12. Moshiach

12.1. Moshiach II

In our previous article we examined the events of the pre-messianic era and the coming of Moshiach ben Yosef (Messiah son of Joseph). Moshiach ben Yosef, however, is only one of two messiahs. The second, final messiah is Moshiach ben David, the Davidic messiah. When most people speak of the messiah, they are referring to this final messianic figure. In this lesson we will examine the criteria for identifying the messiah, his duties, and the messianic age.

Criteria for the Davidic Messiah

The Torah belief is that the final Messiah, Moshiach ben Dovid, will be identified by six criteria:

  1. He will be a direct descendant of King David,
  2. He will be anointed as king of Israel,
  3. He will complete the return of the Jewish people to Israel,
  4. He will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem,
  5. He will bring peace to the world, ending all war,
  6. He will bring knowledge of God to the world.

These six criteria are not metaphorical – they are literal, observable, verifiable facts. They are the minimum that one must accomplish before he is accepted as the Messiah.

Writes the Rambam:

If there arises a ruler from the family of David, immersed in the Torah and its mitzvos as was his ancestor David, who observes both the Oral and Written Torahs, who leads Israel back to the Torah, strengthening its observance and waging God’s battles, then we may presume that he is the Messiah. If he then succeeds in rebuilding the temple upon its original site and gathering in the exiles of Israel, his identity as Messiah will then be confirmed.

Once a candidate meets criteria 1, 2, 5 and 6, we may presume he is the messiah. Once he completes stages 3 and 4, he is confirmed as the messiah. Our sages  teach us to nevertheless remain skeptical of messianic claims:

Said Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai: If you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone tells you, 'Come quickly, the messiah is here!', first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the messiah.

When Will the Messiah Arrive?

The messiah can come at any time and will arrive (reveal himself) on any day except a Shabbat or a Holiday.

However, we should never try to calculate or predict the time of the arrival of the messiah. The sages curse those who attempt to predict the dates and times of his arrival because doing so ultimately damages the faith of others:

Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan, “The bones of those who calculate the end should rot! For they would say that since the predetermined time has arrived and yet he has not come, he will never come. Rather wait for him, as it is written, ‘Even though he might delay, wait for him.“

Furthermore, studying, fixating, or obsessing on the messiah as a goal of one’s religious thought and practice is discouraged:

A person should not involve himself with the Aggadot [Talmudic sections regarding Mashiach] nor with the words of the Midrash that speak about this topic. Do not make them the prime focus, because they do not bring a person to love or fear of God. Also do not calculate the end [time of Mashiach’s arrival] ... Rather wait for him and believe in the general principle, as we have explained.

The goal of our study and service of God should be to fulfill His will in this world at every moment. Focusing on the future redemption only diminishes one’s Avodah (divine service) in the here-and-now.

A Descendant of David

A shoot will come forth from the family of Jesse and a branch will grow from his roots. Isaiah 11:1

Jewish Ancestry

This is one of many verses indicating that the messiah will arise from the family of David. As mentioned, this is not a metaphor – he will actually be able to trace his lineage definitively to King David. There are many, many Jewish families today who can trace their ancestry to King David. Many of them are descendants of the Maharal, Rabbi Yehudah Loewy (1512 to 1609). Rabbi Loewy was a descendant of King David via his Geonic ancestry.

I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Seth. Numbers 24:17

When you come into the land which the Lord your God gave you, and shall possess it, and dwell within it, and say: 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around about me,’ then you will set over you as king a wise man whom the Lord your G-d shall choose. You shall set one from among your brethren as king over you. You may not place a stranger over you who is not your brother.  Deuteronomy 17:14-15

These two versus inform us that the messiah must be Jewish. Since the messiah will also be anointed as a King of Israel, he must be Jewish. Jewish is defined as born of a Jewish mother.

The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor the ruler's staff from between his feet as long as men come to Shiloh; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be. Genesis 49:10.

From the Tribe of Judah

The messiah must come from the tribe of Judah. Tribal affiliation is only passed through the father’s lineage.

A King of Israel

The term Moshiach, messiah, literally means “anointed with oil.” Throughout the Tanakh there are many individuals who are called Moshiach on account of being anointed. Anointing with oil at the hands of a prophet was one of the many requirements for Jewish kingship. For example, the prophet Samuel anointed  both Kings Saul and David with oil.

Since the messiah will be crowned king, he must be anointed by a prophet. This is one of the reasons for the prophet Malachi’s prophesy that Elijah would return prior to the messiah.

Return of the Jewish People to Israel

He will arise a banner for the nations and assemble the castaways of Israel; and He will gather in the dispersed ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth.  Isaiah 11:12

It shall be on that day that Hashem will thresh, from the surging [Euphrates] River to the Brook of Egypt, and you [Israel] will be gathered up one by one, O Children of Israel. It shall be on that day that a great shofar will be blown, and those who are lost in the land of Assyria and those cast away in the land of Egypt will come [together], and they will prostrate themselves to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.  Isaiah 27:12-13

I will return the captivity of Judah and captivity of Israel, and will rebuild them as at first.  Jeremiah 33:7

The return of the Jewish people to the land is not only part of the restoration of the glory of Israel, but is necessary for the return of prophecy. As we saw in the previous lesson, the Messiah will be the greatest prophet ever, second only to Moses. As it is written:

He will be filled with the spirit of God; he will not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear.  Isaiah 11:13.

Among the many requirements for prophecy is that the majority of the Jewish people live in the land of Israel.

Restoration of Tribal Identities

Using his power of prophecy, the messiah will clarify the tribal identities of the Jewish people. In particular, he will determine the legitimacy of the Kohanim and Leviim. He will then divide the land according to the ancestral heritage of each.

Rebuilding of the Temple

I will seal a covenant of peace with them; it will be an eternal covenant with them; and I will emplace them and increase them, and I will place My Sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be among them; I will be a God to them and they will be a people to Me. Then the nations will know that I am Hashem who sanctifies Israel, when My Sanctuary will be among them forever.  Ezekiel 37:26-28

It will be in the end of days that the Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the most prominent of the mountains, and it will be exalted up above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.  Micah 4:1

It will happen in the end of days; The Mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.  Isaiah 2: 2, 3

The Messiah will accomplish the rebuilding of the Third temple according to the details prophesied by Ezekiel. According to many, this is the act which definitively proves the identity of the messiah.

Many details of the rebuilding, such as the precise location of the altar, must be determined using prophecy. For this reason, we know that the messiah must have prophecy. This also means that rebuilding the temple prior to the advent of the messiah is impossible.

Reestablishment of the Sanhedrin

The Messiah will also reestablish the Sanhedrin, which is a precursor to the re- establishment of the Temple:

I will restore your judges as at first, your counselors as in the beginning. Afterwards you will be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice…  Isaiah 1:26-27.

At some point between the coming of Elijah and the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin, formal Semicha (rabbinic ordination) will be restored. This is necessary for one to serve on the Sanhedrin. The chain of ordination from Moses was broken by Roman oppression in 358 CE. The possibility of renewing this ordination and reconstituting the Sanhedrin prior to the Messiah has been raised in the past, in particularly by Rabbi Yaakov Beirav in Tsfas in the 16th century.