What is the Jewish Concept of Messiah? Belief in the eventual coming of the Moshiach is a basic and fundamental teaching of traditional Judaism. It is one of the Rambam's famous 13 Principles of Faith, and something all Jews pray for three times a day.
Our Evolving Universe
THE WORLD IS CHANGING FAST. Science and technology are evolving at mind boggling speed. In the world of ideas, the age of reason is giving way to new age spirituality, and the outlook of science is shifting from hard-nosed materialism to higher notions of reality that include the existence of G-d and the significance of man.
In the past, earth as a global village was an eccentric's dream. Now it's an undisputed fact, as video, telecommunications and the Internet intimately connect people and communities across the world.
Three decades ago, the delicate balance between two hostile superpowers had a generation concerned about the prospect of nuclear Armageddon. Now, fears of a of a world war between superpowers have been diminished along with the collapse of the most extreme aspects of Communism, nuclear disarmament in many parts of the world, and the channeling of military budgets into peacetime uses. Democratic policies have begun to take hold in many dictatorships and monarchies, while economic sanctions in a global marketplace ccan keep the peace better than military hardball.
Of course, progress is not seen everywhere. Although human rights are flourishing in a great number of countries, some aspects of societies are failing. People are increasingly alienated from their neighbors, their families, and even themselves. events can seem out of control, even senseless, with random acts of violence and terrorism permeating society to an unprecedented degree.
The world has never changed so significantly with such speed, but where is it headed? And how do we fit in? Or do we?
Most cultures have a view to the future, a concept of the destiny of humanity and the world. What's fascinating is the ancient Jewish vision is unfolding right now.
For the Jew who studies the teachings of the written and oral Torah, which together comprise the tradition from Sinai, the vision of the far future has always been Moshiach and Geulah. This is the Messianic Redemption of the Jewish people and the nations of the world in an everlasting era of material and spiritual well being, through a singular redeemer.
Now that the predictions of this future vision have started to come into focus, many are having trouble reconciling this faith with reality. The modern, rational and "realistic" mind starts to question: Are we to take this utopian projection seriously? even if true, are we to believe that it's happening now?
But what if it really is happening now? For some this is a pretty big "if." Nonetheless even a skeptic would admit some possibility that optimism is the realistic outlook for today and tomorrow. After all, good and evil are two sides of one moral coin. If one man could start a world war to the detriment of mankind, might one man also be able to redeem mankind through championing world peace?
New outlooks have arisen before in human history and they typically meet with resistance, especially at first. Before we consider the contours of things to come, let's remember the evolution of attitudes regarding the shape of the world we are standing on now.
For centuries people were certain that the world was flat. What else could a sane person believe? When you look at the ground around you ... behold! It is flat. even the view from the top of a mountain confirmed a flat earth in all directions. Why should anyone think otherwise?
Suddenly a new understanding about our planet arose. One person proposed that the earth is round like a ball. The reactions were predictably emotional: "Insane!" "Stupid! "Foolish!"
Gradually, however, people began to examine this new idea using their intellect instead of their emotions or ingrained personal beliefs. As the evidence steadily increased, the new idea became accepted as knowledge by most. There were still some people who remained with their certainty that the earth is flat. No amount of evidence could persuade them to let go of their mistaken belief.
There are other examples of dogmatic resistance to new facts or ideas: Based on Newtonian physics, 18th century scientists unanimously discounted the possibility of meteorites falling from the sky. But what happened when the French countryside got pummeled by hundreds of large meteorites? Scientists around the world rejected the evidence for months and even years. Of course now we know it is true.
Similarly, for months following the Wright Brothers' successful airplane flights witnessed by hundreds of locals, there were no media reports at all and Scientific American magazine ran editorials ridiculing the idea of heavier-than-air flying machines. even more recently, there are still people who deny that man has ever landed on the moon.
There is a popular saying, "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know." In general, a thirst for knowledge with a dose of humility is enough to prepare a person for new information and different views on life.
Who among us can claim complete knowledge about such fundamental issues as the nature of G-d and man's purpose on this planet? Who might propose with certainty where the ultimate destiny of individuals and society may lie, who will take us there, and what to do while we wait?
Yet all this and more are addressed in the universal teachings of Judaism regarding Moshiach and Redemption, and will be discussed below and in subsequent articles.
Ancient Jewish prophets and sages have foreseen our current era. Their predictions, as recorded in the Jewish Bible and the rabbinic writings of the Tradition from Sinai, have been unfolding over the most recent times. Now that the stage is set, based on these sources, it is realistic to expect that Moshiach will soon enter the global arena.
