By Sholom Kesselman
What is the original source for the concept of Moshiach and a future redemption? Is it found in the Torah itself, was it first introduced by the Rabbis or is it simply Jewish folklore?
The Bible (Tanach) is full of references about Moshiach and the redemption. The prophets received many prophecies about Moshiach and recorded them in their respective works. The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Micha, Zephaniah, Zechariah and Daniel all contain clear and direct prophecies about the coming of Moshaich and detailed descriptions of what the world will be like during the era of the redemption.
The Torah itself however (the five books of Moses) does not seem to contain any references to Moshiach nor any foretelling of a future redemption.
This had led certain scholars to conclude that the concept of Moshiach and redemption only surfaced in Judaism during the era of the prophets and was nonexistent in Jewish teachings or tradition until then.
Maimonides however adamantly rejects this position and argues very convincingly that Moshiach and redemption do in fact feature in the Torah.
(Maimonides, laws of Kings, ch. 11):
“…The Torah testified to his coming (Deuteronomy 30:3-5): “G-d will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you. He will again gather you from among the nations… Even if your Diaspora is at the ends of the heavens, G-d will gather you up from there… and bring you to the land….”
Reference to Moshiach is also made in the portion of Bilaam who prophesized about two anointed kings: the first anointed king, David, who saved Israel from her oppressors; and the final anointed king who will arise from his descendants and save Israel in the end of days. That passage (Numbers 24:17-18) relates: “’I see it, but not now’ – This refers to David; I perceive it, but not in the near future;” – This refers to the Messianic king; A star shall go forth from Jacob’ – This refers to David; and a staff shall arise in Israel’ – This refers to the Messianic king; …”
This leads Maimonides to his subsequent conclusion:
“Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moses, our teacher.”
Rambam makes it very clear that Moshiach has a very definite source in the Torah and was prophesized by Moses himself. The concept of the Moshiach is thus not an invention of the prophets or the Rabbis and certainly not some Jewish myth; it originates in the Torah itself and has been part of Jewish teachings and traditions from day one.
It is interesting to note that the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin, 89A) records the opinion of a certain Rabbi Hillel who maintained, “There will be no Messiah for Israel”. Rashi there explains his position to be that G-d himself will redeem Israel. This Rabbi Hillel believed in a future redemption but maintained that it would be brought about by G-d Himself without the need for an actual Jewish king called Moshiach.
From the words of Maimonides it is clear that this is not the accepted view. The second source that he brings – that of the prophecy of Bila’am – proves conclusively that there will be an actual Moshiach; a Jewish king of flesh and blood who will usher in the redemption.
However, one can still argue and say these prophesies and predictions about Moshaich and redemption were only meant metaphorically. They have sublime spiritual interpretation and were never meant to be taken literally.
Once again, Maimonides convincingly proves that this cannot be the case. He goes on to provide a third source in the Torah for Moshiach.
“… With regard to the cities of refuge it states (Deuteronomy 19:8-9): ‘When G-d will expand your borders… you must add three more cities.’ This command was never fulfilled. Surely, G-d did not give this command in vain.”
His argument here is as follows: The Torah spoke of a time when G-d will widen the borders of Israel and it commands us to then add 3 additional cities of refuge. In the history of our people this has never happened and the Torah would never command in vain, we must therefore conclude that this will indeed happen sometime in the future.
The benefit of this source is that it ties the concept of Moshiach to a Mitzva.
A Mitzva is obviously meant to be taken literally and it would be heresy to suggest it is only true in a metaphoric sense. No one would ever dare say that the commandment of eating Matza on Pesach need not be fulfilled actually and literally.
Moshiach then falls into the same category. Since we have a commandment to add 3 cities of refuge when G-d widens our borders, this Mitzva must be fulfilled in a real and literal sense. Moshiach then cannot be a spiritual concept or a metaphor of sorts; it must be an actual and real event that will take place in the future.
In conclusion: The works of the prophets are full of references to Moshiach. The Torah itself in 3 places makes reference to the future redemption. These sources prove 3 things: A. There will be a future redemption. B. It will come about through a king Moshaich who is a man of flesh and blood. C. Moshiach cannot be a spiritual concept meant only in a metaphoric sense; it is a real and actual event that will come to happen. May it happen speedily in our days.