And Moses said to G‑d: “Who am I, that I might go to Pharaoh, and that I might take the children of Israel out of Egypt? . . . Please, my L‑rd, send by the hand of he whom You will send.”

Exodus 3:4, 4:13

“Send by the hand of he whom You will send”—by the hand of Moshiach, who is destined to be revealed.

Midrash Lekach Tov on Exodus 4:13

Our sages state that “the first redeemer, he is the final redeemer.” This is not to say that Moses, who delivered the Jewish people from their first exile, and Moshiach, who will bring about the final redemption, are the same person. Moses was from the tribe of Levi, while Moshiach is identified as a descendent of King David, from the tribe of Judah. Rather, it means that the redemption achieved by Moses is the source for the redemption by Moshiach.

The purpose of the Exodus, as G‑d told Moses when He revealed Himself to him in the burning bush, was that “when you take this nation out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d at this mountain”—that the Jewish people should receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. The final redemption represents the full and ultimate implementation of the Torah, G‑d’s “blueprint for creation,” in the world. Thus, “the first redeemer, he is the final redeemer”—Moses’ Torah is the essence of Moshiach’s perfect world.

Yet when Moses begged that G‑d send Moshiach and make the Exodus the first and final redemption, G‑d did not accept his plea. First the Jewish people must be taken out of Egypt and given the Torah—a task that only Moses can achieve. Then they can embark on their mission to “perfect the world as the kingdom of G‑d” via the Torah, until its ultimate realization through Moshiach.

Two Shades of One

The relationship between Moses and Moshiach is reflected in the numerical value of their names. (In the Holy Tongue each letter is also a number, so that a word is also a string of numbers; the sum of these numbers is the word’s numerical value, or gematria. The gematria of a word represents a deeper stratum of significance than its linguistic meaning, so the fact that two different words have the same numerical value indicates that they are variant expressions of the same truth.) The numerical value of “Mosheh” (Moses) is 345, and that of “Moshiach,” 358. So the difference between Moses and Moshiach is represented by the number 13; otherwise stated, Moses + 13 = Moshiach.

Thirteen is the numerical value of echad, a word that is the keystone of the Jewish faith. Every morning and evening of his life, the Jew recites the verse Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elo-hei-nu, Ado-nai echad—“Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is echad.” The Jewish people are called “an echad nation on earth” because they reveal the echad of G‑d in the world. And the era of Moshiach is described as “the day that G‑d will be echad, and His name echad.”

Echad means “one.” The Shema proclaims the oneness and unity of G‑d, which the people of Israel are charged to reveal in the world, and which will be fully manifest in the era of Moshiach. But is echad the ideal word to express the divine unity? Like its English equivalent, the word does not preclude the existence of other objects (as in the sequence “one, two, three . . .”), nor does it preclude its object being composed of parts (we speak of “one nation,” “one forest,” “one person” and “one tree,” despite the fact that each of these consists of many units or components). It would seem that the term yachid, which means “singular” and “only one,” more clearly expresses the “perfect simplicity” of G‑d (which Maimonides states to be the most fundamental principle of the Jewish faith) and the axiom that “there is none else besides Him” (Deuteronomy 4:35).

Chassidic teaching explains that, on the contrary, echad represents a deeper unity than yachid. Yachid is a oneness that cannot tolerate plurality—if another being or element is introduced into the equation, the yachid is no longer yachid. Echad, on the other hand, represents the fusion of diverse elements into a harmonious whole. The oneness of echad is not undermined by plurality; indeed, it employs plurality as the ingredients of unity.

As one chassidic thinker once put it, G‑d did not have to create a world to be yachid. He was singularly and exclusively one before the world was created, and remains so after the fact. It was to express His echad-ness that He created the world, created man, granted him freedom of choice, and commanded him the Torah. He created existences that, at least in their own perception, are distinct of Him, and gave them the tools to bring their lives into utter harmony with His will. When a diverse and plural world chooses, by its own initiative, to unite with Him, the divine oneness assumes a new, deeper expression: G‑d is echad.

The Limits of Revelation

Moses plus echad equals Moshiach.

Moses revealed the divine wisdom and will to man. But this was a revelation, a burst of light from Above. It was not something the world understood or agreed with, but something imposed upon it by the force of a higher truth. It was a display of the divine yachid, of the exclusive, all-obliterating reality of G‑d.

Moses wanted that G‑d should send Moshiach to take the Jewish people out of Egypt—that the Exodus should lead to the inculcation of the divine echad in the world. But an echad-oneness, by definition, must come from below, when a diverse world chooses, by its own initiative, to merge into an integral whole. Moses could provide the key, the formula; but the process had to unfold in the course of the thirty-three centuries in which the world absorbed the divine truth and implemented the divine will.

In the words of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi: “The era of Moshiach . . . is the culmination and fulfillment of the creation of our world—it is to this end that it was created . . . In the future [world of Moshiach], the light of G‑d will be revealed without any obscuring garment, as it is written: ‘No longer shall your Master be shrouded; your eyes shall behold your Master’ . . .

“A semblance of this was already experienced on earth at the time that the Torah was given, as it is written: ‘You have been shown to know that the L‑rd He is G‑d, there is none else beside Him’ . . . [But] then their existence was literally nullified by the revelation, as our sages have said, ‘With each utterance [the people of Israel heard from G‑d at Mount Sinai], their souls flew from their bodies . . .’ Yet in the end of days the body and the world will be refined, and will be able to receive the revelation of the divine light . . . via the Torah.”