The Alter Rebbe, the first leader of the Chabad Lubavitch Chassidic dynasty, once explained to a group of his students, "The Moshiach you're waiting for will never come; and the Moshiach that's coming, you don't want."
Once we know what we are looking for we can be in tune with Moshiach's call, even before the Redemption is fully realized.
Moshiach comes for the atheist, and for the believer. He comes for the agnostic, the religious, and for all religions. Within the religions, he will address the fervent and the lax alike. All will experience the redemption in their level and in their way. It will be a common redemption but with different shades of meaning for each person.
What does it means for an atheist to be redeemed by G-d? Atheism has a kernel of religious truth. Very often the atheist's problem is that a Biblical G-d seems to have human dimensions and frailties, like anger, jealousy, and regret. Such qualities seem quite inconsistent with a transcendent, omnipotent and omniscient entity for which the whole universe is smaller than a tiny speck. A person with such beliefs is ready for the infinite aspect of G-d, and rejects any trivialization of Divinity.
As one sage responded to an atheist, "The G-d that you don't believe in, I don't believe in either."
Yet this sage did believe, both in G-d and in the promised redeemer. In fact the two are inextricably linked. Moses Maimonides1 codified 13 Principles of Faith that form the core and essence of Jewish belief. Without any of these, there is no Judaism. These principles include G-d's existence, infinity, non-corporeality, awareness, and concern for our actions. They include the permanence of G-d's will as expressed in the Torah, and the justice of his rewards and punishments. And it includes believing Moshiach will come and that the dead will rise.
The following is a brief outline of what Judaism teaches regarding Moshiach and redemption: As the Messianic Redemption unfolds, the tradition from Sinai predicts peace, prosperity, health, and harmony within the individual, society, and the environment.
The Jews will all be gathered to Israel, and their Holy Temple rebuilt in Jerusalem. The Torah will be observed in full. The dead of previous generations are to live again, souls in bodies, eternally.
G-dliness will be revealed within this physical world and all humanity will pursue and attain the knowledge of their creator with great joy and delight.
Moshiach will not come to disrupt man's life or to create world upheaval. everything that is good about life will remain and become enhanced as the era of the Redemption progresses. On the other hand the negativity, fear, hatred, pettiness, greed, violence and so on that is also part of our daily context will diminish and in fact disappear.
The coming of Moshiach is something to look forward to for everyone, except of course those people who are so committed to negativity that when it disappears there will be nothing left of their lives to reap in a world of good.
How realistic is this whole scenario? Who says that this will all come to pass? What credibility do these sources have? Hasn't science dispelled all these myths? And if these events do happen, why is the agent a man, rather than G-d alone? And why point the finger today and identify Moshiach? Is it not enough that the world improves? The following sections of this website will attempt to do justice to these and other questions.
FOOTNOTES1. Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time, was a generational leader and court physician to Sultans in the 13th Century. He is best known today for his authoritative magnum opus, Mishnah Torah which was the first codification of Jewish Law.
WHAT IS THIS WORLD COMING TO? The darkest hours have passed and dawn is breaking, not only for the Jewish people but for all of humanity. This is not just a matter of faith; the brightening of the human horizon is a matter of public record. Consider the following omens heralding the imminent redemption:
Does Moshiach's coming mean no more war, hunger, and oppression? In the past decade the world has cut military spending by over a trillion dollars; food production and consumption are significantly higher; over 90% of countries elect their own governments, and over half the world lives in free market economies.
Does redemption mean healthier and safer lives? In the past 30 years, air pollution is down a third. In the past 20 years, deaths from heart disease are down 50% and US traffic accidents are down 35%. In the past 10 years, medical advances are up 100% and American recycling is up 1000%. Over the past 12 years, the crime rate in New York City is down 60%.1
However, aside from these positive trends there are different kinds of signs.
By way of analogy, we all know that there is a Jack in a Jack-in-the-box. That's why we buy it and call our child over to turn the crank. That is also why we listen to the music so carefully, and sensitize ourselves to the building tension as the crank winds the spring for the big moment. We even tell our children to watch and anticipate what is going to happen.
In this analogy, we are the children and G-d is our parent. The Jack is Moshiach and the box is the world at large. G-d is playing the music and tightening the spring over the last thousands of years. At the same time G-d communicates through his prophets how we are to behave in order to hasten the coming of Moshiach and redemption.
Of course the children are impatient; it seems like forever. Have you ever traveled with children and heard, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" Perhaps you have told them to wait until a certain time. But, when their impatience strikes again you might have then asked them to look for signs: a hill, a bridge, a road sign, a building.
