by Sholom Kesselman.
When will he come? How will he come? What will it be like after he comes? Will we build the Bet Hamikdash or will it majestically descend from heaven?
The answers to these questions can be found throughout the works of our prophets and sages. The problem however, is that there are many conflicting and contradictory statements in their writings, making it rather difficult to gain a clear picture of what will really happen.
To mention a few:
Contradiction One: How will Moshiach arrive?
(Daniel 7:13): “I saw in the visions of the night, and behold with the clouds of the heaven, one like a man was coming, and he came up to the Ancient of Days and was brought before Him. And He gave him dominion and glory and a kingdom, and all peoples, nations, and tongues shall serve him; his dominion is an eternal dominion, which will not be removed, and his kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”
The “man” in Daniel’s vision is king Moshiach and he sees him coming with the clouds of heaven. The assumption is that Moshiach will arrive, riding on the clouds of heaven.
However we find a conflicting prophecy in the book of Zechariah (9:10): “Be exceedingly happy, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold! Your king shall come to you. He is just and victorious; humble, and riding a donkey … And I will cut off the chariots from Ephraim, and the horses from Jerusalem; and the bow of war shall be cut off. And he shall speak peace to the nations, and his rule shall be from the sea to the west and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
Zechariah too is prophesying about king Moshiach, but he sees him arriving as a humble man riding on a donkey.
How then will Moshiach arrive? Will he come, riding on the clouds of heaven or as a poor man riding on a donkey?
Contradiction Two: When will Moshiach come?
(Isaiah 60:22) “The smallest shall become a thousand and the least a mighty nation; I am the Lord, in its time I will hasten it.”
In this prophecy concerning the redemption, Isaiah seems to contradict himself. First he says: “In its time”. This implies that there is predetermined date and time for Moshiach’s coming and he will come only then. But then he says: “I will hasten it”. This implies that G-d will hasten Moshiach’s coming and he may therefore arrive at any time.
Which way is it? Is there a fixed date for Moshiach to come or can everyday be the day?
Contraction Three: Who will build the third temple?
(Rambam, laws of kings, 11:1) “In the future, the Messianic king will arise and renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty. He will build the Temple and gather the dispersed of Israel.” From this comment of Rambam it is clear that the third Bet Hamikdash will be built by Moshiach. He will lead the rest of the Jews in the physical and natural process of its building.
However, Rashi (Sukkah 41A) writes: “The third temple will descend perfectly built from heaven.” Clearly then Moshiach will not have to build the temple, as it will miraculously descend from heaven created to perfection by G-d Himself.
Which one is it? Will it be built naturally by man or miraculously by G-d?
Contradiction 4: What will the world be like after he comes?
(Rambam, laws of kings, 12:1) “Do not presume that in the Messianic age any facet of the world’s nature will change or there will be innovations in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern.
Although Isaiah (11:6) states: ‘The wolf will dwell with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the young goat,’ these words are a metaphor and a parable. The interpretation of the prophecy is as follows: Israel will dwell securely together with the wicked gentiles who are likened to a wolf and leopard. Similarly, other Messianic prophecies of this nature are metaphors. In the Messianic era, everyone will realize which matters were implied by these metaphors and which allusions they contained.
Our Sages taught: “There will be no difference between the current age and the Messianic era except the emancipation from our subjugation to the gentile kingdoms.”
The opinion of Rambam it seems is that life after Moshiach comes will be pretty much the same as it is now and we should not expect anything miraculous and supernatural to happen.
However many other Rabbis disagree with Rambam. They insist that the biblical prophecies were meant literally: the wolf will lie with the lamb, all trees will bear fruit, even those that presently don’t, the sick will be healed, the earth will grow garments that are ready to wear etc.
The truth is even Rambam himself seems to change his mind. In Iggeret Techiat Hamesim he writes: “This that I wrote concerning the prophecies that they are meant in the metaphoric sense, may indeed not be so as they could come true in the literal sense as well.”
Furthermore, one of Rambam’s 13 principles of faith is the resurrection of the dead. This is certainly miraculous and a change in the ways of the world.
So once again, which way is it? Will the world continue to run in the same natural way that it does now or will it dramatically change to run in a miraculous and supernatural way?
The Talmud in Sanhedrin (98A) resolves two of the contradictions regarding how he will come and when he will come, in the following way: If the Jews are meritorious he will come on the clouds of heaven and his coming will be hastened. If we are not found to be meritorious, Moshiach will come on a donkey at the predetermined time.
But if we closely examine all of the four contradictions mentioned above, we will find that in truth, the same underlying principle is being questioned in all of them: will Moshiach’s coming be something of a natural process or will it be miraculous?
The logic of the Talmud therefore can be extended to answer all four of the questions as such: If we are worthy G-d will send him in a miraculous way. This includes his coming early before his time, arriving on clouds, the Bet Hamikdash descending from heaven and various other supernatural events taking place. If we are not worthy then he will come by means of a natural process. He will come only in his time, riding an animal, he will build the Bet Hamikdash and nothing miraculous will happen after his coming.
This would explain the uncertainty of Rambam on this matter, since it’s not possible to predict which way it will be.
This also explains the issue with the resurrection of the dead. Even if Moshiach came and we were not worthy, at some point after his coming we would eventually become worthy and then the resurrection will happen.
May we truly merit Moshiach’s coming speedily in our days.