Encyclopedia Chabad
By Rabbi Chaim Miller

Geula (Redemption)
a) The definition of Redemption in Jewish law
b) The requirement to yearn for this era
c) A distinction between the requirements of belief and yearning
d) Observance of the mitzvos and the world order in the future time
e) The criterion of Divine service
f) The necessity of a human redeemer
g) Most suitable term for this leader in Jewish law
h) The specific goal of this leader
i) Conclusion

a) The definition of Redemption in Jewish law

Every Jew is required to believe that the current state of the world as we know it, in which it is impossible to observe the 613 mitzvos of the Torah properly - will not continue forever. There will come a time when each Jew will be granted the freedom to observe all the precepts of the Torah, including the mitzvos which require either inhabitance in the Land of Israel or the Holy Temple to be rebuilt.

Clearly, this is not a belief in a totally new phenomenon; this is a belief in a permanent return to the state of affairs of yesteryear (such as was the case in the times of King Solomon). This state of affairs is called in Jewish law "the true and complete Redemption." Belief in this concept is one of the fundamental principles of Judaism.

Maimonides’ "Laws of Kings" is unique in that it is the only accepted halachic text that codifies the Jewish belief in Moshiach. For various reasons, these laws were not included in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) of R’ Yosef Caro, universally embraced as the foremost of halachic texts. But the author of Shulchan Aruch did write a comprehensive commentary to the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (entitled Kesef Mishneh), from which it is possible to clarify whether he held an opinion dissenting to that of Maimonides in any point of law not discussed in the Shulchan Aruch.

R’ Yosef Caro does not dissent to any of Maimonides’ rulings regarding the laws of Moshiach (as is the case with the other key commentators). The fact that he does not, makes Maimonides’ "Laws of Kings" the final authority in halacha, and binding upon all Jews.

In the "Laws of Kings," Maimonides makes specific reference that the task of Moshiach is a direct continuation of the work of King David (in deference to any other Jewish leader or king). Therefore, we can conclude that the task of Moshiach is identical to the task to which King David devoted his life, namely to return the world to a state where it is possible to observe all the mitzvos properly. (This point is discussed at length in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 18, p. 277ff.)

Thus, accomplishments typically associated with the Messianic era, such as world peace, the building of the holy Temple, inhabitance of the land of Israel, etc., are all secondary to the main goal of Moshiach, which is to facilitate an environment in which the perfect observance of Torah is possible.

Maimonides identifies the key focus of Messianic belief, which is crucial to clarify what indeed are we required to believe. To attempt on one’s own to digest all the descriptions of the Messianic Era and Redemption found in Jewish literature would prove overwhelming. Here, however, we have a clearly articulated focus: Redemption means "freedom to observe all the 613 mitzvos for all Jews." Conversely, exile (the opposite of redemption) connotes the inability to do so. (Therefore, the Messiah himself is no more than a leader devoted to this specific goal. Any other qualities he may have are not directly relevant to his Messianic task.)

The Rambam writes that the belief in the coming of Moshiach is axiomatic to Judaism, to the extent that a denial of this one precept is considered heretical. But it is difficult to understand why the failure to believe in a futuristic prophecy would render a person’s observance of Shabbos, kashrus, prayer, etc., totally invalid (on the basis that he is a heretic)!

Based on Maimonides’ explanation of Moshiach’s role and of the Redemption, however, the reason becomes apparent. Failure to believe that the world will again make possible the full observance of Torah is tantamount to denial of the relevance of the vast majority of the Torah’s precepts. The person would effectively be declaring that approximately 400 of the 613 mitzvos are relegated to the annals of history, and that practically speaking there are only 200 or so mitzvos. This is clearly a rejection of most of the Torah having any real impact on the world.