That is the situation we are in. We are cruising toward the redemption on spaceship earth. The Creator has given us a time frame, and has given us landmarks to watch for while we travel the road to redemption. G-d tells us these signs through prophecy. The written and oral Torah are full of signs, prophecies about social, political and even environmental changes in the era immediately prior to the redemption.
Prophecy is alive today too. The Chabad/Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, has told us as a prophet that Moshiach is here and that the redemption is soon to fully take place. All we need to do is to open our eyes and see the changes in the world that are already occurring; to realize how these changes are a beginning fulfillment of all those ancient prophecies of redemption from the written and oral Torah.
Returning to the Jack-in-the-box analogy, we all feel the tension in the world today. But we also need to listen to the music, to notice the positive things that are happening in the world, things that have never happened until now. The world is changing rapidly. Both the tension and the music have been foreseen. Wait around and watch what is going to happen. But in the meantime, get ready, because this Jack is not going back in the box. He's out for good.
Let us look at some of these prophetic signs and some of the recent changes in the world to see if things add up to redemption conceptually.
Feel the Tension
With the advent of the footsteps of Moshiach, insolence will increase and prices will soar; the vine will yield its fruit, yet wine will be dear; the government will turn to heresy and no one will rebuke them; the meeting place of scholars will be used for immorality; Galilee will be destroyed, Gavlan will be desolate, and those who dwell on the borders will wander about begging from town to town without being pitied; the wisdom of the scholars will degenerate, those who fear sin will be despised, and the truth will be lacking; youths will put old men to shame, elders will rise in deference to the young, a son will revile his father, a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man's enemies will be the members of his household; the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog; a son will not feel ashamed before his father. So upon whom can we rely? Only upon our father in heaven.
Mishnah Sotah, Ch. 9 Par. 15
The Sages of the Talmud looked forward to the coming of the Moshiach with trepidation. Some have even prayed not to witness his coming because of the sorry state of the world at the time. We have lived through the worst birth pangs of the Days of Moshiach and are now gearing up for the good times. Meanwhile, at times it is hard to retain a spirit of optimism because life's negatives still hurt.
Who can count the terrible and insoluble ills that humanity faces today? Hundreds of millions are starving right now. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods and hurricanes are battering the planet at a quickening pace. The global environment is speedily deteriorating as it becomes more and more evident that no one can stop the degradation of our oceans, the buildup of greenhouse gases, or the depletion of atmospheric ozone. Torah scholars have associated these changes with the prophesied "footsteps of Moshiach." Thank G-d for that because only a Divine intervention can remedy these immense problems.
even (and especially) in the richest of societies there is an insidious erosion of family and community values, total alienation and a consequent plague of random acts of violence including children murdering their parents, teachers, and each other.
For oppressed people there are the additional problems, the ravages of war and terrorism. The entire populace of Israel is at risk as their suicidal government continues to release convicted terrorists and hand over land to a people whose national covenant calls for the destruction of Israel.
There is no solution to these problems and even if there was, who has the power to heal such pervasive calamities? Clearly any remedy must come from Above. As it surely will, just like the Biblical prophets attest.
But it is not enough to know that Moshiach is coming ... He must actually come NOW! The world is in terrible need. How much death and suffering must humanity endure before the glorious Divine promises are fulfilled?
The biggest problem facing us is not calamity. It is complacency. Our Sages have told us that it is our very impatience with the way things are that will catalyze their remedy. In Judaism, the transition between the evils of today's world to the wonderful world of tomorrow is termed going from exile to redemption. There are two aspects of this. One is that the world must change. The other is that we must change, and the first change we have to implement is a change in perspective, in how we see the world.
We must train ourselves to see human misery as an anomaly, a terrible yet transient, abnormal state of affairs that can and must give way to a normal life of goodness, kindness, health, prosperity and G-dliness revealed in the world. So what if thousands of years of experience have ingrained in us an exile mentality? The truth is that redemption is eternal, while exile is temporary. If one compares the infinite duration of redemption to the thousands of years of suffering, it is clear that the normal state of affairs is the way it will be in the true and complete redemption through Moshiach.
This is the basis of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's call to storm the gates of heaven and clamor for Moshiach to come already. From the Rebbe's perspective, through his spiritual perceptivity and prophetic capacity, the future redemption is already a reality. The Rebbe has compared our current situation to having a locked box before us with a treasure inside. To unlock the redemption, we have been given a key, which is to cry out, "Ad Mosai?" How long must we wait? We want Moshiach now! We don't want to wait!
If we focus on the need to eradicate the bad in ourselves and in the world, we will be motivated to act quickly. There is even greater motivation with the awareness that the redemption is literally at hand, a hairsbreadth away, ready to be catalyzed by any one good act.
