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Laws Concerning Kings and the Messiah

Laws Concerning Kings and the Messiah

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MISHNEH TORAH:
Hilchot Melachim
Laws Concerning Kings

Chapter XI

1. The Messianic King will arise in the future and restore the Davidic Kingdom to its former state and original sovereignty. He will build the Sanctuary1 and gather the dispersed of Israel.2 All the laws will be re-instituted in his days as they had been aforetimes;3 sacrifices will be offered, and the Sabbatical years and Jubilee years will be observed4 fully as ordained by the Torah.5

Anyone who does not believe in [Mashiach], or whoever does not look forward to his coming,6 denies not only [the teachings of] the other prophets but [also those] of the Torah and of Moses our Teacher. For the Torah attested to him, as it is said:

G-d, your G-d, will return your captivity and have mercy on you. He will return and gather you [from all the nations whither G-d, your G-d, has scattered you]. If your banished shall be at the utmost end of the heavens [G-d, your G-d, will gather you from there]… and G-d, your G-d, will bring you [to the land that your fathers possessed, and you will possess it]…”7

These words, explicitly stated in the Torah, include all the [Messianic] statements made by all the prophets.

There is reference [to this principle] also in the section of Bilam.8 There he prophesied about the two meshichim (anointed ones): the first anointed one who is [King] David who saved Israel from the hand of their oppressors; and the final anointed one [i.e., Mashiach] who will arise from [the former’s] descendants and save Israel in the end.9 Thus it says there:

“I see him, but not now”10 this refers to David;

“I behold him, but not nigh” this refers to the Messianic King.

“A star steps out from Jacob this refers to David;

“and a scepter will arise from Israel” this refers to the Messianic King.

“He will smite the great ones of Moab this refers to David, as it says, “He smote Moab and measured them with a rope;”11

“and break all the children of Seth this refers to the Messianic King, of whom it is said, “His rule will be from sea to sea.”12

Edom will be a possession”13 this refers to David, as it is said, “Edom became servants to David;14

“[and Seir] shall be a possession” this refers to the Messianic King, as it is said, “Saviors shall ascend Mount Zion [to judge the mount of Esau]…”15

2. In context of the “cities of refuge,” too, it says, “When G-d, your G-d, will expand your borders… you shall add three additional cities…”16 This has never yet taken place, and the Holy One, blessed is He, does not command anything in vain.17

As for the [other] prophets’ utterances [about Mashiach], there is no need for prooftexts as all the [prophets’] books are full of this concept.

3. Do not think that the Messianic King will have to perform signs and wonders and bring about novel things in the world, or resurrect the dead, and other such things. It is not so.18 This is seen from the fact that Rabbi Akiva was a great sage, of the sages of the Mishnah, and he was an armor-bearer of King Bar Koziba19 and said of him that he is the Messianic King: [R. Akiva] and all the wise men of his generation considered him to be the Messianic King until [Bar Koziba] was killed because of sins, and when he was killed they realized that he was not;20 but the sages had not asked him for any sign or wonder.

The essence of all this is that this Torah [of ours], its statutes and its laws, are forever and all eternity, and nothing is to be added to them or diminished from them.21

(Whoever adds or diminishes anything, or interprets the Torah to change the plain sense of the commandments, is surely an impostor, wicked, and a heretic.)22

4. If a king arises from the House of David23 who meditates on the Torah and occupies himself with the commandments like his ancestor David, in accordance with the written and oral Torah,24 and he will prevail upon all of Israel to walk in [the ways of the Torah] and strengthen its breaches,25 and he will fight the battles of G-d26 it may be assumed that he is Mashiach.27

If he did [these things] successfully (and defeated all the nations around him28), built the Sanctuary on its site29 and gathered the dispersed of Israel he is definitely Mashiach!30 He will [then] correct the entire world to serve G-d in unity, as it is said, “For then I will turn to the peoples a pure tongue that all shall call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one consent.”31

(If he did not succeed to that extent or was killed, it is clear that he is not the [Mashiach] promised by the Torah … for all the prophets said that Mashiach is the redeemer of Israel and their savior, and he gathers their dispersed and reinforces their commandments…)32

Chapter XII

1. One is not to presume that anything of the ways of the world will be set aside in the Messianic era, or that there will be any innovation in the order of creation; rather, the world will continue according to its norms.33

