היסוד השנים עשר – ימות המשיח, והוא להאמין ולאמת שיבוא ולא יחשוב שיתאחר – (הקדמת הרמב”ם לפרק חלק)[E]very letter of the Torah is central to Judaism, but there are some basic beliefs so fundamental one who rejects them is considered to have rejected Judasim, even if he accepts everything else in the Torah. For example, one who accepts all the mitzvos, halachos, and practices of Judasim but does not consider them to be of Divine origin does not believe in Yiddishkeit.
There are thirteen such principles of faith as codified by the Rambam and universally accepted in all Jewish circles and although some authorities place them in three general categories, the twelfth principle is the belief in the coming of Moshiach. One who believes in Hashem and in the Torah but does not accept that Moshiach will come in essence denies all of Yiddishkeit, even if he is a fully observant Jew.
Why is Moshiach so central to Yiddishkeit?
(אמר רבי יוחנן: לא איברי עלמא אלא למשיח – (סנהדרין צח,ב
[R]abbi Yochanan said the world was created solely for Moshiach. That is to say, Hashem had a purpose in creating the world and the era of Moshiach will represent that purpose’s fulfillment. Torah and Yiddishkiet are the tools to achieve that purpose.
(וראיתי לחלק חבור זה הלכות-הלכות בכל ענין וענין – (הקדמת הרמב”ם למשנה תורה[M]uch of the Torah’s discussions about Moshiach are to be found in Aggados and Midrashim. Midrashim are often cryptic and metaphorical, and one Midrash may even appear to contradict a second. As such, a clear picture of the concept of Moshiach will not emerge from an analysis of Midrashic sources. This doesn’t need to be problematic, since the lack of clarity on most aspects of this subject did not trouble our Torah authorities. Indeed, the Rambam goes so far as to say that many details concerning the coming of Moshiach cannot be known until they happen, and one should not delve into them.
Nevertheless certain specific aspects of Moshiach’s coming are important for us to understand, so we will know how to respond when these events begin in the period before and during Moshiach’s arrival.
Indeed, there are halachos about Moshiach clarified by the Poskim (primarily the Rambam, who wrote two entire halachic chapters on Moshiach in his Mishneh Torah). In general, the halachos of Moshiach concern the following issues: 1) the belief in Moshiach; 2) the order of the events surrounding his revelation, and 3) the identity of Moshiach.
We must await him
וכל מי שאינו מאמין בו או שאינו מחכה לביאתו, לא בשאר נביאים בלבד הוא כופר אלא בתורה ובמשה רבינו - (משנה תורה להרמב”ם, הל’ מלכים ומלחמותיהם פי”א ה”א)[O]ne of the halachos concerning Moshiach is we must not only believe he will come someday, but we must await and anticipate him. When we understand the halachic criteria of Moshiach, we will appreciate why we must not only wait but take an active role in hastening his arrival.
We must pray for and demand Moshiach
(אל תתנו דמי לו עד אשר יכונן ועד אשר ישים את ירושלים תהלה בארץ – (ישעי’ סב,ז[T]here is a common misconception we must not push Hashem to bring Moshiach—Hashem will bring Moshiach when He so chooses and we are not to interfere! This error stems from a lack of knowledge concerning the nature of Moshiach and why his coming is so important. Gaining the necessary knowledge results in appreciating how much one needs Moshiach—from a physical, spiritual and national perspective. And given it is a mitzvah mi’deoraisa to ask Hashem for one’s needs, such a person cannot but urge Hashem to bring him immediately.
The texts of the prayers established by the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah are an outstanding illustration of the need for Moshiach. No less than five of the berachos of Shemona Esrei implore Hashem to bring Moshiach immediately.
Our actions create the Geulah
(תכלית השלימות הזה של ימות המשיח . . תלוי במעשינו ועבודתינו בכל זמן משך הגלות – (תניא, פל”ו
[N]ot only must we implore Hashem to bring Moshiach, we need to take action to hasten his arrival. Chazal compares the Geulah to Shabbos saying that: “He who has toiled before Shabbos will eat on Shabbos.” In other words, our Avodas Hashem in Galus is what creates the environment for Moshiach. This is because the era of Moshiach will be characterized by G-dly revelation within physical reality, and it is the mitzvos we perform with physical objects in the current pre-Moshiach era that create that Divine revelation.