This leads us to the second and more positive kind of sign that there is in the world today. These are the indications that the ice of exile has broken and that things are warming up. Day is dawning. Perceiving the signs of redemption is a way to live with the times. Moreover it is redemption in and of itself, for it liberates the mind from its own exile and redeems the spirit.
In this way we come to celebrate the coming redemption even before it is fully revealed. It may seem premature to the rational mind to celebrate the redemption while there is still so much suffering. It may also seem inconsistent with crying out to G-d for relief. Still, our sages have taught us that the joyful anticipation of redemption is merit enough to make the redemption happen2 because it demonstrates true and unbounded faith in the imminent fulfillment of the promises of G-d.
Nonetheless, is it possible for a person to scream and cry and at the same time to sing and dance? In general, no, although our Sages discuss a state of being where joy is lodged in one side of the heart while tears are lodged in the other.3 This state of being is rarely achievable for the average person, so practically speaking there is time enough for both states of mind, sometimes one and sometimes the other.
Let us return to some of the reasons to celebrate.
When one looks through the eyes of Torah at the big and little changes that are happening around us, it is clear that as bad as things may look, all the pieces are about to fall into place in a most beautiful, harmonious4 and timeless way. In fact, many of those pieces have fallen into place already.
To carry the music analogy a little further, the composer has written the score long ago and has published it for whoever can read music. Now the world is finally playing the opening notes of the symphony of redemption. Listen carefully.
The Tradition from Sinai presents a future featuring elevated consciousness and geopolitical cooperation. For over 2000 years these predictions were not even remotely imaginable, but now we are finally seeing how feasible such things are.
Thousands of years ago, as recorded in the holy book of Zohar, the Sages foretold of an era starting in the year 5600, (corresponding to 1840 Ce) where spiritual and worldly knowledge will flood human consciousness prior to the ultimate redemption. This closely matches the timing of the discoveries which form the basis of modern science. This is true in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. This period also marked the publishing of the seminal works of Chassidism, the spiritual discipline focused on the knowledge of G-d, the purpose of man, and the ultimate redemption.
Thousands of years ago, when plagues decimated populations, average life expectancy was short, and death was final, the Sages foretold an era of health, longevity, and eventually eternal life. Nowadays medical miracles abound, the average lifespan is lengthening, and revival of the dead has been accomplished in the operating room as well as in the laboratory.
Thousands of years ago, the Sages foretold of an era when people will have lots of leisure time to think about G-d in the world.5 During the time of the sages, survival was a challenge and people worked much harder. Food, clothing and shelter took a lot more time and effort than today.
Thousands of years ago, when the world spoke countless languages, and worshipped countless gods, the Sages spoke of a time when mankind would share a common language and an interest in one G-d.6 We see the feasibility of a common language coming about when we consider the pervasiveness of english worldwide. Regarding common interest, who among us doesn't have an opinion on the existence and relevance of G-d?
Thousands of years ago, when the world was thought of as flat, without maps or the Internet, the Sages spoke of a time when all the people in the whole, round7 world will share Divine information together.8 Well guess what? The world is round, everybody's logged on, and sharing information. It's not yet divine, but it's a start. Moshiach won't have to search for a way for the whole world to quickly tune in to his message.
And then there are geopolitical signs.
In the 1950's and 1960's, American citizens were building nuclear fallout shelters. Nuclear war was a very real possibility between America and the Soviet Union, almost occurring with the Cuban missile crisis. Contingency plans for rebuilding America, saving the president in the event of nuclear war, were thoroughly developed.
But in 1990-1991, the repressive Communist regimes of the Soviet bloc fell in a series of bloodless revolutions. They have been followed by more humane governments, which allow their citizens physical and spiritual freedoms undreamed of for over 70 years. America assisted Russia, its former mortal enemy, in its transition to redirect itself within the world community in a manner more favorable to everyone. Fallout shelters are a thing of the past, not the present.
Look at South Africa. Former slaves are allowed the rights of full citizenship. Human rights, human dignity are a global moral issue, very much alive in the realm of world politics.
Look at Somalia. U.S. troops brought food to a population in crisis. Instead of launching missiles and dropping bombs, superpowers are launching websites and their aircraft are dropping humanitarian aid packages.
Regional conflicts get almost immediate superpower attention to extinguish the possibility of war spreading. This contrasts with previous decades when regional conflicts were exploited for national or special interests.
The U.S. military has established a new policy regarding technological advances in weaponry. There must be research and application of a "peaceful use" factor. Laser weapons bring about laser eye surgery. Meanwhile Russian "swords to plowshares" progress is even more dramatic. They have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in a multi-national program for converting all Russian war machinery and technology to peacetime uses.