As for that which is said in Isaiah, that “the wolf will dwell with the sheep and the leopard will lie down with the kid” 34 this is an allegory and metaphor. It means that Israel shall dwell securely alongside the wicked heathens who are likened to wolves and leopards, as it is said “a wolf from the plains ravages, a leopard lies in wait over their cities.”35 [In the Messianic era] all will return to the true religion and will neither steal nor destroy, but consume that which is permitted, in repose alongside Israel, as it is said, “the lion will eat straw like the ox.”36 All other such expressions are also allegories, and in the era of the Messianic King everyone will come to know what the allegory is about and what allusions are indicated.37

2. The sages said: “There is no difference between the present age and the Messianic era but [delivery from] subjection to foreign powers.”38

From the plain sense of the words of the prophets it is apparent that in the beginning of the Messianic era will occur the war of Gog and Magog;39 and that prior to the war of Gog and Magog a prophet will arise to correct Israel and to prepare their hearts, as it is said, “Behold, I am sending you the prophet Elijah [before the coming of the great and awesome day of G-d].”40 He will not come to declare the pure impure or the impure pure, nor to disqualify people presumed to be of legitimate lineage or to legitimize those presumed to be of disqualified lineage;41 but to establish peace in the world, as it is said, “He will turn the heart of the fathers to the children…”42

Some sages say that Elijah will come before the coming of Mashiach.43

All these and similar matters, however, man will not know how they will occur until they come to pass; for in the [statements of the] prophets these are undefined matters, and the sages, too, do not have a clear tradition on these subjects except for the [apparent] implications of the Scriptural verses. That is why they have differences of opinion in these matters. In any case, neither the sequence of these events nor their details are fundamental to the faith.

A person should not involve himself with the homiletical statements or protract on the Midrashim speaking of these or similar matters, nor is one to consider them fundamental; for they do not lead to either fear or love [of G-d].44

Likewise, one is not to calculate “ends” [dates of the Messianic redemption]. The sages said, “May the spirit expire of those who calculate the ‘ends.’ ”45 Rather, one is to await [the redemption] and believe the principle of this matter as we have explained.

3. In the era of the Messianic King, when his kingdom will be established and all of Israel will gather around him, all of them will have their pedigree determined by him,46 by means of the Holy Spirit that will rest upon him, as it is said, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier.”47 First he will purify the descendants of Levi,48 saying “This one is a legitimate Kohen (priest), and this one is a legitimate Levite,” while diverting those of improper lineage to the [rank of] Israelites.49 Thus it is said, “The governor [Nechemiah] said to them… until there will rise a Kohen with the Urim and Tumim;”50 from this you can infer that the determination of presumed pedigree and the public declaration of lineage is by means of the Holy Spirit.51

As for the Israelites, he will only determine their tribal lineage, that is, he will inform that “this one is of such-and-such a tribe and that one is of such-and-such a tribe.”52 He will not pronounce on those presumed to be of legitimate ancestry that “this one is a mamzer and that one is a ‘slave’;”53 for the law stipulates that once a family is intermixed [with the Jewish community at large] it remains intermixed.54

4. The sages and the prophets did not long for the Messianic era so that they may rule over the whole world or dominate the heathens, nor to be exalted by the nations, nor in order that they may eat, drink and be merry; but only to be free [for involvement] with the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress and disturb them, so that they may merit the life of the World-to-Come, as we explained in Hilchot Teshuvah.55

5. In that era there will be neither famine56 nor war,57 neither envy nor strife,58 because good will emanate in abundance and all delightful things will be accessible as dust.59 The one preoccupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d. The Israelites, therefore, will be great sages and know the hidden matters,60 and they will attain knowledge of their Creator to the extent of human capacity, as it is said: “The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea!”61

