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Three Sources of Moshiach

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And Bilaam said to Balak: “…Come, let me advise you what this people shall do to your people in the end of days…. I see it, but not now; I behold it, but it is not near. A star shall go forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise from Israel; he will conquer the ends of Moab, and rule all the children of Seth…. And Israel shall be valiant…

Numbers 24:12-17

The prophets of Israel describe a future in which a great leader shall arise in Israel, awaken his people to return to G-d, restore them to their homeland, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring about an age of universal enlightenment, harmony and perfection. As Maimonides describes it, “In those days there will be no hunger or war, no jealousy or rivalry; for… the sole occupation of the entire world will be to know G-d.”[8]

The coming of Moshiach is also referred to, though less explicitly, in the Torah proper-the Five Books of Moses. Thus Maimonides writes: “Whoever does not believe in him, or does not anticipate his coming, not only denies the other prophets – he also denies the Torah and Moses our Teacher.”[9]Maimonides goes on to cite three instances in which the Torah itself speaks of the Messianic Redemption:

a) Deuteronomy 30:1-10:

“And the L-rd your G-d … will return and gather you from all the nations amongst whom [He] has scattered you. If your dispersed be at the ends of the heavens, from there will the L-rd your G-d gather you, from there He will take you. [He] will bring you into the Land which your fathers have possessed and you will possess it, and he will do you good and multiply you, more than your fathers. [He] will circumcise your heart and the heart of your children, to love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul…. G-d will again rejoice over you as He rejoiced over your fathers, for you shall hearken to the voice of the L-rd your G-d, to keep His commandments and statutes which are written in this book of the Torah.”

b) Numbers 24:17-19:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but he is not near. A star shall come forth from Jacob, and a ruler shall arise from Israel; he will conquer the ends of Moab, and rule all the children of Seth…. And Israel shall be valiant…”

c) In Deuteronomy 19, the Torah commands to set aside “cities of refuge” to serve as a place of exile for “one who shall unintentionally kill his fellow.” Then the Torah adds:

“And when G-d shall broaden your borders … and give you the entire land that He promised to give to your forefathers – for you shall keep all these commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the L-rd your G-d and walk in His ways forever-then you shall add another three cities….” Maimonides notes that, “This never yet came to pass, and G-d did not command it in vain” – so that here we have a further reference in the Torah to the Messianic Era, when “the entire land that He promised to give to your forefathers”[10] shall be given to the Jewish people.

A Personal Redeemer

These three “proofs” are all necessary, for they establish three principles that are fundamental to the Jewish concept of Moshiach: the redemption of Israel, the person of Moshiach, and the integrity of Torah.

The first citation, from the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, contains the most explicit reference to the final Redemption in the Five Books of Moses. However, there is no mention there of the person of Moshiach as the divine agent of its realization. From these verses alone we can only infer that there will be a redemption (Israel’s return  to G-d, their restoration to their homeland, etc.), but not that a human leader will bring it about.

Yet the Jew’s belief in Moshiach is not in some abstract “historical process” by which the world progresses to perfection, but that

“There will arise a king from the house of David, who studies the Torah and fulfills its precepts as David his ancestor …  and he will prevail upon all of Israel to follow it and repair its breaches, wage the battle of G-d … build the Holy Temple on its site, gather the dispersed of Israel … [and] rectify the entire world to serve G-d together.”[11]

While many of the prophets speak explicitly of the person of Moshiach, Maimonides wishes to show that this principle is also contained in the Torah itself. It is for this purpose that he cites his second proof, from Numbers 24.

Moshiach and the Mitzvot

Moshiach achieves many great things: he liberates the people of Israel and restores their true independence and sovereignty; he teaches the divine wisdom of Torah, illuminating the intricacies of the human soul and the divine essence of all reality; he is a prophet of the highest order, communicating the word of G-d to man. But the most important thing that Moshiach does is to bring about the perfect and absolute implementation of the entire body of mitzvot, the divine commandments of the Torah, in the world.

Today, we are capable of achieving only a very limited actualization of the divine program for life. More than half of the Torah’s commandments (343 out of a total of 613) can be observed only when the Holy Temple is standing in Jerusalem and/or when the entire community of Israel resides in the Holy Land. And even the mitzvot that we can observe in our current state of galut (exile) are but pale “models” of the real thing, for the divine commandments can be optimally fulfilled only in a post-redemption Land of Israel.[12]

Furthermore, while we might do everything in our power to fulfill the mitzvot that are available to us today, we are daily confronted with a world that is still at odds with the will of its Creator. The Torah commands, “Do not kill,” yet people are killing each other all over the world; the Torah commands, “Love your fellow as yourself” “Honor your father and your mother,” “Remember the day of Shabbat to sanctify it,” and “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk,” yet a great portion of those to whom these commands are addressed are indifferent to, or even ignorant of them.

In our present-day reality, the Torah seems more like a “religion” or an “ideal,” than the cardinal law of reality. So the coming of Moshiach, the man who brings about the universal commitment to the divine law, is not just another event predicted by the Torah or another of its concepts and principles; it is the validation of the very essence of Torah as the divine blueprint for life – as the ultimate description of what the world can, ought to, and inevitably will, be.

This is the significance of Maimonides’ third source for Moshiach in the Torah. When the Torah commands us to add three “cities of refuge” upon establishing Jewish sovereignty over the entirety of the Promised Land, it is not only predicting the future Redemption, but also stating that the advent of Moshiach is required for the implementation of a divine command. Here is an example of a mitzvah, commanded by G-d at Sinai, whose conditions for fulfillment have never existed, and will exist only upon the arrival of Moshiach.

These verses establish the third principle that is fundamental to the Jew’s belief in Moshiach: that the Torah’s commandments are the ultimate blueprint for life on earth, and that there will come a day when the divine plan for creation will be fully realized in our world. For certainly, as Maimonides puts it, “G-d did not command it in vain.”

Based on talks by the Rebbe in the summers of 5738 (1978) and 5746 (1986) and on Shavuot of 5751 (1991)[13]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber

 


[8] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, 12:5.

[9] Ibid., 11:1.

[10] In the covenant He made with Abraham, G-d promised: “To your descendants I shall give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates.” These borders include lands never conquered or settled by the people of Israel throughout their history.

[11] Mishneh Torah, ibid., 11:4.

[12] The Midrash goes so far as to consider the mitzvot observed in galutas mere “reminders” for the true mitzvot, those observed in the Holy Land. Quoting the prophet Jeremiah, “Set for yourself markers” (Jeremiah 31:20), it says: “Also after you are exiled, be distinguished with mitzvot-put on tefillin, make mezuzot, so that these should not be new to you when you return” (Sifri, quoted by Rashi on Deuteronomy 11:18. See also Nachmanides on Deuteronomy 4:4).

[13] Likkutei Sichot, vol. 34, Shoftim (5749); Sefer HaSichot 5751, pp. 574-576.

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