W hile North Korea’s tyrant and President Trump are fighting it out, the world is in a panic over the threat of mass destruction. But this duo has in fact given us a great gift: fear, which our Sages say will herald the age of Mashiach

After another round of bluster from the presidential Twitter account, no one can know how provocations from the mad tyrant of North Korea will play out. Both leaders have become hostages of their own aggressive rhetoric — yet a nuclear military clash would result in maximal destruction — certainly not a “solution” to the looming crisis.

South Korea’s citizens have been hoarding food in panic. Japan is spreading out a network of Patriot launchers to intercept the missiles North Korea is threatening to send over its territory to its American target, the island of Guam. In Guam itself, American military forces are busy preparing defenses against a nuclear attack. And all over, people are buying up protective equipment against nuclear and biological warfare, yet military commentators talk about casualties in the millions if anything comes of this “I dare you” scenario. It’s no wonder the whole world is scared.

Concerns about quick escalation and loss of control are driving heads of state from many countries to urge President Trump to act with restraint and sagacity. No one is bothering to ask the same of the sadistic North Korean ruler, since he is clearly insane. But if Trump heeds their pleas and lets himself be the first to blink in this stare-down, then it will turn out, once again, that being crazy has its perks. The crazy one always has something to gain.

In the meantime, Word War III hasn’t broken out. But this duo of unrestrained leaders has in fact given the world a great gift: fear of nuclear war, dread of total devastation. And strange as it may sound, that is actually a positive contribution.

I well remember those days late in 1962 when the world felt similarly threatened with destruction, as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded. Following a Communist revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro had taken over as the country’s prime minister, and as an ally of Soviet Russia, the Castro regime brought the sullen hostility of the Cold War right to the doorstep of the US. The very existence of a Soviet-influenced power in the Western Hemisphere was considered unacceptable under the terms of agreements drawn up after World War II. The new Kennedy administration attempted to knock out the Cuban regime in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and things heated up further when the Soviets began installing ballistic missile facilities on Cuba’s friendly shores in what they claimed was a defensive measure. In October 1962, President Kennedy stood up to the challenge and issued a demand that the installations be removed, and that ships carrying further ballistic facilities, already en route from the USSR to Cuba, turn back or be bombed.

The whole world watched tensely to see who would win the showdown, fearing all the while that there would be only losers in a devastating atomic war between the two superpowers. Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev had sized up Kennedy as weak, and it didn’t appear that he was going to back down. Day by day, the Soviet ships drew closer to Cuba. I remember the sense of dread in the air, as inevitable destruction loomed. At the last moment, just before reaching the line Kennedy had drawn in the ocean, daring them to cross it, the Russians turned back. Kennedy won that war of nerves, but the nerves of all humanity were worn to a frazzle.

Today, two world leaders have created a situation that is closely similar, yet the sheer volume of atomic weaponry is enough to wipe out the entire human race. As Jews, however, we look beyond the threat that has reappeared and ask, what is HaKadosh Baruch Hu telling us through these frightening dramas?

Once again, a midrash I’ve quoted here before has direct bearing on our current situation:

“Rabbi Yitzchak said, ‘At the time of the revelation of the Mashiach, the kings of all nations challenge one another. The king of Persia challenges the king of Arabia… and the king of Persia arises again and lays waste to the whole world, and all the nations of the world are distressed and frightened, and fall on their faces, and they are seized by pains like birth pangs. Yisrael, too, is distressed and frightened, and says, “Where shall we go? Where shall we turn?” And Hashem says to them, “My children! Do not be afraid. All that I have done, I have done only for your sake. What are you afraid of? The time of your redemption has come!” ’ (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu 59).

This astounding midrash teaches us that before the Geulah, fear must hold sway over all humanity. Aside from the latest high-profile threat of war between the US and North Korea, the world is dotted with conflicts that could bring great destruction: Iran sponsoring terror organizations in Arab states; Turkey facing off against the Kurds; nuclear India and Pakistan in a conflict that could explode at any time; Russia and Ukraine; Venezuela; not to mention the Israeli-Arab conflict, and of course, our dear friend ISIS, already at our borders. But the midrash informs us of a clear link between this universal unrest and the coming of Mashiach and redemption for the whole world.

Yet how are the two connected? And what message is embedded in this link?

Rav Eliyahu Dessler ztz”l helps us to extract the underlying message. He writes:

“Through the destruction of the kingdom of Edom, the kingdom of Heaven arises and is revealed… When HaKadosh Baruch Hu brings the world to a point where the foundations of civilization collapse — peace of mind will be disturbed, individual life will be filled with worry, fear, and suffering, and the whole world will be under threat of ruin and destruction — then it will become clear to all that man’s arrogance and pride in his supposed progress and conquest of nature have led him only to perdition; then comes the emptiness, the spiritual void, of life dedicated to worldly gain… and then the light of Mashiach will be revealed, ‘and deliverers shall ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Eisav,’ and all shall see the downfall and destruction of the Kingdom of Edom. As our Sages taught: ‘Mashiach sits at the gate of Rome’ (Sanhedrin 98). As Maharal explains (Netzach Yisrael, ch. 28), this refers to the end of Edom’s period of domination. Only when men come to see the futility and emptiness of a life dedicated to This World, will they be enabled to rise to a spiritual outlook… and the light of Mashiach will be revealed.” (Michtav MeEliyahu vol 3, pp. 205)

LET FEAR TAKE OVER THE WORLD, and all of humanity will begin to see This World in correct proportion. And thus, as Rav Dessler explains, the downfall of Western civilization serves the Divine endgame in the coming of Mashiach and the Geulah.

Does this mean that a dreadful apocalypse is an inevitable prelude to the world’s redemption? Well, that depends on mankind — will he extract the message within the threat of destruction before it becomes reality?

Back when I was learning in Ponevezh, the rosh yeshivah, Rav Yosef Kahaneman ztz”l, told us that a group of Knesset members had just returned from an official visit to America. Their itinerary included a tour of the bunkers built under the Pentagon to shelter the top military command in case of nuclear war, accompanied by an explanation of what, exactly, the bunkers were meant to shelter the officers from. It was a stark lesson for the Israelis in the actual implications of atomic war and they came out of the bunkers profoundly shaken. I will paraphrase from memory what Rav Kahaneman had to say in regard to that event:

The prophet Malachi ends the books of Nevi’im with these words: “Behold, I send to you Eliyahu Hanavi before the great and awesome day of Hashem. And he will turn the heart of the fathers back through the children, and the heart of the children back through their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction.”

The Rosh Yeshivah explained as follows: When the world comes to the point where human beings in their folly are poised to bring utter destruction on themselves, Hashem will send Eliyahu Hanavi. For at that point, fear of the clear ability to wipe out the human race will induce them to heed the prophet’s message of Mashiach and tikkun olam.

And therefore, on the basis of the Rosh Yeshivah’s words, I express my gratitude to two players on the world stage: Thank you, Kim Jong-un, and thank you, Donald Trump! (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 674)