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 potential 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 qualifications.
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 Man. Moshiach cannot be a woman.7 He is referred to as a King, both in prophecies concerning his arrival and in Jewish Law.8
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 philosophical, 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 ancestor, whose exceptional genius is famous even today.
A Tzadik. Moshiach must be A tzadik, a person who consistently 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