In the Holy Temple era, a red heifer was burned and then mixed with water, used for a special mitzvah-process for purifying those who came in contact with a dead human body. The Rambam rules:1

“Nine red heifers were performed (through burning etc.) from the time the Jews were given this mitzvah2 , until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. The first heifer was performed by Moses. The second one was performed by Ezra (who was a kohain). And there were another seven red heifers performed from Ezra until the destruction of the Second Holy Temple. The 10th red heifer will be performed by the King Moshiach — may he speedily be revealed, Amen, so may be the will of Hashem.”

What does it mean that “it will be performed by Moshiach?” This is similar to “(the first one) was performed by Moses,” i.e. he directed its burning etc., whereas the actual performance was done by Elazar the kohain3 . Likewise, the actual performance of the 10th red heifer will be done by a kohain, whereas the directives and instructions for it will be given by the King Moshiach.

The Rambam’s ruling is cited in the Mishnah4 , wherein there is a polemic as to how many red heifers were performed until the destruction of the second Holy Temple — whether seven or nine. The Mishnah also lists the names of the kohanim who burned these red heifers, as it states:

“The Rabbis opine, there were seven red heifers from Ezra and further. Who performed them? 3-4): Shimon the Tzaddik. 5-6): Yochanan the High Priest. 7) Eliyahu-Ayni ben Hakuf. 8) Chananel the Egyptian. 9) Yishmael ben Piani, or Pabi.”

Rambam rules according to the Rabbis, that there have already been nine red heifers and then adds: “The 10th red heifer will be performed by the King Moshiach.”

This raises a question: The Rambam’s Mishneh-Torah is not a book of Jewish history but is a Halachic work, as Rambam writes in his Introduction. If so, why is it necessary, in Halachah, to conclude: “The 10th red heifer will be performed by the King Moshiach — may he speedily be revealed, amen, so may be the will of Hashem?” This question is not directed on the Mishnah, which often brings themes which are not Halachic rulings.

We do find various aspects, where the number 10 will take place in the Messianic era, or through Moshiach, such as: The 10th song;5 the Jewish conquest of territory belonging to the 10 Canaanite nations;6 10 chords in the future harp in the Holy Temple.7

Kiryas Sefer (on Rambam) notes: The 10th red heifer, by Moshiach, is alluded to in the ten verses from the beginning of Parshas Parah until8 “for an eternal statute,” referring to the burning-process of the red heifer.

Yet, the question remains, why does Rambam add: “May he (Moshiach) speedily be revealed, amen, so may be the will of Hashem?” Why does he insert in a Halachic work a plea and prayer for the coming of Moshiach?

This is not the same as Rambam’s wording in his Commentary On Mishnah:9 “The Messianic era, may it speedily be revealed.” Similarly, Bachye10 lists the nine red heifers and concludes: “The 10th one will be burned by the King Moshiach, speedily in our days.” Ramban,11 too, offers a prayer:

“We, due to our sins, are defiled in exile (i.e. the era of exile) and we know not the purity of holiness (as was previously in effect), until G‑d12 “pours a spirit upon us from on High” and He will sprinkle upon us pure waters and we shall be purified — amen, and so may it be the will of Hashem, speedily in our days.”

Praying For Moshiach

In his other writings, Rambam does bring the Halachah that a Jew must pray for the coming of Moshiach, as seen in his Commentary On Mishnah:13

“The Messianic era; one should believe and confirm that Moshiach will come, and pray for his coming; one should not assume he will delay. If he tarries, wait for him. One should not set a date for his arrival and should not use deductive analysis from Torah verses to ascertain the date of his coming. One should also believe that he — Moshiach — will have a superior quality and esteem over all previous Kings in history, as seen in the prophecies on Moshiach conveyed by all the Prophets from Moses until Malachi. A person who has doubts about Moshiach or whose esteem is belittled in his eyes, thereby denies the authenticity of the Torah, which specifically foretells his coming and noble status, in Parshas Bilaam (i.e. Parshas Balak which relates of Bilaam’s prophecy) and Parshas Nitzavim. Included in this Principle is the fact that there will be no other King for the Jews besides one stemming from King David’s family and from the seed of King Solomon. Whoever contests this royal family tree thus defies G‑d’s Name and the words of His Prophets.