What about the prophecy of the spiritual return of the Jews to the traditional Torah lifestyle? This too is taking place. Fifty years ago, Jewish observance was relatively rare. Today wherever there are Jews, there is a roots revival. Among the indicators are sustained, accelerating growth in the number and quality of Jewish educational institutions, kosher food sales, synagogues, and outreach organizations.
The signs are all pointing in the same direction. The goal of history is rapidly approaching. Moshiach and redemption are around the corner.
Now that we have had a look at the evolution of the redemption, let's take a look at the evolution of Moshiach himself.
- 1. Templeton, John M. 1997. Is Progress Speeding UP? Templeton Foundation Press.
- 2. Shnay Luchos HaBris, Parshas Beshalach
- 3. Likutei Amarim Tanya by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, english edition. 1984. Kehos Publication Society. NY. p.155 and pp.379-381; Zohar II 255a; III
- 4. Imagine the second to the last chord in a classical symphony. It's unresolved, yet it's all set up. You haven't heard the resolution but you can imagine it so clearly that it heightens your sense of anticipation.
- 5. Isaiah 49:23; 60:10-12; 61:5; eliyabu Rabbab Ch.4
- 6. Maimonides, Laws of Kings 11:4; Zephaniah 3:9; Isaiah 2:2-3; Michah 4:1-2; 18 Invei eshkolos
- 7. Invei eshkolos
- 8. Isaiah 40:5
Moshiach, Angel or Man?
MOSHIACH MEANS MESSIAH. Or does it? The english word Messiah has a history and an evolution. Its source is the Hebrew word 'Moshiach', which is discussed throughout the Hebrew Bible and the oral Torah. Therefore in order to understand precisely what and who the ultimate Redeemer may be one must take a serious look at traditional Jewish sources on Moshiach.
With the advent of other monotheistic religions, many texts and concepts were borrowed from Judaism, and altered in the process. Among the ideas taken has been the very basic faith in a spiritually enlightened man, chosen by G-d, to lead humanity into an era of Heaven on earth.
Let us now present Moshiach from the perspective of Judaism, as expressed in the written and oral Torah, that is, the Tradition from Sinai.
Jurisdiction - A Parenthetical Fable about Authenticity
A subculture within the U.S. has decided that it knows more about the American political process than the government. Their representatives send a delegation to Washington. They inform the media, Congress, and the President that their leader is the true and only president of the United States of America.
When asked if their leader is a U.S. citizen who had announced his presidential candidacy, won some primary elections, been chosen by an American political party as their candidate, voted for in a free election, won the necessary popular and/or electoral college votes, been officially announced as the presidential race winner, and sworn into office by the chief justice of the US Supreme court, their delegation responds, "Those details don't matter. Our leader is the true American president."
They are then politely informed that the determination of the U.S. president is a constitutional and political matter under the sole jurisdiction of American law. even if all of mankind were to proclaim their leader to be the true American president, such proclamation would be irrelevant. American presidency is exclusively an American legal matter.
Now ... imagine even further that this group gathers a huge army and defeats the United States of America. Having conquered, they again proclaim that their leader always was, and especially now is, the true U.S. president.
The rejection of this proclamation by surviving U.S. citizens would be immediate and most likely unanimous, probably along the lines of the following.
"You can call our defeated country whatever you choose, but under no circumstances tell us that your leader is our new and legally elected U.S. President. He is being imposed on us against our free will. We know the rules of American electoral law. Our forefathers fought and died to preserve them. You're supposed president has not met those criteria! He is not our president!"
Frustrated with not achieving popular American acceptance of the "presidency" of their leader, the victors next employ public hangings, burnings at the stake, and various tortures and indignities in order to "persuade" U.S. citizens into publicly accepting their proclaimed "truth." Some, if not many, Americans would succumb to the torture. Some quite possibly would even publicly agree with their victors under such duress. However, a remnant of loyal Americans would certainly preserve the historical truth of how a U.S. president is chosen under American law, even to the point of giving up their lives for the matter.
Regardless of any amount or degree of duress, the fact remains that determining who America's true president is, always was and will forever be exclusively under American jurisdiction for as long as a remnant of American heritage survives.
The purpose of presenting this presidential fable is to share the following insight which you already intuitively know: It is possible with force to intimidate people from expressing truth. Truth can also be silenced, compromised and twisted. But ultimately truth will never be eradicated.
Now let's proceed from the parable to the related reality.
