An unexpected conversation

Many years ago, when I was starting to become religious, I asked Micha Berger (who would later become a rabbi) how one made sense of the mitzvot -- why were we doing these particular things, how should we understand the purpose of individual mitzvot? He said something to the effect that understanding is over-rated and that if you do something enough, you may come to understand -- but it doesn't work so well the other way around.1

Yesterday I was the torah reader, meaning I also led the torah service, read the haftarah (in English), and gave a d'var torah (a commentary). I do that fairly often; that's all normal. (I am woefully behind on actually posting my divrei torah, in part because, more and more, I'm speaking from detailed outlines so there's still work to do to properly write them up.)

Yesterday's haftarah reading was from Isaiah 66, which has some evocative imagery in it about Israel's redemption and restoration. After the service a congregant, one who also started caring about religion later in life, came to me. That was beautiful, she said, but how are we supposed to relate to it when that can't possibly happen? I asked her if there was anything that God couldn't do. She looked unconvinced, and I -- I, who have real trouble with the idea of yearning for the moshiach -- said that I thought it was talking about messianic times and when we get there it'll be through God's action, not ours. Human nature being what it is we may never earn such a thing, but our job is to move in the right direction, in our small way to help bring it about, and that would have to be enough.

Blink. Where did that come from?

The oddest things can serve as prompts for conversations sometimes. I don't really spend much time thinking about messianic times; I figure it'll happen or it won't, but there's not much I can do about it anyway and as I said, I don't actively yearn for it (which is my own failing, I suppose). And yet, it's obviously not something I'm completely distant from either, because I don't think I was just spouting comforting nonsense either. How...odd. Usually when people talk to me after services on one of "my" days it's to talk about something I said in my d'var.

1 I'm trying to strike a balance between giving due credit and not mis-stating something I remember incompletely and don't have in writing. R' Berger, if you're out there and feel I'm misrepresenting you, please let me know so I can correct matters.

There's lots of discussion in the comments, including an inverse-dayeinu thought.