Dual Prophecies

Early1 in his discussion of the subject of Mashiach in the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam writes:2

Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming, stating,3 “And G‑d will bring back your captivity.”

The Rambam, however, does not content himself with a single prooftext, and continues:

There is also a reference [to Mashiach] in the passage concerning Bilaam, who prophesies about the two anointed [kings]: the first anointed [king], David, who saved Israel from her oppressors, and the final anointed [king] who will arise from among his descendants and save Israel [at the End of Days].4 That passage states:5

“I see it, but not now” — This refers to David; “I perceive it, but not in the near future” — This refers to King Mashiach.

“A star shall go forth from Yaakov” — This refers to David; “and a staff shall arise in Yisrael” — This refers to King Mashiach.

“He shall crush all of Moab’s princes” — This refers to David, (as it is written,6 “He smote Moab and measured them with a line”); “he shall break down all of Seth’s descendants” — This refers to King Mashiach, (about whom it is written,7 “He will rule from sea to sea”).

Edom will be demolished” — This refers to David, (as it is written,8 “Edom became the servants of David”); “his enemy, Seir, will be destroyed” — This refers to King Mashiach, (as it is written,9 “Saviors will ascend Mount Zion [to judge the mountain of Esau....]”).

This extensive exegesis of the Torah’s prophecies is totally out of character for the Mishneh Torah. As the Rambam explains at length towards the end of his introduction to the Mishneh Torah, he structured it as a work of Halachah, Jewish law. For this reason he generally refrains from any lengthy quotation and exegesis of passages from the Torah. Seemingly, to bring support for the above law that “Whoever does not believe in [Mashiach] denies...,” it would have been sufficient to state, “Similarly, in the passage concerning Bilaam, prophecies are made concerning Mashiach.” Why did the Rambam find it necessary to expound the passage at length and to describe both the anointed kings, David and Mashiach, explaining in detail how the various component phrases of the prophecy allude to each of them?10

The Parallel between David and Mashiach

This difficulty can be resolved on the basis of another question: Why would it not suffice to cite the verse, “And G‑d will bring back...”? What does the mention of Bilaam’s prophecy add?

By way of answer: The verse that promises that “G‑d will bring back...” clearly indicates that the Jews will be redeemed from exile; it does not, however, mention Mashiach.11 To clarify that the Torah refers specifically to an anointed king (Melech HaMashiach), Bilaam’s prophecy must be quoted. Furthermore, by explaining how it refers to “the two anointed [kings],” David and Mashiach, the Rambam is reinforcing our belief in Mashiach by citing a precedent from our history. The role of Mashiach, it thus transpires, is not new — as witness King David, who is mentioned in the same prophecy, and whose activities paralleled those to be undertaken by Mashiach. Hence, just as the portion of the prophecy relating to King David was fulfilled, we can rest assured that the portion relating to Mashiach at the End of Days will likewise be fulfilled.12

This explanation is, however, insufficient. Here the Rambam is not setting out to prove to us that Mashiach will come, but rather, that the Torah itself attests to his coming. If so, why does the Rambam find it necessary to speak of “the two anointed [kings]?” Why does he proceed to explain the verses at length, analyzing their four pairs of phrases, and specifying which half of each verse alludes to King David?

What, moreover, is the significance of referring to David as an anointed king? Was not King Saul also anointed, and indeed referred to as “G‑d’s anointed”?13 And if the intent of the Rambam is to mention the respective saviors of the early and the later epochs, surely it would have been more appropriate to pair Moshe Rabbeinu, the first redeemer of the Jewish people, with Mashiach, the ultimate redeemer. Besides, King David did not rescue his generation from exile, while Moshe did. Furthermore, when describing Mashiach’s level of prophecy, the Rambam compares him to Moshe.14

Further questions are prompted by the following halachah, which states:

Similarly, in regard to the Cities of Refuge, it is stated,15 “When G‑d will expand your borders... you shall add three more cities.” This command has never been fulfilled. [Surely,] G‑d did not give this command in vain, [and thus the intent was that it be fulfilled after the coming of Mashiach].

