In Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, there is a footnote somewhere that quotes an unidentified source as saying something like, "The Messiah will not come until the Tears of Esau have ceased to flow." After years of searching, I hit upon what seems to be the source: Martin Buber's "The Rung of Redemption." However, there, Buber says:

... they are the tears that all human beings weep when they ask something for themselves, and pray for it. And truly: Messiah, son of David, will not come ... until you weep because the Divine Presence is exiled [and] you yearn for its return. [emphasis added]

So Buber glosses the prophecy (which he says comes from some "Midrash," but a midrash of what? though a Google search mentions the Zohar, here) as qualitative, not quantitative. Nevertheless, in a New Testament footnote concerning Paul's cryptic remark about fulfilling the sufferings of Jesus Christ, a Catholic analyst mentions a Jewish legend according to which there was a certain amount of suffering that had to be undergone, in history, before the World to Come might emerge. The Zohar is supposedly a transcription of Mosaic information that didn't make its way into the Tanakh, but I digress. Anyway, André Schwarz-Bart, amidst the opening sections of his The Last of the Just, makes similar remarks about a temporal quantity of agony connected to the advent of the Messiah, attributing this prophecy to something called "the Hagganah," though.

Motivation. Several years ago, I misread Nick Bostrom's "Infinite Ethics" and thought he was talking about an infinite temporal, not spatial, distribution-of-moral-value problem. Nonetheless, I hit upon a solution to the temporal problem that crystallized in something I have had go by the enchanting name the meridian theorem (after the LDS phrase "in the meridian of time," modulo Christ's Atonement). This is not (yet) the place to discuss the mathematics of the theorem, which back then I intuitively appreciated but only within the last year found a way to spell out clearly. The point is, I came up with a recapitulation of the Tears-of-Esau prophecy, quantitatively as much as, if not more than, qualitatively; and yet, aside from these obscure Jewish citations, I've not found any writer who seems to have suggested or argued for the same general idea. I scoured TvTropes.org for narrative examples, yet maybe I'm looking at the wrong tropes because I didn't find any there.

At any rate, this seems like such a natural wish to make (that the possibility of further evil would eventually run out) that I would think some philosopher has addressed it, somewhere, in the literature. My gut asks, "Leibniz, maybe?" especially with respect to his claims about ours being "the best of all possible worlds," although from what I remember about his assertions on that score, he rather thought that any quantity of evil "runs out" as soon as it is reached, in the sense that evil only seems evil from our compromised point of view.

So maybe not Leibniz; but then who, if anyone else?

1 Answer 1


Sounds like the emptying of the hells which bodhisattvas commit to. Buddhist cosmology is not infinite in space though 'nearly' so with various ways of picturing it, but it is infinite in time. In this context 'divine presence' would be the Dharmakaya, the immanence or constant presence of the path to awakening or freedom from suffering which is everywhere and at all times, as potential.

I also think of literal eternal recurrance, where some residue of changed intention transmits from one run-through to another, perhaps until the being involved is ready to not go back again to 'saved game' for one more go-over. The Kurzgesacht video The Egg pictures rebirth in general as this.

Esau scorned his birthright trading it for lentil stew, and lost his father's blessing. I presume he cried out in earnest prayer when he later came to understand the significance of what he had taken lightly. But it was too late. To have chosen differently, he would have had to have been different. He was unreconciled with his past.

Could Schwarz-Bart have meant the Haggadah, the text laying out passover observations? It concludes with the Chad Gadya song, which seems to show the coming of the messiah as responding to a chain of escalating sins or circumstances.

I think of the Hassidic doctrine also, that every generation has a Tzadik Ha-Dor, a candidate that could be the messiah - but it's down to the generation to be worthy. That requires a process of purification, and elevation, even in the face of trials, exactly in the face of trials, which test our qualities.

“In the footsteps of the Messiah, arrogance [chutzpah] will increase; prices will rise; grapes will be abundant but wine will be costly; the government will turn into heresy; and there will be no reproach. The meeting place [of scholars] will become a bordello; the Galilee will be destroyed; the highland will lie desolate; the border people will wander from city to city and none will show them compassion; the wisdom of authors will stink; sin‑fearing people will be detested; truth will be missing; young men will humiliate the elderly; the elderly will stand while the young sit; sons will revile their fathers; daughters will strike their mothers, brides will strike their mothers‑in‑law; and a man’s enemies will take over his house. The face of the generation is like the face of a dog! Sons have no shame in front of their fathers; and on whom can one depend? Only upon our father in heaven" -Sotah 9:15, of the Talmud

This is an example of interpretive literature about the return of the messiah saying bad times will precede it. I can't help but think, 'OK Boomer..'

It should be noted there are other traditions about circumstances of the arrival of the messiah, like the idea it will happen when this Creation has 'run out' of souls, or when two shabats are observed perfectly in a row by all the people of Israel.. I see it as a mistake to focus on neccessary evil, because if the qualities we need were cultivated the suffering would not be necessary, even in the face of tribulations (ie mindset). My views on evil are summarised here: Does philosophy have a dark side?

  • Since Buddhism is often said to be a philosophical subculture as much as, or even more than, it is said to be a religion, and since I am aware that you are very well-researched on these kinds of topics, I am tempted to accept this answer, though it is dismaying that, when it comes time to write the relevant essay, I will have only Jewish and Buddhist sources to cite in defense of my thesis. Not that I dislike either kind of source, but I dread that there will be analytic philosophers who look at my argument askance if its only precedent is "religious"... Jul 21, 2022 at 10:24
  • @KristianBerry: I suggest those are the two traditions with the most 'deep time', the longest continuity feeding into their origins, & following continuity of culture. Christian theology is notable for synthesising with Greek ideas about arguments by analogy with math. Buddhist philosophy very much explores different ways to picture identity, & cosmological options. I'd really relate this to things like Chalmers listing the options to account for consciousness, & their implications. See also philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/84498/…
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 22, 2022 at 21:34

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