FOOTNOTES
1. See above, ch. II-A.
2. See above, ch. II-B. Note that the sequence stated is intentional: first the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash and then the complete ingathering of the exiles. This follows Psalms 147:2f., as interpreted in Berachot 49a; Tanchuma, Noach:11; and Zohar I:134a and 139a.
3. Isaiah 1:26. See Sanhedrin 51b, and Rashi there, s.v. verav Nachman, and Rambam’s Perush Hamishnah on Sanhedrin 1:3.
4. Mechilta deRashby on Exodus 20:22; Sifra on Leviticus 2:14 (parshata 13:1).
5. Leviticus ch. 25. Reinstituting the offering of sacrifices obviously requires the coming of Mashiach, as the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash is a prerequisite for the sacrifices. Likewise, Rambam makes specific reference to the observance of the mitzvot of the Sabbatical and Jubilee years as this, too, requires the coming of Mashiach: the ingathering of all the dispersed of Israel and their resettlement on their Divinely ordained territories is a prerequisite to observe these mitzvot “as ordained by the Torah;” see below, note 45.
6. See above, ch. V-A.
7. Deuteronomy 30:3-5. This prophecy has never yet been fulfilled, thus must relate to the Messianic redemption; see commentary of Ramban on Leviticus 26:16; and Abarbanel, Mashmi’a Yeshu’ah II:3.
8. Numbers ch. 23-24. See the various Midrashim interpreting Bilam’s prophecies; Rambam’s Igeret Teyman, ch. 3; and Mashmi’a Yeshu’ah, s.v. Mevasser Harishon.
9. See Midrash Aggadah , Rashi, and R. Bachaya, on Numbers 24:17-18.
10. Numbers 24:17
11. II Samuels 8:2
12. Zechariah 9:10. The nations of the world are traced to Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve; “children of Seth” thus refers to these nations.
13. Numbers 24:18
14. II Samuels 8:14
15. Obadiah 1:21
16. Deuteronomy 19:8-9. This passage refers to the future era when “your borders will be expanded” to include the lands of the Kenites, Kenizites, and Kadmonites (Genesis 15:19); see Rashi on this passage, based on Sifre, Re’ey, par. 75, and Yerushalmi, Makot 2:6. See Rambam, Hilchot Rotze’ach 8:4, for a detailed explanation. [See R. Chaim Vital, Likutei Torah, and Sha’ar Hamitzvot, on Deuteronomy 19:8-9; R. Isaiah Horowitz, Shnei Luchot Haberit, Bet David, p. 24a (ed. Warsaw, p. 17df.); R. Mosheh Alsheich, R. Shalom Shachna (Siftei Kohen), and other commentators on Deut. 19:8-9; Minchat Chinuch, sect. 520; and Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXIV, p. 107ff.; on the need or significance of “cities of refuge” in the Messianic era.]
17. The lands of the Kenites, Kenizites and Kadmonites cannot be possessed by Israel until the Messianic era; Yerushalmi, Kidushin 1:end of 8; and Bereishit Rabba 44:23.
18. Generally speaking, anyone claiming to be a prophet of G-d is tested by the fulfillment of his predictions (see Rambam, Hilchot Yessodei Hatorah ch. 10). The authenticity of Mashiach, however, is tested solely by the actual success of his Messianic activities, as explained in the sequel here and in paragraph 4 following.
19. Bar Kochba, who led a revolt against the Roman Empire to free the Holy Land.
20. See Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 4:5; Eichah Rabba 2:4 (and see there, in ed. Buber, note 57).
21. Deuteronomy 4:2 and 13:1. Mashiach will thus not add anything to the Torah nor diminish from it; see Rambam’s Perush Hamishnah cited above, note 3 (and cf. the sources cited above, p. 40 note 64).
22. This bracketed paragraph appears only in the early editions of Rambam’s code and was then omitted by Christian censors. The import is obvious: the ultimate test of a true messenger of G-d is total compliance with all the teachings of the Torah of Moses (see Deuteronomy 13:2ff. and ibid. 18:18ff.). The fact of anyone trying to tamper with the Torah of Moses by adding, subtracting or changing anything is the very proof that he is an impostor, regardless of any signs or wonders he may perform to verify his claims (Hilchot Yessodei Hatorah 8:3 and ch. 9-10; and see also Igeret Teyman, ch. 2). This passage, therefore, gives the lie to false prophets and pseudo-Messiahs of all times. There is only one criterion and test for the true Mashiach: total success in the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies within the context of the Torah. The next paragraph (especially in the full, uncensored version) elaborates further on the true nature and activities of the authentic Mashiach.
23. See above, ch. IV-A, notes 46-47.
24. Midrash Tehilim 2:9 and 110:4. Cf. above, ch. IV-A, note 48, and ibid., sect. C.
25. That is, he will repair any breaches in the observance of the Torah.
26. The term “battles of G-d” has not only a literal meaning but also a figurative one, as in the sources cited in Torah Shelemah on Numbers 21:14, par. 84.
27. That is, he possesses the qualifications of Mashiach. Cf. above, ch. IV-B.
28. I.e., defeating the oppressors and enemies of Israel. The bracketed phrase appears in the original editions but was omitted by gentile censors.
29. After the (first) Bet Hamikdash was built on its predetermined site on Mount Moriah (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem, that site is the exclusive location for the Sanctuary and the offering of sacrifices; Megilah 10a; Zevachim 112b. See Rambam, Hilchot Bet Habechirah 1:3 and 2:1-4.
30. As stated above (note 22), the actual success in all this is the only proof for the identity of Mashiach.
31. Zephaniah 3:9. See Bereishit Rabba 88:7; and above, ch. II-E.
32.

