Rambam, as he usually does in matters of Jewish thought, explains the arrival of Moshiach in a natural manner. This is in line with his overall opinion of how HaShem runs his world — by leaving nature in place without altering it except for in exceptional circumstances. Rambam brings proof to his view about the natural arrival of the Messianic era from Bar Kosiva (Bar Kochva) who R. Akiva, along with almost all the Chachamim at that time, thought was the Moshiach, but at no point asked him for a miracle. (The Ra’avad seems to disagree with Rambam on this point by quoting a Gemara about Moshiach needing to have a particular aroma, and that when it was realized that Bar Kosiva did not, the Chachamim killed him. This point is debated in the Gemara itself, and this is not the time to elaborate further.)
It appears that Rambam does not feel that Moshiach’s arrival and the heralding of the Messianic era needs to be miraculous at all. His whole description at the end of his Hilchos Melachim is that of a natural progression. He obviously must be of the opinion that whatever the purpose of the Messianic era is, it does not need to be one of miracles or the supernatural. This is in line with Shmuel’s oft-repeated statement that there will be no difference between today’s world and the times of Moshiach, except for us not being “under the yoke of the nations.”
It is also clear from Rambam that it is possible for even great scholars, such as R. Akiva and the other Chachamim of the Mishnah, to make a mistake about who the Moshiach is. This should serve as notice and prevent us from getting caught up in popular rumors — even from our greatest Gedolim.
Be that as it may, if even great scholars can make such mistakes, how are we expected to know on our own when “the real McCoy” comes along? As we will see from Rambam it will not necessarily be clear to us at first. There will be signs indicating that he has arrived, but only at the end of the process, in hindsight, will we be certain through the fulfillment of the prophesies.
Read the other installments in this “Fundamentals” series here.