Who is the Messiah?
By Nachum Mohl
The concept of the Messiah is bound up with many statements through out the Talmud. There is no direct reference to him in the Five Books of Moses and scant mention in the books of the Prophets. The Messiah is mentioned in various places in the Talmud, particularly in the end of the tractate Sanhedrian. Our present knowledge of who and what the Messiah is can be only found in basically one source and that is the Rambam's magnum opus, the Mishnah Torah, also known as the Yad HaChazakah.
In this book, or perhaps better, put series of fourteen books, which is the culling and straining of the Talmud, the Rambam has codified for us the various Jewish laws brought down in the Talmud. The Rambam who lived some one thousand years ago wrote in a succinct and exacting manner. His book is still studied to this day for insights and understanding into the Jewish law.
At the end of his epoch work, in the last two chapters of the book of Laws, in the section dealing with Kings, he brings down the concepts of the Messiah. From his works we can understand who and what the Messiah is and what we expect him to do and how we shall be able to recognize him and how to know who is a fraud.
The Rambam begins by telling us that the Messiah, whom he calls the King Messiah, will in the future come from the lineage of King David. He will himself or herald in the following:
- He will bring back the reign of the Jews to be again under that of the descendents of King David.
- He will rebuild the Holy Temple and bring the Jews dispersed in the Diaspora back to the Land of Israel.
- There will be a re-imposition of Jewish law as it was during the time of the Sanhedrian, the Great Assembly that existed during the time of the Holy Temples.
- The sacrifices will be renewed in the Temple as will the observance of the laws of the seventh year.
- The Shemita year dealing with agricultural products and monetary loans, and all the other laws which today are no longer observed, will be brought back into effect.
The Rambam goes on to stress that all who do not believe in the coming of the Messiah, not only deny the validity of the words of the Prophets, but also deny the validity of the entire written Torah as given to Moses.
Interestingly enough, the Rambam continues that one should not believe that the Messiah will have the need to perform miracles to bring about some new thing that does not exist. Nor will the Messiah need to bring back to life, those who have since passed out of this world.
He continues to explain that if there will arise a righteous leader from the tribe of Yehuda, which is the tribe of King David, who is learned in the Torah. If he will return the Jews back to the ways of the Torah, and he fights the wars of G-d, then he has a great possibility of being the Messiah. Going further, he states that if this person succeeds in the above, plus builds the Temple and brings all the Jews back to Israel, then he is for certain the Messiah. The Rambam continues that the Messiah will then bring the entire world to recognize the true G-d.
In the last chapter, the Rambam states that one should not think that during the time of the Messiah the world will undergo a massive transformation. The world will continue as it is except peace will reign. Nations will no longer go to war. Israel will live in peace and tranquillity.
The only difference between the times of the Messiah and our current lives will be that the nations of the world will not rule or dictate terms to Israel. At the beginning of the times of the Messiah, there will be the war of Gog and Magog. Prior to this war, there will come a prophet to straighten out the Jewish people, meaning to open their hearts to G-d. There are many who say that prior to the Messiah, Elijah the Prophet will reappear.
But the Rambam continues saying that all of these matters are not understood clearly. The sages of the Talmud disagreed about many of the items dealing with the Messiah. Therefore he concludes that the exact happenings that will transpire are not known. Thus it is not proper for people to involve themselves in the matters speculating the time and manner of the coming of the Messiah.
When the righteous Messiah will reign, all the Jews will gather to him. He will deal with all people with a special divine spirit. He will recognize who is an authentic Levite and who is a Kohan, and he will see who are not a genuine Levite and not a genuine Kohan. He will reject those who are not really Jewish and expose them.
The wise sages did not look forward to the time of the Messiah in order that they should rule over the gentiles, nor that they should be recognized above others. They did not desire to enjoy the peace and tranquility with eating and drinking, but only to be able to engage in study of the Holy Torah with out any distractions.
This will be a time of neither famine nor war. There will be neither jealousy nor competition. Goodness will be in abundance and delicacies will be available everywhere. The main pre-occupation of the world will then become learning about G-d and drawing closer to him. The Jews will become truly wise men understanding deep mysteries of the universe. This will then be taught to all the nations.
Until this time we will just have to wait.