Who has rightful jurisdiction over the original meaning of this Hebrew word "Moshiach"? The word Moshiach, the idea it conveys, the criteria for using it and its explanation, all originated within Judaism, specifically from the language of the Torah. Therefore, the Torah tradition has rightful first claim to the exclusive jurisdiction of its own word and what it conveys.
According to Judaism, in every generation, there is one refined individual who has the potential to be Moshiach1, the redeemer of the Jewish people and all mankind. This potenÂtial Moshiach is the leader of the generation.2 When the time is ripe, there is a necessary process of rabbinic and public acceptance of this leader3. Following this, the potential redeemer becomes the actual redeemer, the Moshiach, who then completes the process of universal redemption, ushering in an eternal world of good.
Obviously, not just anyone is eligible to be Moshiach. Any candidate for the job must possess a number of qualÂifications.
A Human Being. Moshiach cannot be an angel, a disembodied soul, or a spiritual force. Moshiach must be a person, born of a physical father and mother.4 In fact anyone who claims that Moshiach is not a person denies the entire Torah.5 A human Moshiach is necessary since the whole purpose of creation is to synthesize the spiritual and the physical domains.6
A Jew. Moshiach has to be Jewish. The oral and written Torah make it clear that any king of the Jews must himself be a Jew9. But what is a Jew? According to Torah law, a Jew is anyone who is born of a Jewish mother or who has converted according to Jewish Law, or Halachah.10
The House of David. Moshiach must be a patrilineal11 descendant of the tribe of Judah. Moreover, within this lineage, he must also be a patrilineal descendent of King David, through his son, Solomon.12
A Scholar. Moshiach must have unsurpassed expertise in all areas of the written and oral Torah. Minimally this would mean total instant recall of the entire written and oral Torah, i.e., the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, the entire Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, all the earlier and later commentaries, legal codes, and case law, the classic and derivative works of Kabbalah, as well as the major philoÂsophical, ethical, and chassidic works. This comes to around 1000 large volumes of information (or around 10 gigabytes).
Beyond this knowledge, Maimonides writes13 that the wisdom of Moshiach will actually surpass that of King Solomon, his ancesÂtor, whose exceptional genius is famous even today.
A Tzadik. Moshiach must be A tzadik, a person who consisÂtently fulfils the 613 commandments of the Torah14, never doing evil in action, in speech, or even in thought15. There are of course few such people at any given time in the world, but there are always some16. The word tzadik is usually translated as a righteous individual, but in english righteousness often carries a connotation of self-importance. In the Hebrew original, the opposite is the case. Although the tzadik has excellent qualities and admirable achievements, he must be exceptionally and truly humble. Typically the tzadik is also a miracle worker17 whose blessings and prayers are famous for healing, wealth, and healthy relationships.
A Leader. A Jewish generational leader (Nasi) is often termed the shepherd of his flock. Indeed Jacob, Moses, and David all trained as shepherds before assuming communal responsibilities. One of Moses' prime qualifications for leadership was that when a sheep would stray from the flock, Moses would personally go out to the lost sheep and carry it back to the flock. A generational leader must view communal and individual needs as equally important, seeking to improve both the material and spiritual well being of the generation. The Jewish generational leader is never a politician. If the required direction is unpopular, he will still advance his program until it gains acceptance.
At a deeper level, the generational leader has an all-encompassing soul that enlivens and perceives the souls of all the Jews of that generation. "The bond between the Nasi and his contemporaries is not a bond between two entities. Rather together they actually comprise one body: all his contemporaries are the individual organs that derive their nurture from the Nasi, which is their heart."18
A Prophet. Moshiach will have the power of prophecy even before the redemption unfolds.19 A prophet is one who receives messages from the Creator, and conveys them as instructed. A prophet must be prepared to validate his message by accurately predicting unforeseeable future events in detail. Once someone is established as a true prophet, it is forbidden by Torah law to doubt him.20
The concept of royalty intrigues people today as it has for thousands of years. The late Princess Diana serves as a prime example. But to imagine that a modern country or even the whole world may be under the complete control of one person is more than a little frightening. Many a modern person may ask, "Why should we want a dictatorial monarchy and regard that as utopia? Is this not a step backwards from democracy?"21
One must first realize that Judaism's notion of a monarch is totally different from its secular counterpart. Moshiach is not an authoritarian despot who cares only for his own glory, or the fulfillment of his whims and desires.
A king in Jewish law, even more than anyone else, must conform to both the written and oral Torah. A king must carry a Torah scroll with him at all times to remind him constantly that he is answerable to the One Above. A king has more restrictions than a commoner does, in terms of his possessions.22> In addition, a king must be the most humble person in his kingdom. He is the only one required to remain in a bowing posture during all of his silent prayers.23 True, there have been Jewish kings who behaved differently but that was in spite of the Torah not because of it. Moshiach will exemplify what a monarch is supposed to be.
