"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21


by Prof. Mordochai ben-Tziyyon, Universitah Ha’ivrit, Y’rushalayim

None of the prophets in the Scriptures ever foretold the coming of a “messiah”. But they did prophesy that one day God will give back to Yisraél what He took away from us in the year 586BCE: our Temple, our sovereignty and independence, and our Monarchy. There are numerous prophecies about the king who will reign in the happy days when this comes about. According to the prophets, he will be a deeply religious man, one of great humility (so humble in fact that he will shun all publicity and won’t even make speeches in public—Y’shayahu 42:2, “he will not shout, and he will not raise his voice nor let it be heard outdoors”). He will reunite Yisraél, bringing back all those who are scattered in exile all over the World, and he will reign over us in justice and righteousness, encouraging the full observance of the Torah‘s laws and ensuring that those laws are kept. All other nations on Earth and their rulers will recognise his authority, and all strife and fighting in the World will end: “The Temple Mount will be the chief of all hills and all the nations will stream to it… many nations will set out saying ‘Come, let’s go up to Adonai‘s mountain, to the Temple of Yisraél‘s God; He will teach us His ways and we will follow His paths’—because then teaching will emanate from Tziyyon [and] Adonai‘s words from Y’rushalayim… [the king-messiah] will arbitrate between the nations and settle all their disputes, and they will beat their swords into scythes and their spears into shears—never again will any nation take up arms against another and no-one will even study military tactics any more” (Y’shayahu 2:2-4, Michah 4:1-3).

That king, we are assured, will satisfy all the requirements of Torah Law, one of which is that he must be the son of a man who is the son of a man who was the son of a man who was… who was the son of King David‘s son Sh’lomoh. At his coronation he will doubtless be “crowned” in the same manner as the ancient Hebrew kings, that is, the shemen mish’hat kodesh (the oil of anointment of holiness, which Mosheh was commanded to make personally according to the formula given in Sh’mot 30:22-33) will be smeared on him, so he will be a מָשִׁיחַ (a mashiyaḥ or “messiah”) in the most literal sense, and because of this he has come to be known as the “king-messiah” in Hebrew parlance and literature.

The great 12th century Hebrew scholar R’ Mosheh ben Maimon, who produced the first systematic and structured encyclopædia of Hebrew Law (the Mishneh Torah) devotes the last two chapters of the volume dealing with “Kings and their Wars” to this future king, the “king-messiah”. The translation that follows is mostly the work of my late cousin, Dr B’tzalel Barzillai, although I have made a few minor corrections to it and added a few additional comments of my own; the Hebrew text may be accessed by clicking the chapter and paragraph numbers.

 


Chapter 11

1. In the future the King-Messiah will come to power: he will revive the Davidic Dynasty and restore it to its former sovereignty, and he will rebuild the Temple and gather in all the scattered ones of Yisraél. In his time, all the Laws will be reinstated as they were in ancient times—the sacrificial ceremonials will be restored, and the cycles of “fallow” (sh’mittah) years and yovél years will again be observed as they are written in the Torah.

2. Anyone who does not believe in him and does not anticipate his coming rejects the whole of the Torah and also our Teacher Mosheh, not just the remainder of the Prophets, for the Torah itself testifies to his coming, in these verses: “Then, Adonai your God will reverse your captivity and have mercy on you; He will gather you back in…. even if your scattered ones will be at the ends of the heavens, Adonai your God will gather you back in from there too…. Adonai your God will bring you back to the land that your ancestors possessed….” (D’varim 30:3-5). These things that are written explicitly in the Torah encapsulate everything that the Prophets said on this topic.

3. There is also reference to the King-Messiah in the Bil’am passage, where Bil’am prophesies about two “Messiahs”—the first Messiah he speaks about is David who rescuedYisraél from their enemies, and the other is the one who will arise from among David‘s descendants and who will rescue Yisraél in the Last Times.

4. In that passage, Bil’am says: “I see him, but not now; I look upon him, but he is not close; a star is stepping out from Ya’akov and a sceptre is arising from Yisraél… he will crush the nobles of Mo’av and he will undermine all of Shet‘s descendants; Edom will be his conquest, and his enemy, Sé’ir, will be crushed…” (B’midbar 24:17-18).

“I see him, but not now”—this is David
“I look upon him, but he is not close”—this is the King-Messiah;
“a star is stepping out from Ya’akov”—this is David
“and a sceptre is arising from Yisraél—this is the King-Messiah;
“he will crush the nobles of Mo’av—this refers to David, about whom it is written “…when he conquered Mo’av, he counted the prisoners-of-war by measuring them with a rope” (Sh’muél Beit 8:2)…
“and he will undermine all of Shet‘s descendants”—this is the King-Messiah, about whom it is written “…his dominion will extend from Sea to Sea” (Z’charyah 9:10);
Edom will be his conquest”—this is David, about whom it is written “…all of Edom became servants to David” (Sh’muél Beit 8:14)…
“and his enemy, Se’ir, will be crushed”—this is the King-Messiah, about whom it is written “…the deliverers will ascend Mount Tziyyon to judge Mount Ésav…” (Ovad’yah1:21… note: Mount Se’ir was where Ésav‘s descendants settled: see D’varim 2:4,8,22,29).

