movement on his chest.

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