Judaism is a religion of deeds; Jews must act on our beliefs. Some actions are profound, others are bothersome but acceptable, but a few are plainly dangerous. In the last case, cowardice veils itself in extreme religiosity. Jews know that all the authorities from Torah to the Rebe have concurred: the Promised Land entirely belongs to the Jewish state, and no piece of it should be given to Arabs. During the Gush Katif protests, however, religious Jews appealed to much less significant rules, such as obedience to the state, to justify their peaceful action—which amounted to inaction. Now many religious Jews abstain from active opposition to the treacherous Israeli government. They claim powerlessness, and demand the true Messiah to lead them.

Rabbi Akiva did not wait for a supernatural Messiah. He understood the real world, and proclaimed less-than-perfect warrior Bar Kochba a messiah. The revolt failed, but Judea went down with the dignity of a nation fighting for its existence, rather than succumbing to the Roman prohibitions on Judaism.

Sages said that the miracles in the Tanakh are presented for the sake of interpretation, and should not be taken literally. The doctrine of the supernatural Messiah is rooted shallowly if at all in the Bible, but provides a convenient excuse for inaction. Sages declared it sinful for a Jew to wait for divine intervention: the people must work for their goals and only hope for divine help. The world is our responsibility.

Who would know the Messiah if he arrived today? He does not come with supernatural power. Jewish tradition teaches that a messiah is present in every generation; it is up to the Jews to create the conditions for his victory.

After the 1967 war, Israelis placed their hopes in Moshe Dayan, a warrior without fear but also without faith; many other leaders were available who would have finished the war by allowing the Arabs to flee into Jordan. Yitzhak Shamir staunchly ignored the Arabs and strengthened the Jewish state; Israelis complained that he was insufficiently active politically and the economy was not so good. After the IDF thrust across Sinai destroyed the Egyptian lines of support in 1973, soldiers wrote on tanks, “Arik [Sharon]—King of Israel.”

Jewish commentators understood the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 as a collective image of Israel. The Messiah is no less collective. The nation can lead itself from the mud of collaboration into the heights of greatness. When we resolve thus, any leader will do.