5. Furthermore, in connection with the “Refuge Cities”, the Torah says: “…when God will widen your borders… you will add to these six an additional three cities…” (D’varim19:8-9), but this never actually occurred at any time in our history; however, we can be sure that God did not give us this commandment for nothing, so we anticipate that it will be implemented in the time of the King-Messiah. There is no need to cite proof for this from the writings of the Prophets because all of their Books are full of references to it.

6. You should not think that the King-Messiah will have to perform miracles and wondrous acts, or cause new phenomena to occur in the World such as bringing the dead back to life or other similar things. We can see that this is not so, because R’ Akiva, who was one of the greatest scholars of the Mishnah period became King ben Kuziva‘s armour-bearer and used to say that he was the King-Messiah. Indeed, he and all the other Rabbis of his generation thought that ben Kuziva was the King-Messiah, but when he was killed because of his sinfulness, they realised that he had not been the King-Messiah; however, they had never expected him to perform miracles or wondrous acts.

7. The central principle is that the Torah, with all its Laws and Decrees, is permanent and eternal, and we may neither add to them nor subtract from them: anyone who tries to add anything to the Torah or remove anything from it, or to interpret any of its Laws in a manner that is not consistent with the written text—such a person is truly wicked and a heretic.

8. If one day a king arises from the House of David, who is learned in the Torah and observes all the commandments in the same way that his ancestor David did, just as they are commanded in the Torah (Written and Oral), who inspires all Yisraél to follow the Torah and takes steps to prevent violations of it, and who wages Adonai‘s Wars—this will be a strong indication that he is the King-Messiah; and if he succeeds in all of this and also rebuilds the Temple on its ancient site and gathers all the scattered ones of Yisraél together again, then we will know that he really is the King-Messiah. This one will bring harmony to the World and cause all to serve Adonai together, as it is written: “…for then I shall turn all the nations back to speaking the ‘pure language’ [i.e. Hebrew], so that they will all proclaim Adonai‘s Fame and serve Him with a single purpose” (Tz’fanyah 3:9).

9. But if he does not succeed in accomplishing all these things, or if he is killed, then for sure he is not the one promised by the Torah and he should just be considered like any of the other legitimate kings of the Davidic dynasty who lived and died; and we may conclude that God caused him to arise only to test people’s faith, as it is written: “…even some of the wise will err in their attempts to clarify the predictions, to explain them and to interpret them… until the End, because its time is yet to be fixed” (Daniyyél 11:35).

10. As for Yéshu the Notz’ri [“man from Notzrat“], who claimed to be the King-Messiah and was sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin [Hebrew Supreme Court] and executed—Daniyyél had already prophesied about him: “…sons of rebels among your own people will raise themselves and try to establish a ‘vision’—but they will stumble”(Daniyyél 11:14). Could there be any greater deception than christianity? All the Prophets foretold that the King-Messiah will redeem and rehabilitate Yisraél, will gather together again the scattered ones and strengthen their observance of the commandments—but that one brought about only the slaughter of Yisraél by the sword and the dispersal and persecution of the remnant, tried to alter the Torah, and caused most of the World to be lured into the service of an idol instead of Adonai.

11. A human being is not able to comprehend the Creator of the World’s intentions, for our ways are not like His ways and our thoughts are not like His thoughts (compare Y’shayahu55:8). In the event, though, all the words of Yéshu the Notz’ri and of that Yishma’elite who arose after him [Muhammad] have only served to prepare the way for the arrival of the King-Messiah, leading the whole World to serve Adonai together, as it is written: “…for then I shall turn all the nations back to speaking the ‘pure language’ [i.e. Hebrew], so that they will all proclaim Adonai‘s Fame and serve Him with a single purpose” (Tz’fanyah 3:9).

12. How can that be?—Consider this: the whole World is already filled with talk about a “Messiah”, and about the Torah, and about the Commandments. So it has come about that these concepts have been spread to the furthest parts of the World and among even the pagan, idolatrous nations, who right now are discussing these topics and the Torah‘s commandments. Some of them [i.e. christians] say that the commandments were true, but have now been abolished and were never intended to remain in force for ever, while others [i.e. Muslims] say that they contain hidden mysteries and are not to be interpreted literally, but that a “messiah” [i.e. Muhammad] already came and revealed these secrets.

13. However, when the true King-Messiah arises, and he succeeds in becoming exalted and uplifted, right away they will all realise their mistake and they will then understand that the teaching passed down to them from their ancestors was false, and that their prophets and their ancestors misled them (compare Yirm’yahu 16:19).