Therefore it is noteworthy how certain activities are especially conducive to hastening the Geulah, for various reasons given by Chazal and by Gedolei Yisroel throughout the generations. Some examples include giving tzedaka, observing Shabbos, refraining from talking lashon harah, studying pnimiyus hatorah (Kabbalah and Chassidus), and studying about Moshiach.
Moshiach could come any second
אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא – (אני מאמין)
[E]munah in the coming of Moshiach entails believing he can arrive at any moment. Nevertheless, history is divided into three categories with regard to this emunah: 1) an era when Moshiach was not expected; 2) an era time when Moshiach’s arrival is anticipated, and 3) a time where Moshiach must arrive. Torah sources (R’ Yitzchak Abarbanel in Yeshuos Meshicho p. 18; see Rashi and Mahrsha on Sanhedrin 97a), describe the latter as the seventh millennium, corresponding to Shabbos, the seventh day of Creation. Presently, we find ourselves in the sixth millennium—Erev Shabbos—when according to halacha we may usher in Shabbos.
Opportune times for the Geulah – Kitzin
(אמר רב: כלו כל הקיצין ואין הדבר תלוי אלא בתשובה – (סנהדרין, צז,ב[T]hroughout Chazal we find time periods in which Moshiach could have come, the Chizkiya-Sancheriv crisis and so on. We also find among the Chachamim—and later among the Geonim, Rishonim, and Achronim (especially the Mekubalim) some who calculated kitzin—auspicious times for the arrival of Moshiach . These kitzin served to strengthen anticipation for Moshiach, and many Moshiach related events—some positive, others not ,that happened at these times. These kitzin may be likened to the stages of a woman’s labor: they are evidence a baby is on the way, but the exact time of arrival is unknown.
There are signs that show he is near.
(בעקבתא דמשיחא חוצפא יסגא וכו’ … – (סוטה, מט,ב[T]he Gemara enumerates various signs serving as a prelude to Moshiach’s arrival. Most of these describe periods of great physical and spiritual crises for the Jewish people. Recent and present-day Gedolei Yisroel of all the various kehilos agree these signs have come to pass and it is certain Moshiach’s arrival is imminent.
Many more signs appear in various Midrashim which are reminiscent of recent world events. However, since the Midrashim don’t convey a clear and detailed picture, it is only Gedolei Yisroel of the highest caliber who can associate these events with those mentioned in the Navi’im and Midrashim.
Moshiach is a human being
(יעמוד מלך… – (משנה תורה להרמב”ם הל’ מלכים פי”א ה”ד[A]s mentioned above, the Rambam devotes two chapters of his Mishneh Torah to the halachos pertaining to Moshiach. Following are some key points about Moshiach distilled from this information:
- Moshiach is a human being, not a deity
- Moshiach is not an angel, but a human being of flesh and blood.
- Moshiach’s role is to redeem the Jewish people from exile.
Moshiach is a Jewish king
(המלך המשיח עתיד לעמוד ולהחזיר מלכות דוד לישנה” – (משנה תורה להרמב”ם הל’ מלכים פי”א ה”א[M]oshiach is a Jewish king and his kingship will represent the restoration of Malchus Beis Dovid.
He fights for the physical and spiritual welfare of not only the Jewish people, but the entire world.
At this stage, he is presumed to be Moshiach (“B’chezkas Moshiach.”)
If he is successful in the above endeavors, and subsequently rebuilds the Beis Hamikdash and gathers all Jews to Israel, then at this stage, we know without a doubt that he is Moshiach (“Moshiach B’vadai.”)
There is a Moshiach in every generation.
בכל דור נולד אחד מזרע יהודה הראוי להיות משיח לישראל – (פירוש הר’ עובדי’ מברטנורא על מגילת רות)
[S]ince Moshiach can come at any moment, there must always be a potential Moshiach among us—that is, a tzadik from Beis Dovid, who, when the moment arrives, will assume the role of Moshiach and bring the Geulah. Indeed, over the course of the generations we find many tzaddikim whose disciples considered them to have this potential.