Based upon Rambam’s naturalistic understanding of the redemption process it is clear that he rejects Rashi and Tosafos’s opinion in Sukkah (41a) that the Beis HaMikdash will descend miraculously from heaven. On the contrary, he describes it being built by Moshiach. It is possible that this disagreement is based on the more fundamental question as to whether or not open miracles would be necessary to fulfill the purpose of the Messianic era. Chazal (Avos 6) state that the purpose of the world is to bring honor to HaShem. The Messianic era will be the culmination of HaShem’s honor in this world. It is possible that Rashi and Tosafos think that without an obvious miraculous intervention HaShem’s ultimate honor would not be fulfilled. Rambam either thinks that this is not necessary to fulfill His honor, or that HaShem’s will not to change nature is so resolute that He will not alter it even for the purposes of the Messianic era.
I will at this point add a disclaimer that it is possible that there are other explanations to what is being raised here. I am writing what I think to be a possible explanation, and I hope that at the very least it is not heretical.
While examining Rambam’s words further, one might notice that Rambam makes no mention of Moshiach ben Yosef. Rambam does say that there is a hint to two Messiahs in the parsha of Balak (11:1), but he explains it to mean Dovid HaMelech and the one Moshiach descendant from him. R. Moshe Meiselman in Torah, Chazal, and Science states that when we find that Rambam has rejected a particular statement of Chazal it is because he has determined that it was the minority opinion. This viewpoint makes sense not only from a logical outlook — since the way a deciding halacha is almost always to follow the majority opinion — but from Rambam’s own words. In his introduction to Mishneh Torah Rambam states that one is not allowed to argue with Chazal (at least the Gemara). This is consistent with Rosh’s opinion, as stated in his responsa (21:8.4), where he calls someone a zakein mamrei, a rebellious elder, for arguing with the Gemara. In any case, Rambam makes clear that he believes that there will be a descendant of Dovid who will rule over Eretz Yisrael. He states that this person will be a tzaddik and learn Torah like Dovid HaMelech.
In the next and final installment in this series we will examine the various signs and ways of determining who the Moshiach will actually be.
Read the other installments in this “Fundamentals” series here.