Similarly, Rambam cites a prayer for Moshiach in his Order of Tefillah:14 “Speedily cause the scion of David to flourish.” And:15 The Shmoneh-Esrai prayer includes all pleas, for all of one’s personal needs and for all communal needs, together with a prayer for Moshiach’s coming. Yet, why does Rambam cite in his Halachic work, Mishneh Torah, his own prayer for the coming of Moshiach?

Apparently, if such a prayer is in order, it should have been written where the Rambam speaks of Moshiach, such as in the final two Chapters of Hilchos Melachim,16 re: the Messianic era, or, previously, in Hilchos Teshuvah.17

Yet, in those sections we do not find that Rambam includes a plea and prayer for the coming of Moshiach. It is only here, in the Laws of the Red Heifer — which do not discuss Messianic themes but present the laws of the red heifer — that Rambam adds this prayer. Why here?

Obviously, with this brief prayer, Rambam alludes to a Halachic rule.

Belief In Moshiach’s Coming

With reference to the obligation for each Jew to believe in the coming of Moshiach, the Rambam rules:18

“Whoever does not believe in him, or whoever does not yearn for his coming..thereby denies the truth of Torah and the teachings of Moses.” This means, it does not suffice to believe in the coming of Moshiach, but each one is obligated to hope and yearn for the speedy advent of Moshiach.

It’s thus understood, that just as the belief in the coming of Moshiach is a constant feature in the life of a Jew, so, too, is there a constant obligation to yearn and hope for his coming. Thus we recite in our daily Shmoneh-Esrai: “For unto Your salvation we hope the whole day.”

The aspect of “yearning for his coming,” which — in Halachah — is an emotional feeling and not just an intellectual awareness, stems from a Jew’s deep-seated feeling that he cannot attain completion without the coming of Moshiach. As such, he expresses a constant hope for Moshiach’s arrival, realizing that without this he is incomplete. Consequently, when one — who is yearning for the coming of Moshiach — mentions a feature pertaining to Moshiach, although it may be incidental, he cannot pass it by. Rather, it immediately arouses within him the emotional yearning for Moshiach, which becomes a personal need.

This is linked with the Rambam’s rule:19

The obligation of this mitzvah (tefillah/prayer) is this: One should pray to Hashem each day..(then) he requests his own needs with a plea and supplication.

Hence, in our case, when one’s true feelings are aroused, he must pray that his need be fulfilled — i.e. that he should speedily merit, at once, to see the coming of Moshiach.

This is what Rambam is teaching us: a) In general, to include the prayer — “May he speedily be revealed, amen, so may it be the will of Hashem.” b) To add “speedily.” c) To include this not in its appropriate place (within a Messianic Chapter), but in the Laws of the Red Heifer. Here, Rambam underscores the Halachah, how intense one’s yearning for Moshiach should be, that even when the aspect of Moshiach comes about incidentally, it should immediately arouse within a Jew the expression of a personal prayer — “May he speedily be revealed, amen, so may it be the will of Hashem.”

Status Of Exile

Yet, the theme of Moshiach is mentioned in Rambam incidentally before the Laws of the Red Heifer, such as in
Hilchos Teshuvah20 and Hilchos Nezirus21 . The fact that Rambam alludes to the Halachah pertaining to the obligation of “yearning for Moshiach’s coming” in the Laws of the Red Heifer is because there is a close connection between the theme of the red heifer and the coming of Moshiach.

In general, exile represents a status of defilement by a corpse. Today (since the destruction of the Holy Temple), we are all considered as being in a state of ritual defilement by a corpse, since we do not have the red heifer purification. Radvaz22 notes that even kohanim today are ritually defiled. Magen-Avraham23 posits that anyone who enters today on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is liable for kares (Heavenly death), since we are all defiled and, as such, we are prohibited to go onto this holy site. See Raavad.24

Thus, the ash of the red heifer which purifies from defilement by a corpse — alludes to the redemption from exile. This is seen in the precise wording in the prophecy of redemption25 , “And I shall sprinkle upon you pure waters and you shall be purified” — i.e. in a manner of sprinkling. The purification will be achieved through sprinkling the waters of the red heifer — mixture which removes the defilement of a corpse (Rashi). Through this, all of humanity will be elevated to a higher level of purity and affinity with G‑d, which will soon be revealed in the speedy advent of our Righteous Moshiach — amen, so may it be the will of Hashem!