Still, as good as Moshiach may be, who would want to relinquish their hard-earned democratic freedoms and submit to an absolute authority that can dictate what we should and should not do? This seems completely foreign to the modern psyche. On the other hand, we all realize that our democratic societies are far from perfect. We just haven't come up with a better system.
What characteristics would the ideal social order have? All needs met; no punishments because there would be no desire to break laws; everything available; no corruption. We would love to live in such a system, even if there would be one catch that occasionally the leader will order the people to do something which they know, ahead of time, is in their best interests although they might not comprehend that at the time.
In fact, such a system exists even now within certain segments of society. Let's cite one example - parenting at its best. When a parent shows concern, warmth, love and devotion to his children, even when he tells the child to do something that the child does not want to do, the child will nevertheless comply. The child knows that the parent is telling him to do or not do a particular thing, not for the parent's self-interest, but out of love and concern for the child.
G-dliness revealed. It only makes sense that the person who brings about the revelation of G-d in the world should himself be a revelation of G-d in the world. This is a subtle concept. Moshiach is a person and G-d is not. Yet G-d has made the world in such a way that some people serve to channel G-dliness into the world. One such person is Moshiach.
The Talmud'24 identifies the spirit of G-d as being the soul of Moshiach. This can be found in the Talmud's commentary on the passage in Genesis, "The spirit of G-d hovered over the face of the water25 ... "
Divine qualities are not unique to Moshiach but are similarly found in all Jewish generational leaders, starting with Moses.26 Indeed regarding Moses Scripture characterizes him as "man-G-d"<27 and "I have made you G-d to Pharaoh"28. In a similar vein, the Zohar states, "What is the face of the master, G-d? That is R' Shimon bar Yochai."29 This equivalence is further emphasized in Chassidic writings,30 where Moshe and other generational leaders are exalted with such phrases that are normally reserved for the Creator. There is even an old adage of the Chassidim of Slonim that whatever a plain person imagines to be the greatness of G-d does not measure up to a Rebbe.
It is important to realize that all these terms are not deification of these leaders, G-d forbid! Judaism acknowledges one G-d only and He is not a human being. G-d is neither physical nor spiritual but in essence transcends both. G-d in essence has no form whatsoever.31 It is only that these refined individuals serve as connecting mediators between man and G-d, as Moses states, "I am standing between you and G-d".32
These intermediaries are not intermediaries that divide, but intermediaries that connect man to G-d directly.33 Asking their help is asking G-d's help and receiving their blessings is receiving G-d's blessings. Thus when Jews recite the declaration of G-d's Unity twice a day, they mention Moses giving rain and providing grass for cattle.34 It sounds strange, especially since Judaism is the strictest form of monotheism, but what is really happening is that the generational leader is entirely nullified and transparent to G-d, and the people in turn derive their life and nurture from the generational leader.35
Kosher certified. Moshiach needs to be kosher. This does not mean that he eats only kosher food, although that is true. The word kosher is used in many categories to denote fit or valid according to Jewish Law. To determine if someone is eligible to be Moshiach, competent Jewish legal authorities are obliged to decide the matter according to Torah Law. If the candidate passes Rabbinic scrutiny, then he's the man. Or at least, we may assume so with confidence, pending a second level of scrutiny to decide the matter conclusively and beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Maimonides' Laws of Kings is the only existing ruling in Jewish law on the identity of Moshiach and the criteria he must fulfill. The following is Maimonides' description of the Jewish leader who qualifies to be the King Moshiach:
"If a king will arise from the House of David who is learned in Torah and occupied in the observance of commandments as prescribed by the written and oral law as was David, his ancestor, and he will compel all of Israel to walk in the way of the Torah and reinforce the breaches in its observance and he will fight the wars of G-d, we may then presume him to be the Moshiach. If he does this and is successful and is victorious over the nations around him, and builds the Temple in his place and gathers the dispersed, then he is definitely Moshiach. And he will perfect the world to serve G-d with one purpose ... "36
Accepted by the People. Moshiach does not appear in a sociological vacuum. Once Moshiach clears the step of Rabbinic identification, it is then up to the people to accept Moshiach as their king so that the Redemption can proceed. According to Torah, "There is no king without a people".37 Throughout Jewish history, the declaration "Yechi HaMelech" ("Long live the King") has been the way the public has shown its acceptance of the king. Indeed this proclamation is equivalent to coronation.38
When the acceptance level is sufficient, Moshiach can set out to finish making the world good. King David was king in Hebron for seven years before he became King in Jerusalem over the entire Jewish nation. We hope and pray that in our case we experience no further delay!