The Rambam himself divided the Mishneh Torah into halachos, individual laws, and he was very precise in making this division. Why did he not include the above support — from the commandment to add three Cities of Refuge — in the same halachah as the first two prooftexts he cited? And if his intent was to divide the various items of supporting evidence into separate halachos, why were the first two prooftexts included in the same halachah?

The Role of a Jewish Monarch

These questions can be resolved within the context of the explanation of a more general issue, namely, the location of Hilchos Melachim at the conclusion of the Mishneh Torah. At the beginning of these halachos,16 the Rambam had stated that “Israel was commanded to fulfill three mitzvos when they entered the [Holy] Land — to appoint a king..., to destroy the descendants of Amalek..., and to build [G‑d’s] Chosen House.” Accordingly, it would appear appropriate to record the laws governing the appointment of a king at a much earlier stage within the Mishneh Torah.

The Rambam nevertheless chose to make these halachos the conclusion and summation of the Mishneh Torah, his compendium of the entire Oral Law. With this he emphasizes that the ultimate and complete performance of all the mitzvos of the Torah will be attained when a king rules over Israel. It is then that we will fulfill the mitzvos of waging the wars of G‑d, destroying Amalek, and building the Beis HaMikdash. Similarly, our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos will be enhanced in its totality. For, as the Rambam writes at the conclusion of ch. 4, “[The king’s] purpose and intent should be to elevate the true faith.”

This conception of the monarchy found full expression in King David, who united the entire Jewish people, completed the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, secured peace for our nation,17 and began the preparations for the building of the Beis HaMikdash in Jerusalem.18

Mashiach: The Ultimate Jewish Monarch

Within this context we can appreciate the Rambam’s conception of Mashiach, and understand why the two chapters dealing with Mashiach were chosen as the conclusion of Hilchos Melachim and of the Mishneh Torah as a whole.19 The Rambam opens his discussion of Mashiach with the following statement:

In the future, the King Mashiach will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty.

This implies that by restoring the Jewish monarchy, the Mashiach will make possible the complete observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, as we see from the continuation of the above quotation:

He will rebuild the [Beis Ha]Mikdash and gather in the dispersed remnant of Israel. Then, in his days, all the statutes will be reinstituted as in former times. We will offer sacrifices and observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years according to all their particulars set forth in the Torah.

The Rambam thus defines Mashiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah and the mitzvos to its complete state. All the elements of Torah observance which were lacking in exile — because the entire Jewish people did not live in Eretz Yisrael and because the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed — will be renewed.

Our faith and our yearning for Mashiach — as the Rambam continues, “Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming...” — should therefore focus not only on his coming, but also on his restoration of the Davidic dynasty and on the complete observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.

In this context, we can understand the Rambam’s intent in citing the prooftexts mentioned above for support. The verse that promises the Jewish people that “G‑d will bring back your captivity” indicates that there will be an ingathering of the dispersed remnant of Israel. This will make it possible for the Davidic dynasty to be reinstated and for the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos to be restored in its totality.

The Rambam now continues to support the conception of Mashiach as the epitome of Jewish monarchy by citing a prophecy which establishes a parallel between Mashiach and King David. This indicates how Mashiach will “renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty.” Furthermore, this prophecy indicates how the various characteristics of monarchy expressed by King David will be mirrored and amplified by Mashiach.

The above concept enables us to understand why the Rambam continues:

Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher.

With this, the Rambam emphasizes that the conception of Mashiach’s coming and the Era of the Redemption which he will bring about, as centering around the complete observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, has its source in the Torah itself. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental principles of the Torah, for there must ultimately be an era in which the Torah will be observed perfectly. Thus, the prophets’ description of the Era of Mashiach merely restates and highlights the statements of the Torah.20

The Ultimate in Observance

We can now understand why the Rambam devotes a separate halachah to the designation of the three supplementary Cities of Refuge. For this indicates a further state of completeness in the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, a state that will be reached only in the Era of the Redemption. Not only will the mitzvah of establishing Cities of Refuge be observed as in previous times: it will be observed in a more perfected manner than ever before. The commandment to establish these new cities indicates how the Torah itself points to a future era when the observance of its mitzvos will be complete.

Observance and Miracles

Considering the above, we can understand the continuation of the Rambam’s statements in halachah 3:

One should not entertain the notion that the King Mashiach must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena within the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is [definitely] not true.

