Any discussion of the topic of Moshiach cannot take place without also discussing Olam HaBah, the World to Come. Indeed, amongst the various commentaries there is much discussion on these two future time periods and what they might look like. (See Rambam Hilchos Melachim and Hilchos Teshuvah, as well as Ramban’s Sha’ar HaGamol. Ramchal also speaks at length on these topics, as do many others. A full discussion of these writings is beyond the scope of this series of essays.) When discussing Moshiach one must realize that Rambam counts the belief in his arrival as one of his thirteen fundamental beliefs of Judaism. Sefer HaIkkarim, written by R. Yosef Albo (1380-1440), on the other hand, states even though the belief in Moshiach is of course the appropriate belief, one’s Judaism is not negated by not believing in Moshiach. This is unlike Christianity which can’t exist without belief in a Messiah, while Judaism could last simply with a belief in some sort of reward in the World to Come. This all being said, however, the accepted opinion is the one of Rambam that belief in the coming of the Moshiach is an essential one.
Nevertheless, Rambam states the fundamental belief is in his eventual arrival. The actual process — and what it might or might not be — is not part of this required fundamental belief. On the contrary, he states that the actual process is not known to us and was not even known to Chazal. We will only know how it will happen in hindsight. He also further states that one should not spend too much time on the matter, since it does not add to one’s fear of heaven. Despite this, Rambam (at the end of Hilchos Melachim) spends two chapters describing his viewpoint on how it will happen and be.
This author basically subscribes to Rambam’s approach, and certainly to the lack of our ability to definitively define the Messianic era. Furthermore, experience in our nation’s history — and even more recent times — has shown that such speculation at best wastes people’s time. We will therefore limit ourselves in this series to explaining Rambam’s approach, with some effort to point out some disagreements that he has with other Rishonim. I hope that this will bring people some more clarity, and allay their fears against the various different clowns and prediction-makers that creep up every so often.
In a word, our job is to await the arrival of Moshiach, while trying to perfect ourselves in our avodas HaShem in the meantime. We should not think too much about the Messianic era, nor allow ourselves to be lead astray by any false prophets along the way.
Read the other installments in this “Fundamentals” series here.