- 1. Responsa of the Chasam Safer, Vol. 6
- 2. Sanhedrin 98b
- 3. Long Live the King, and Long Live the King Moshiach are two widely accepted and well-referenced 300-page books (in Hebrew, Yechi HaMelech and Yechi HaMelech-HaMoshiach) that focus on this theme. Both by D.B. Volpe, 1992.
- 4. Numbers 24:17-18; Zechariah 9:7; Isaiah 11:1; Sanhedrin 98b-99a Rashi;
- 5. Responsa of the Chasam Safer, Yoreh Deah 356
- 6. Tanchuma on Numbers 7:1; Tanya Ch.36
- 7. Laws of Kings 1:5. This is not to say that women are less important than men. On the contrary, women are considered by Judaism to be generally on a higher plane of spirituality than men. Moshiach being a man and not a woman is no more discriminatory than his being from the tribe of Yehudah and not a Cohen, or member of the Jewish priestly clan. Priests are very holy people. Women are very holy people. Children are very holy people. But none of them can serve in the capacity of Moshiach. If we trust Moses for the text of the Five Books of Moses and various lifestyle issues, we can trust him on this, too.
- Regarding the greater spirituality of women generally, the Sages have said that both the Exodus and the future redemption occur in the merit of the righteous women. The miracles of Chanukah and Purim took place through women, and the first of each Hebrew month is a minor holiday for women in recognition of the superior faith they have demonstrated in G-d and in Moses.
- 8. e.g., Isaiah 11; Laws of Kings 1:5, 11:1-4
- 9. Laws of Kings 1:4
- 10. The corollary is that anyone born of a non-Jewish mother and who has not had a halachic conversion is a non-Jew. What about a "half-Jew"? Judaism does not recognize fractional identity. Being half-Jewish is like being half pregnant. You either are or you're not. Another point of Jewish law in this regard is that once a Jew always a Jew. This is the case regardless of the level of observance, etc.
- 11. patrilineal means father-to-son
- 12. Laws of Kings, Ch.1:7 and Ch.11. Thus Moshiach must be born of a biologically human father. 13. Maimonides Laws of Return, 9:2
- 14. This requirement renders ineligible anyone who claims that any of the 613 commandments are no longer binding.
- 15. Tanya, Ch.s 10-14
- 16. Sanhedrin 97b
- 17. Although there have always been some individuals of this caliber among the Jewish people, in the last 300 years there has been a great resurgence of this type of person, especially among the Chassidic Rebbes of Europe.
- 18. Ltkutei Sichos 4, p.1050ff, and the references indicated there. See also Rashi on Numbers 21:21: "Moshe is Israel and Israel are Moshe which teaches you that the Nast (singular leader) of the generation is like the entire generation for the Nasi is everything." See also Laws of Kings 3:6: "The heart of the king is the heart of the entire community of Israel."
- 19. Maimonides Igeres Tatman Ch.3; Sefer Hasichos 5751-1991 vol.2, p.789
- 20. Mairnonides' Torah Foundations 10:5, Sefer HaSichos 5751-1991, vol.2, p.792
- 21. This sub-section is an adaptation of H. Greenberg's Teaching about Moshiach, 1994, pub. By N'sbet U'bnos Cbabad, NY, pp 92-95
- 22. Laws of Kings Ch. 3
- 23. Maimonides' Laws of Prayer 5:10
- 24. Beraishis Rabbah 2:4 and over 20 other authoritative Rabbinic works cited in Yalkut Masbiach V'Geulah Al HaTorah, Kehot Pub. Soc. NY. 1994.
- 25. Genesis 1:2
- 26. Beraishis Rabbah 56:7; Tikunei Zobar 69:112a,114a; Toras Menacbem VoU pp.25-26, p.105and it's English translation in Proceeding Togetber by Sichos in English. 1995. Vol. 1 pp.38-40 and Vol.2 p.5, respectively.
- 27. Deuteronomy 33: 1
- 28. Exodus 7:1
- 29. Zohar II p.38a
- 30. Taras Menachem lac. cit.
- 31. Maimonides' Principles of Faith, in his Introduction to Commentary on the Mishnah
- 32. Deuteronomy 5:5
- 33. Taras Menachem lac. cit.
- 34. Deuteronomy 11:15, especially with the introductory commentary of the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh on the Book of Deuteronomy
- 35. Tanya Ch. 2
- 36. Laws of Kings 11:4
- 37. Tanya (part II) Ch.7
- 38. Sefer HaSichos 5748-1988, 2 Nisan
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