The Principle of Mashiach and the Messianic Era in Jewish Law and Tradition
"I believe with complete faith in the coming of Mashiach. Though he tarry, nonetheless I await him every day, that he will come."
Principles of the Faith, No. 12
Sichos In English
New York - Toronto
First edition.... July 1991
Second edition... September 1991
Third edition... April 1992
Copyright (c) 1992 by J. Immanuel Schochet
All rights reserved.
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We live in cataclysmic times, an age of drastic changes and fast-moving developments in all aspects of the human condition. They reflect with uncanny preciseness the symptoms of the advent of the Messianic era, acutely defined in the Talmud, Midrash, and other sacred writings.
This has made people ever more aware of the principle of the Messianic redemption - the concept of Mashiach and the effects of his imminent revelation.
The belief in the coming of Mashiach is fundamental to the Torah and the Jewish Faith. Very few, however, delve into its meaning and implications. The doctrine is affirmed, but more as an abstract theorem than a practical issue of immediate relevance. Indeed, great apprehension surrounds this subject. This apprehension is fed partly by an innate fear of the unknown, the confounding mystery of a hidden future. Moreover, there is the memory of the sad consequences of Messianic misadventures of the past, such as the unfortunate history of pseudo-Messiahs and unrealized predictions which left a trail of painful disillusion and dismay.
On the other hand, precisely in times of great trials and tribulations - over-abundant in Jewish history, to this very day - it is belief in Mashiach and the ge'ulah (redemption) that kindles the sparks of hope. It has helped overcome the worst persecutions and sufferings in anticipation of the Divine Day of Judgment when good will triumph over evil, and the world will enter the utopian era when truth, peace and universal brotherhood will reign supreme as "the whole earth shall be full of knowledge of G-d" (Isaiah 11:9) and "all shall call upon the Name of G-d to serve Him with one accord." (Zephaniah 3:9)
The symptoms of the Messianic age encompass us now as never before. This has renewed interest for more knowledge about it. Questions are asked, but there are few sources that bring together the information scattered over the many writings of the sacred Scriptures, Talmud and Midrashim. Of these few, hardly any are available in the vernacular or in terms amenable to the average layman's understanding.
In this context, the author was asked recently to deliver some lectures on this topic. These were followed by numerous requests to commit them to writing. That is how this book came about: a synopsis of those lectures.
The reader should not expect anything original, nor a fully exhaustive treatment. At best there is some effort to present a limited compilation of basic principles about Mashiach and the Messianic era, culled from Tnach, Talmud, Midrashim and Rambam, and a few other authoritative sources, relevant to an overall understanding of our subject.
Even so, the effort that went into committing these teachings to writing was not for mere academic reasons. Knowledge is itself a means toward a higher end: "the purpose of wisdom is teshuvah (return to G-d) and ma'asim tovim (good deeds)." (Berachot 17a) Thus it is hoped that a study of these pages will not only inform, but also make the reader realize the relevant actuality of their contents: to awaken or strengthen the anticipation of the Messianic redemption as ordained by halachah (Jewish law).
Ours is not the first age that has been identified as most auspicious for the realization of the Messianic prophecies. When such occasions arose before, the sages of the time spoke out orally and in writing, urging the people to better their ways and to avail themselves of the opportunity to bring Mashiach. For example, R. Mosheh ben Nachman (Ramban) wrote his Sefer Hage'ulah in anticipation of the redemption in his days. To still greater extent, R. Yitzchak Abarbanel calculated the same for his own time and composed (to this day the most comprehensive works on our topic) Mashmi'a Yeshu'ah (a compilation of all the Messianic prophecies of the Tnach, except for those in the Book of Daniel), Mayanei Hayeshu'ah (an extensive commentary on Daniel), and Yeshu'ot Meshicho (discussing the Messianic passages of our sages, and refuting some distortions about the principle of Mashiach).
Abarbanel notes that he composed his work out of concern for his people "in the night of its darkness, to awaken it from the sleep of its galut.. Because of the afflictions of G-d's people, its heart warmed and thirsts for the waters of the soul.. thus I dug this well to offer my chosen people 'cold water for a faint soul, good news..' (Proverbs 25:25).." "My whole purpose is to strengthen feeble hands and fortify stumbling feet.." Like Ramban before him, he regards his venture of calculating the ketz (the Messianic end), and otherwise revealing and explicating the meaning and intent of Messianic passages, not only permissible but obligatory, because of the proximity of the redemption. Thus he posits that in view of the imminent ge'ulah, all those who act in this vein
"make the many meritorious, because they strengthen G-d's people in their faith, add hope and immense anticipation of the Divine Grace.. (as they realize that) 'My salvation is near to come and My righteousness to be revealed' (Isaiah 56:1)."
In the past century this happened again through the sainted R. Israel Meir Hakohen, the most widely acclaimed authority of his day, better known by the title of his famous work Chafetz Chaim.
He spoke, wrote, urged and admonished the people of Israel incessantly to ready itself for the imminent redemption. Like perhaps none before him, he issued letters and proclamations, and published special works to awaken Israel to that message. He innovated a renewal of the study of laws relating to the Temple-service, especially by kohanim,
as this would soon be of practical relevance.
