What would we ask the Mashiach if we would meet him? The natural question: When is his honor planning to come?
We’ve been waiting for so long…
The Talmud tells us that this is exactly what Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi asked the Mashiach when he met him one day. “Today!” the Mashiach gave him an unexpected answer. When that day had passed, Rabbi Yehoshua said to Elijah the Prophet, “The Mashiach lied to me.” Elijah the Prophet explained: “The Mashiach was referring to the verse, “Today, if you listen to His (God’s) voice.”
The Ba’al Shem Tov had a similar experience, a bit over 270 years ago. In a letter to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon of Kitov, the Ba’al Shem Tov writes about a soul-ascent that he experienced – a vision of the upper worlds. His soul reached the chamber of the Mashiach and he also asked him, “When is the master coming?” This time, the Mashiach’s answer was slightly different: “When your wellsprings spread forth.”
What exactly did the Mashiach mean when he said “today?” First, he wants us to understand and believe that it really could happen today, if we will only listen to God. It all depends on us. If we wake up and return to God – Mashiach will actually come!
Nonetheless, why did the Mashiach speak in mysterious terms and say “today” – as if there were no strings attached? He wants to wake us up. Imagine if we all heard a voice emanating from Heaven: “Today Mashiach is coming!” The confidence that it is truly happening would wake us up – and shake us up. So one thing that can bring Mashiach is a miracle – a revelation from Above that would arouse and electrify us, causing us to wake up from below. This, however, could be lost if we don’t recognize the great but perhaps fleeting opportunity.
The Correct Way
What did Mashiach mean the second time? The Ba’al Shem Tov already knew about his “today” answer, but he insisted on asking again. This time, the Mashiach’s answer was more complex. Instead of saying “today,” he gives the Ba’al Shem Tov direction: You are paving the way for me. This is beautifully alluded to numerically: The numerical value of Shem Tov is one less than Shem-Chai (the letters of Mashiach). The Ba’al Shem Tov is the final stage before the Mashiach.
We certainly have to continue to believe that Mashiach can come “today.” It truly can be today. But now we know how to pave the way for Mashiach. There is work to do to prepare ourselves to absorb his message and trigger the necessary revolution. This is the way that the Ba’al Shem Tov began to reveal: the path of love for our fellow, of joy in the service of God, of cleaving to God and devotion to Him and of faith that we can serve God with everything that He sets before us.
This is the path that the Alter Rebbe, the founder of the Chabad Chasidut, continued and developed. He transformed the light of Chasidut into Torah that can be studied, understood, and integrated into our intellect. In this manner, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s wellsprings continue to flow forth. It is this revelation of the inner dimension of the Torah that brings the Mashiach, as was written over two thousand years ago in the Zohar.
 Psalms 95:7.