Chapter 12

1. One should not think that any aspect of Nature will change in the Era of King-Messiah, or that there will be any new features in the behaviour of the physical Universe. The World will continue to function just as it does now. Although Y’shayahu states “The wolf will live at peace with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the young goat”(Y’shayahu 11:6), these words are just metaphors and allegories: they mean that Yisraél will live in safety among the wicked gentiles who are compared to wolves and leopards, as for example in the verse “A wolf of the deserts attacks them, a leopard prowls through their cities” (Yirm’yahu 5:6). When those times come, all will return to the true faith and will no longer pillage or destroy; instead, they will eat only that which is permitted, at peace with Yisraél, as it is written “…lions will eat straw like oxen” (Y’shayahu 11:7).

2. In the same way, the other prophecies about the King-Messiah of a similar nature are also analogies: in the Era of the King-Messiah, everyone will realize what was meant by these metaphors and what they were intended to convey. The Rabbis taught: “There will be no difference between the present time and the Era of the King-Messiah except only that the supremacy of the gentile kingdoms will be ended” [B’rachot 34b; Shabbat 63a, 151b; P’saḥim 68a; San’hed’rin 91b, 99a]….

3. It appears from the plain meaning of the Prophets’ words that the War of Gog and Magog (Y’ḥezkel, ch. 38) will take place at the beginning of the Messianic Era and, before this War, a Prophet will arise to correct Yisraél‘s behaviour and to prepare their hearts for the final redemption, as it is written: “See, I am sending the Prophet Éliyyahu back to you before the arrival of Adonai‘s great and awesome Day” (Mal’achi 3:23). He will not come to declare the pure impure or to declare the impure pure; neither will he come to disqualify the lineage of those thought to be of flawless descent, or to validate lineage which is thought to be imperfect. He will come to bring harmony to the World; as the prophecy just stated continues “…he will turn the hearts of fathers with their children back [to God]” (ibid., 3:24).

4. Some of the Rabbis said that Éliyyahu will appear even before the arrival of the King-Messiah; but no-one can know how these or any other similar matters will occur until they actually happen because they are are not specified explicitly in the words of the Prophets, and even the Rabbis had no established tradition regarding these matters, other than what the verses hint—this is why there are differences of opinion about these issues. In any case, the sequence of these events and their precise details are not part of the basic principles of our faith.

5. A person should not devote too much time to the study of the haggadot and the midrashim that deal with these and similar topics, or consider them of any great importance, because they will not bring him to the respect or the love of God. For the same reason, one should not waste his time trying to calculate the appointed time of the King-Messiah’s coming: the Rabbis said “…the souls of those who attempt to calculate the time of King-Messiah’s coming deserve to perish!” [Sanhedrin 97b]. Instead, one should simply await his coming, believing only in the general principles of the topic, as just explained.

6. In the time of the King-Messiah, when his kingdom has been secured and all of Yisraél has gathered around him, every person’s pedigree will be established by him through the prophetic insight that he will be imbued with, as it is written “…he will sit refining and purifying [silver]…” (Mal’achi 3:3). He will purify the pedigree of the L’viyim first, stating “this one is a Kohén by pedigree” or “this one is a Lévi by pedigree”, and any who are not designated in this way will be allocated the status of ordinary Yisraélite. This is what is meant by the verse “The Tir’shata [i.e. N’ḥemyah] decreed that [none of them should eat any of the kod’shei kodashim] until such time as a Chief Kohén arises who wears the Urim v’Tummim (Ez’ra 2:63)—from this we can see that the pedigrees of those who can only be presumed at present will be determined and made known through prophetic insight in his time. He will define the lineage of the other Yisraélites according to their tribe alone [not by individual families], that is, he will declare “this one is from such-and-such tribe” and “that one is from such-and-such tribe”. But he will not declare that a person who is presumed to be legitimate is a mamzer or a slave, following the legal principle that, once a family has been emancipated, it remains so [even if it is later found that it was emancipated in error].

7. The Rabbis and the Prophets did not long for the Messianic Age in order for Yisraél to rule over the whole World, or to dominate all the gentiles, or so that the other nations should honour them, or so they would be able to to feast, to drink and to celebrate. Their only desire was for Yisraél to be free to devote themselves to the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to persecute or disturb them, so they would become worthy of life in the World to Come, as I explained in the volume dealing with T’shuvah.

8. In that time there will be neither famine nor war, envy nor competition: goodness will flow in abundance and all delights will be as widespread as dust. The occupation of the entire World will be solely given over to knowing Adonai, and Yisraél will become great sages, understanding all the great mysteries. They will attain a knowledge of their Creator to the greatest extent possible for a human being; as it is written: “…for the World will be as full of the knowledge of Adonai as the water covering the sea-bed.” (Y’shayahu 11:9).

 

 

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