The bracketed passage is an excerpt from a lengthy sequel which appears only in the early editions of the code and was then omitted by Christian censors. The thrust is again on the distinction between the true Messiah and the various impostors who come with Messianic claims (see above, note 22). The entire passage elaborates specifically on Judaism’s rejection of the claims made by the founders of Christianity and Islam. At the same time it explains also that by the mysterious ways of Providence, the followers of these two have helped pave the way for the Messianic age by acquainting the world with the principle of Mashiach, the Torah and the commandments; “these doctrines have been spread to distant isles and many nations of uncircumcised hearts, and they discuss these matters and the precepts of the Torah.” At present, though, these nations’ perception of these concepts, based on the false interpretations of those religions, is erroneous; but when the true Mashiach will come “all of them will recant and realize that their ancestors endowed them with falsehood, and that their prophets and ancestors misled them.” [Note that this premise of the Providential design of history was stated already by R. Yehudah Halevi in Kuzary IV:23.]

33. See below, paragraph 2, note 37.
34. Isaiah 11:6. Cf. above, ch. II-F.3
35. Jeremiah 5:6. Cf. Bereishit Rabba 99:2.
36. Isaiah 11:7 and 65:25.
37. In his Ma’amar Techiyat Hametim, sect. 6, Rambam qualifies this allegorical interpretation as a personal opinion. Though convinced of his view, he allows for the possibility that these prophecies may in fact be literal as understood by most other authorities. See above, ch. II-H, note 23.
38. Berachot 34b. See above, ch. II-H, note 23.
39. Avodah Zara 3b. See Appendix I, note 2.
40. Malachi 3:23. Yerushalmi, Shabbat 1:3, and ibid. Shekalim 3:3; see Appendix I, note 6.
41. That is, he will not change legal decisions of the past which may have been based on error. “Lineage” (yichus) refers to the determination of pedigree in context of the prohibition of intermarriage with people of “tainted lineage” (e.g., Deuteronomy 23:3-9; and see Kidushin 69a).
42. Malachi 3:24. See Eduyot 8:7.
43. Eruvin 43b; Pesikta Rabaty 36:4. See Appendix I.
44. The belief in and the awaiting of Mashiach is fundamental to the Jewish faith. Determination of the specific details of events that occur with the coming of Mashiach, or the precise sequence of such, have no practical bearing upon our faith or behavior. There is then no point in trying to resolve these issues. As Rambam puts it elsewheres, there is no point in issuing decisive rulings or resolutions in controversies that are essentially speculative and do not affect actual behavior; see his commentary on Sotah 3:3 and Shevu’ot 1:4; and cf. Tossafot Yom Tov on Berachot 5:4
45. Sanhedrin 97b. See above, ch. V, note 75.
46.