[A proof can be brought from the fact that] Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnah, was one of the supporters of King Ben Kosiva, and would describe him as the King Mashiach.... The Sages did not ask him for any signs or wonders.21 [Rather,] this is the main thrust of the matter: This Torah, with its statutes and laws, is everlasting. We may neither add to them nor detract from them.

Two concepts are implied by the Rambam’s words: (a) The mission of Mashiach is not to work wonders; and (b) his performance of wonders or his failure to do so should not be used as criteria to establish his identity.

Since the intent of Mashiach’s coming is to bring about a complete state of Torah observance, it is out of the question to conceive that he must be a miracle worker. If anything, changing the natural order is somewhat in contradiction to the concept that “This Torah, with its statutes and laws, is everlasting.” The performance of such wonders should therefore not constitute a means of evaluating whether or not a particular person is in fact Mashiach.

The Criteria for Mashiach

How can we judge whether a person is truly Mashiach? — By observing whether or not he fulfills the purpose stated above, the restoration and establishment of the complete observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. In this context, we can appreciate the criteria enumerated by the Rambam in halachah 4 for determining the identity of Mashiach:

If a king will arise from the House of David who delves deeply in the study of the Torah and, like David his ancestor, observes its mitzvos as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law; if he [i.e., by his personal excellence within the realm of Torah] will compel all of Israel to walk in [the way of the Torah] and repair the breaches [i.e., in its observance among the entire Jewish people]; and if he will fight the wars of G‑d [i.e., thus removing all obstacles to Torah observance in the world at large]; — we may, with assurance, consider him Mashiach.

The Rambam then continues:

If he succeeds in the above, builds the [Beis Ha]Mikdash on its site, and gathers in the dispersed remnant of Israel, he is definitely the Mashiach.

By this stage, when it becomes possible to observe the Torah and its mitzvos in their totality, the Era of the Redemption will have actually begun.22

Four Prophecies: Four Phases of Mashiach

To focus on the Rambam’s statements in the first halachah more closely: It can be explained that the four sets of prophecies quoted by the Rambam reflect the four criteria mentioned in halachah 4, as they were exemplified in King David (in a lesser sense) and as they will be exemplified in Mashiach.

The first set of prophecies (“I see it, but not now; I perceive it, but not in the near future”) refers to the very existence of King David and of Mashiach — “A king will arise from the House of David.”

The second set of prophecies (“A star shall go forth from Yaakov, and a staff shall arise in Yisrael”) refers to the activities of King David and of Mashiach in relation to the Jewish people — “He will compel all of Israel to walk in the way [of the Torah].”

In this, the prophecies referring to Mashiach surpass those referring to King David. “A staff” is a means of asserting one’s authority,23 indicating Mashiach’s influence over the people as a whole; “a star,” in contrast, merely indicates one’s personal greatness. Moreover, the phrase referring to King David speaks of the Jews as “Yaakov”, while the phrase referring to Mashiach calls them “Yisrael”, [and it is explained elsewhere that it is the latter name which underscores their greatest merits24 ].

The third set of prophecies (“He shall crush all of Moab’s princes; he shall break down all of Seth’s descendants”) refers to the wars fought by David and to be fought by Mashiach — “[He will] fight the wars of G‑d.”

Here, too, we see that the prophecy referring to Mashiach is superior to that referring to David. “Crushing” can be interpreted as referring to a single victory, while “breaking down” implies that one has established and fully asserted one’s authority. Furthermore, David will be victorious over “the princes of Moab,” one nation, while Mashiach will dominate “all of Seth’s descendants,” many peoples.25

The fourth set of prophecies (“Edom will be demolished; his enemy, Seir, will be destroyed”) refers to the ultimate activities performed by David and Mashiach in the world at large. As halachah 4 concludes,26 “He will then perfect the entire world, [motivating all the nations] to serve G‑d together.” This is indicated by the prooftext cited by the Rambam which concludes, “And the sovereignty will be the L‑rd’s.” At that time, all the nations of the world will themselves appreciate G‑d’s sovereignty and accept Mashiach as king.

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May our study of the laws of Mashiach — an active expression of our yearning for his coming — strengthen our faith and hasten his actual coming. And may this take place in the immediate future.