Moshiach & The Messianic Era (Conclusion): The Signs Of Moshiach

Now let us examine the signs that Rambam gives us to identify the Moshiach. He writes that there will be a two stage progression in the identification of the true Moshiach. The first stage is that a descendant of Dovid HaMelech will “learn Torah like Dovid,” force the Jews to follow it, fix the gaps in its observance, fight God’s wars, and, after doing all of these things, would then attain the status of “chezkas Moshiach.” The second stage is the successful defeat of the surrounding nations, the building of the third temple, and the gathering in of the exiles, all at the hands of this alleged Moshiach. If both of these stages are fulfilled, such a person is for certain the Moshiach.

We must now understand what Rambam’s use of the word “chezkas” means. It would seem that Rambam is using it like it would be used at any point in the halachic vernacular. That is, it is a halachic concept which tells us how to act. At no point does a “chazakah” tell us for sure that something is true; rather, it tells us that based upon the facts available to us, we should act under the assumption that it is.

In our context, then, it would mean that until the first stage has been completed, we should pay no attention to a person claiming to be Moshaich at all, for he has not even proven himself in the most minimal way. However, if he fulfills the first stage, we should then operate under the working assumption, or “chazakah”, that he is indeed the Moshiach. Only after the second stage is completed will we know with certainty as he has then fulfilled the very definition of what Moshiach is.

This means that if a particular person has successfully brought about the first stage of the Messianic era, we should, at least cautiously, follow this person and accord him his due as our future king. However, Rambam tells us that until the second stage has been fulfilled as well we may yet be proven wrong. He consoles us that if we are indeed wrong we should not worry nor despair, as it was all only a test from HaShem. What is this test? It would seem to be a test to see if the Jewish people will follow the correct guidelines as to how to establish the Moshiach. If we do not lose our faith at such a juncture, but instead realize that it was a test and that the future Moshiach will yet arrive, we have passed the test.

It is worthwhile pointing out that, from Rambam’s words, it is clear that such a person (who fulfills the first stage of the Messianic era, but not the second) is not labeled a rashah (wicked person). Rambam calls such a man one of the “kosher” kings from the Davidic dynasty. Thus, in such a case, neither the nation nor the false Moshiach have done anything wrong. The Jewish people were simply still unworthy. If the progression and successes of the first stage remain in place, all that is needed for the ultimate redemption is the completion of the second stage. If all the successes of the first stage are lost and reverted, the whole redemption process will need to start again. Thus, perhaps the redemption will come all at once, perhaps in two stages, or perhaps after multiple full attempts. Why any particular option would be needed over the others is known only to God.

This hopefully will fortify all who read it to realize that one never needs to give up hope. One can realize that even great scholars can make mistakes about such things, and the process may be paused in the middle and even restarted. It is simply our job to continue to have faith.

Read the other installments in this “Fundamentals” series here.

Tanakh & Its Readers: Between “The Philosophy Of Hebrew Scripture” & “The Guide For The Perplexed”

Parshas Ki Setzei: Don’t Kill The Golden Goose