Tribal pedigree or affiliation. The determination of tribal pedigree and affiliation is important for the proper resettlement of all the tribes in their Divinely assigned territories in the Holy Land (see Numbers 26:52-55 and 33:54-34:1ff.; Joshua ch. 18-21) which has Halachic implications as a prerequisite for the observance of the Sabbatical and Jubilee-years (see above, note 5); see Arachin 32b, and Rambam, Hilchot Shemitah Veyovel 10:8-9. (Cf. also Hilchot Terumah 1:26, and Hilchot Bikurim 5:5, for other mitzvot dependent on this condition.) Tribal affiliation also has implications for the practice of individual rites, such as liturgy; see Zohar III: 170a (discussed at length in my The Great Maggid, ch. X, pp. 151-9, see the sources cited there).Moreover, legitimate membership in the tribe of Levi specifically is of utmost importance as the Torah ordains special functions for Kohanim (priests) and Leviyim (Levites) respectively, to be carried out by them exclusively; see Rambam, Hilchot Klei Hamikdash Veha’ovdim Bo, ch. 3-4.

47. Malachi 3:3
48. Kidushin 70bf. The tribe of Levi divides into the two groups of Kohanim and Leviyim, each of which is sanctified and charged with its own exclusive tasks; see note 45.
49. All Jews who do not qualify as legitimate Kohanim or Leviyim are automatically classified as Yisra’elim (regular Israelites).
50. Ezra 2:63.
51. The verse cited refers to the examination of those who ascended from the Babylonian exile with Ezra and Nechemiah in order to determine legitimate Kohanim for the service in the second Bet Hamikdash. Those unable to produce genealogical registers of their priesthood were told that they could not be accepted as Kohanim until their status could be determined with certainty by a “kohen with the Urim and Tumim.” (Ezra 2:61-63; see Kidushin 69b, and the commentaries there.) The Urim and Tumim were part of the High Priest’s garbs, invested with oracular power of the Holy Spirit (see Rashi on Exodus 28:30; Yoma 73b). This power was no longer extant after the first Bet Hamikdash and will be restored only with the coming of Mashiach (Sotah 48a-b). Ezra and Nechemiah, therefore, could not resolve cases of doubtful priesthood, for this requires prophetic power. Mashiach, however, will be able to do so by means of the Holy Spirit that will rest upon him (cf. above, ch. IV-C).
52. As stated in note 45, this has important implications of practical relevance.
53. Eduyot 8:7. It is quite possible that people of illegitimate ancestry (e.g., mamzerim i.e., offspring of incestuous and certain adulterous unions; or offspring of “slaves” i.e., of non-Jewish slaves who had not converted fully to Judaism), intermarriage with which is forbidden to Jews (see note 40), may have become absorbed in the Jewish community in the course of time without anyone aware of their true status. Mashiach will not pronounce judgment on them for the reason following.
54. Kidushin 71a. All such people will thus enjoy the benefit of doubt and remain legitimate members of the community.
55. Hilchot Teshuvah 9:2. See above, end of ch. II-H (and notes 24-28 there), and ch. IV, notes 63-66.
56. See above, ch. II-H, and notes 19-21 there.
57. See above, ch. II-F.
58. Berachot 17a
59. See above, ch. II-H, notes 19-21; and cf. Midrash Tehilim 87:3. “Accessible like dust” implies not only over-abundant plentitude, but also a refined sense of priorities in which worldly delights will be regarded like dust.
60. Things presently hidden and unknown; see above, ch. IV-C, notes 63-64.
61. Isaiah 11:9; see above, ch. II-D.
Rabbi Immanuel Schochet (1935–2013) wrote and lectured extensively on the history and philosophy of Chassidism and topical themes of Jewish thought and ethics. He was a renowned authority on Jewish philosophy and mysticism. He was rabbi of Cong. Beth Joseph, and professor of Philosophy at Humber College, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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Discussion (1)
September 28, 2010
Akiva's error
The assumption that the Messiah may come without any signs whatsoever is established by the fact that Akiva accepted Bar Kokba at his word as Messiah. Obviously, the flaw with this line of reasoning is taking as given the otherwise perfect sagacity of Akiva. Rather than claiming that this "proves" the Messiah might be lacking in power or signs, it just as easily raises questions as to how much stock must we as Jews put in post-Tanaah writings and writers. The "Oral Torah" may supplement the actual Torah, but when the Talmud is valued over the Torah we have Man-Made Tradition trumping the Written Word Revealed at Sinai. Further if Judaism is based on the Talmud, it must surrender its claim to great antiquity. Just as Exodus 12 clearly states when we should count the New Year, reams of writings whisper what itching ears want to hear.
Brian S
Simsbury, CT
 

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