In any halachic discussion (see here) a qualified posek is obviously allowed to reach his own conclusion as to what the proper halacha is. While obviously Rambam and other authorities we have mentioned do reach their various conclusions (though, like we mentioned, Rambam clearly states we do not know anything about the Messianic era conclusively), it seems strange to be “deciding” what the days of Moshiach will look like. This is because it is a decision about how HaShem is supposed to be running His world. Unlike a typical halachic debate in which a conclusion much be reached so that we know how to act and what to do, in the case of what the Messianic era will look like it is not really necessary to “decide” as such.
This is not to say that in general we can’t come to some sort of conclusion about “hashkafic” questions. Quite the contrary, as such “hashkafic” questions often do have practical halachic ramifications. For example, one who espouses a hashkafah that qualifies him as a heretic has a particular halachic status. He is now no longer able to touch your wine, he may not be able to cook your food, it may be forbidden to desecrate Shabbos to save his life, etc. Therefore, it is often imperative that we come to some sort of conclusion as to what the proper hashkafah is for various aspects of Judaism, which would additionally give us the benefit of knowing exactly what we need to believe in and practice.
However, our discussion here about the Messianic era is different. As stated, Rambam says there is no fundamental belief about the process of the Messianic era beyond simply that one day the Moshiach will arrive. Furthermore, any discussion of what the Messianic era would look like, or how it must happen, would be nothing more than a frivolous debate over how HaShem should run His world, when in truth He will run it in whatever way He wants, whether or not we “pasken” like Him.
With this introduction, I think we can now begin to examine Rambam’s opinion further, together with some of the disagreements that he has with other Rishonim, and try to reach a clearer understanding of the topic. I will admit that we will not delve too deeply into the topic, though I think we will have enough clarity to ease our minds and resist certain tendencies that exist to get over-excited, worked-up, or other possibly worse actions during our turbulent times.
Read the other installments in this “Fundamentals” series here.