For whatever reasons, these potentials were not yet actualized. Nowadays, however, current events again indicate, even more than before, that
"The voice of my beloved, behold he has come, leaping over mountains, skipping over hills.. Behold, he is standing behind our wall, watching through the windows, peering through the lattices.. Arise my loved one, my fair one, and go forth! For behold, the winter is over, the rain is over and gone. The blossoms have appeared on earth, the time of singing has arrived, and the voice of the guide is heard in the land!"
Song of Songs 2:8-12
The great leaders of our own generation are once again urging that we are living in most auspicious, momentous times. Thus it is incumbent to renew our belief in, and anticipation of, the Messianic redemption: to be aware of what it means, to study the relevant laws and teachings, to ask for and await its immediate realization - thereby bringing it about in actuality. Furtherance of this goal is the ultimate objective of this book.
J. Immanuel Schochet
Toronto Ont., 28 Sivan 5751
- (Back to text) See below, ch. III.
- (Back to text) See below, ch. I; and ch. VII, sect. A.
- (Back to text) Cf. Sanhedrin 97b "Blasted be those that calculate the end; for (people) would say, since (that time for) the end has been reached and (Mashiach) has not come - he will never come. Rather, wait for him.." (See Margaliyot Hayam, ad loc.; and Rambam's Igeret Teyman, ed. Kapach, ch. 3, for different versions in the wording of this condemnation.) Cf. Igeret Teyman, ch. 3; and below, ch. V, note 75.
- (Back to text) See below, ch. II, sect. D and E.
- (Back to text) See below, ch. VII.
- (Back to text) Mayanei Hayeshu'ah, Introduction, s.v. kamti.
- (Back to text) Ibid., concluding paragraph of the book.
- (Back to text) See below, ch. V, note 75.
- (Back to text) Mayanei Hayeshu'ah, Mayan I: ch. 2.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) See especially his Tzipita Liyeshu'ah, and Ma'amar Torah Or (the lengthy introduction to his edition of Assifat Zekenim on Kadashim); and the quotation from Chizuk Emunah, cited below, ch. VII-A. Excerpts from many of his proclamations and statements can be found in the anthologies of his comments on the Torah and the Siddur.
- (Back to text) See below, ch. V, note 75.
- (Back to text) See below, ch. VIII, note 131. Cf. Mayanei Hayeshu'ah I:2: "He who really cares (lit., it touches his heart) will make an effort to find out what will be in the 'end', when that ketz of wonders will be, 'seek it as silver and search for it as for hidden treasures' (par. Proverbs 2:4)."
The reception of this work was overwhelming, necessitating a second edition so shortly after the first one. This indicates not only the immense desire for knowledge about the important principle of Mashiach but also an ever-increasing awakening of the Halachically required anticipation of his long-awaited coming.
In response to numerous requests, I complemented this new edition by adding
- a translation of Rambam's legal rulings about the principle of Mashiach and the Messianic era (the last two chapters of his Mishneh Torah), with brief notes of sources and explanations; and
- a short sketch of the little known concept of "Mashiach ben Yossef."
This new edition also provided an opportunity to correct typographical errors and to insert omissions.
No doubt but that the study of the Torah's teachings about Mashiach and the Messianic era will hasten their fulfillment, in the literal sense, that we may merit this most speedily on the level of our empirical reality.
J. Immanuel Schochet
Toronto Ont., 18 Elul 5751
- (Back to text) See Tanchuma, Tzav:14.
The gratifying need for a new edition provides a welcome opportunity to correct a few more errors and to insert some additional omissions.
This third edition appears, Providentially, in the auspicious month of Nissan, when we celebrate and relive the first redemption of Israel from its first galut. Pondering and sensing the events of the exodus from Egypt, with all their implications, leads to freedom from all forms of personal galut; and that, in turn, is a prelude to sensing, anticipating and actualizing the Messianic redemption for all of Israel. May we merit to experience this speedily in our very own days, as our sages said, "In Nissan they were redeemed [in the past], and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the time to come" - with the fulfillment of the prophecy, "As in the days of your going out from the land of Egypt, I will show them wondrous things!" (Michah 7:15)
As this new edition coincides with the momentous occasion of the 90th birthday of the revered Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Menachem M. Schneerson tWyhka, I humbly dedicate it to his merit, with prayerful wishes that Almighty God bless him with many more years in good and full health, strength and happiness: "I will satiate him with length of days amd will let him see My salvation!" (Psalms 91:16) May he merit, alongside all of Israel, the speedy fulfillment of "The ransomed of G-d shall return and come to Zion with singing and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." (Isaiah 35:10 and 51:12)
J. Immanuel Schochet
11th of Nissan 5752
- (Back to text) See Sefer Ba'al Shem Tov, Bereishit:par. 166 and note 143; ibid., Shemot: par. 5-6, and note 4. Note Bereishit Rabba 16:4, that the Egyptian exile is the compounding root of all subsequent exiles; and Zohar II:216b-217a, that the redemption from Egypt is the compounding root for all subsequent redemptions, including the Messianic redemption.
- (Back to text) Rosh Hashanah 11a; Zohar III:249a.
- (Back to text) On the religious significance of birthdays see my "Beyom Tovah Heyei Betov," in Gevurato Shel Torah (Toronto Ont., 1983), pp. 69-86. On the special significance of the age of ninety, see R. Yitzchak Dov-Ber of Liadi, Sidur Tefilah im Perush Maharid, vol. II, p. 191.