Can You Solve the Moshiach Mystery?
There has been a long standing mystery surrounding Moshiach, or Jewish Messiah: Does the King Moshiach have to perform miracles for us in order to prove himself? Doesn’t every Jew you ask on the street just know that Moshiach has to do miracles? Being that the Rambam is the accepted legal authority on the who, what, where, and how of Moshiach, the answer should be easy… yet here is where the real mystery begins:
In the Rambam’s legal magnum opus, he declares, ‘Do not think that the King Moshiach will make miracles, or create new things, or perform resurrections and the like. It is not so.”(Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings, Chapter 11, Law 3) Ah, it looks like we have the answer: Moshiach doesn’t have to do miracles after all! But wait: when one reads the Rambams letters entitled, ‘Iggeret HaTeimani,’ the Rambam states that a certain man who was claiming to be Moshiach must not be the one because he has not performed any miracles. What is going on here? Is this the same Rambam? Must Moshaich perform miracles or not? I’ve seen Rabbi Velpo give a very satisfactory resolution to this mess in his sefer, ‘Yechi HaMelech.’ I shall do my best to give over his answer:
First of all, lets make one thing clear: the Mishneh Torah, where the Rambam states that Moshaich need not perform miracles, is the final and authoritative ruling on the matter. Therefore, Moshiach need not perform miracles. However, Moshiach must be victorious in the ‘Wars of Hashem,’ build the temple, and gather in all of the Jews to Israel. All this is stated pretty clearly by the Rambam. In other words, Moshiach is defined by his active pursuit of, and his ultimate victory in, the above stipulations. Therefore, Moshiach does not have to perform a miracle if and only if it is possible to fulfill the above stipulations by natural means. Being that Moshiach can come at any moment, then even in an era where it is impossible for one to build the temple without a miracle, Moshaich can still come in a supernatural manner. Or as the sages put, “If we merit, Moshiach will come riding the clouds of glory [now that’s a pimpin‘ ride!]. If we don’t merit, he will come riding a donkey [somewhat of a less cool way to roll].”
Now lets put ourselves in the Rambam’s shoes and ask ourselves, ‘Is it possible for someone to build the temple without a miracle in the historical period that he lived in? During the Rambam’s time, there was no significant Jewish presence in Israel. In fact, some sort of Sultan ruled over our land at that time. So while it is true that Moshiach does not have to perform a miracle, nevertheless, he does have to build the temple, among other things. Now, was it possible for any Jew at that time to build the temple without a miracle?? The answer, as all can see, is ‘No, it was impossible to build the temple without a miracle because there is a foreign king in control of the temple mount at this time, and the Jews have no army with which to drive him off our land.’
By contrast, during the time of Bar Kochba, the Jews had a large army, as the Gemara in Gittin states, and it was quite feasible, at that time, that Bar Kochba could have kicked out the Romans [which in fact he did for some years] and build the temple, all without performing any miracles. Therefore, being that Bar Kochba was poised to fulfill the stipulations required of Moshiach, he was not pressed to perform miracles. All he needed to do was encourage all Jewry to follow the Torah, defeat the enemies of the Jews, build the Temple, and gather in the exiles. All these conditions were within reach; no miracles were required for him to attain these goals.
In the Rambam’s times, however, things were quite different. Being that there were hardly any Jews living in Israel, and the Jews had no army, the only way someone could build the temple was through miraculous means. There simply was no way for anyone to conquer the land of Israel through a natural war. It just wasn’t possible at that time, in contrast to the time of Bar Kochba. Being that there was no other way, at that time in history, the Rambam required a miracle of anyone in his time claiming to be Moshiach. How else could Moshiach build the temple at that time?
Now, one may ask: in which type of period do we live in? Do we live in a period like the Rambam’s time, where it would take a miracle to gain control of Israel and, especially, the Temple Mount? Or, do we live in a time more like the era Rabbi Akiva lived in, where the Jews had a large presence in Israel, and a great army at their disposal? Right after the Six Day War, control of the Temple Mount was in Jewish hands. Furthermore, Israel’s army has had the reputation of being invincible, at various times.
Therefore, I say that we live in a time similar to the time of Rabbi Akiva, in this respect. Moshaich need not perform a miracle to gain control of the Temple Mount. Most people have a misconception that Moshiach is synonymous with great miracles. It is not so. In fact, Chassidus explains that if we truly merit it, Moshiach will come in a natural manner. May Moshiach reveal himself now and rebuild the Temple!