A further point derived from Maimonides’ ruling (that Moshiach is devoted entirely to reenacting and continuing the work of King David) is that one is not required to believe in a new phenomenon. Typically, the coming of the Messiah is associated with a totally unimaginable change in the world order beyond any human frame of reference (which could lead a person to become fearful or hostile of Moshiach). However, Maimonides stresses that the focus and goal of Moshiach is not new at all. His agenda is simply to repeat the success that King David enjoyed, by facilitating an environment where all the mitzvos can be observed. Unlike King David, he will ensure that this state is eternal.

b) The requirement to yearn for this state

Besides the requirement to believe in the above, there is also a requirement to actively await and yearn on a constant basis for this state of affairs. With faith alone, the concept could become somewhat detached from reality. However, through developing a feeling of hope and yearning for this time, by focusing on the current inability to observe the mitzvos properly, the belief becomes more tangible. Such yearning to observe the mitzvos also shows that a person truly values the Torah, as it is obviously bothering him that he cannot observe the Torah’s commands properly. In fact, this yearning should be developed to a point that it leads a person to earnestly plead to G-d (and even demand from Him) that the Redemption should materialize immediately. This additional requirement (of yearning) is also one of the fundamental principles of Judaism.

Maimonides writes: "Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but also those of the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher, for the Torah attests to his coming." (Laws of Kings 11:1)

Many Rabbinic authorities in recent generations have indicated that this yearning and desire should take expression in prayers and even demands from G-d to bring the Redemption. For a collection of sources in English, see pamphlet "I Believe" (Lubavitch U.K. 1993, pp. 16-17). The concept of actively awaiting Moshiach is documented also in classical sources. The Talmud (Shabbos 31a) cites one of the questions that a person is asked when his entire lifetime is judged: "Did you actively await the Redemption?" Our Sages obviously considered the matter of primary importance, as the daily prayer cycle is replete with references to Moshiach and redemption.

c) A distinction between the requirements of belief and yearning

However, there is a key distinction between the requirement (a) to believe in the Redemption and (b) the requirement to yearn for it.

1) In the time of the Redemption, it will be possible to observe all of the mitzvos properly.

2) There will have to be major changes in the world order that will facilitate the observance of the mitzvos, e.g., an end to the subjugation of Jewish people by gentile nations, an end to war and hunger, jealousy and rivalry (see [d] below).

One is required to believe in both points (1) and (2). However, one is only required (primarily) to actively await and yearn for point (1): the possibility of observing the mitzvos properly.

Therefore, there is no requirement to yearn for a state of peace or material wealth, or to yearn for the inhabitance of the Land of Israel - as goals in themselves - (as these would fall within category [b] above).

At the end of his Code, Maimonides describes in some detail the state of the world that will exist when the Messianic process reaches its completion. However, it would be unacceptable to suggest that Maimonides was merely describing future events or concluding his book on a good note, since his Mishneh Torah is purely a legal text aimed exclusively at codifying law (as Maimonides specifies in the introduction to his work). Therefore, those details that he mentions concerning the world’s future condition must be presented in a halachic context - namely, that one is required to believe that all these changes will indeed take place.

However, while belief in Moshiach must include belief in a change in the world order, there is no such requirement in regard to the command to desire and yearn for the Redemption. Maimonides writes (12:4): "The Sages and prophets did not yearn for the Messianic Era in order that the Jewish people rule over the entire world, nor in order that they have dominion over the gentiles, nor that they be exalted by them, nor in order that they eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather, their aspiration was that the Jewish people be free to involve themselves in Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them." From this we see that the yearning for Moshiach is limited specifically to a desire to be able to observe all of the mitzvos properly.

d) Observance of the mitzvos and the world order in the future time

In this future time, the observance of Torah and mitzvos will be superior, not only in a quantitative sense (i.e., that it will be possible to observe all 613 mitzvos, unlike now when approximately a third of that number are possible), but also in a qualitative sense (i.e., there will be a vastly heightened level of consciousness and understanding of the mitzvos). This will be the case particularly with the mitzva of "knowing G-d."

There will also be no external distractions (even for other religious matters), and there will not be a need for any sort of business or occupation, for one’s physical needs will be found in abundance. Consequently, there will be no wars (which are the result of physical needs).

Despite the abundance of all things physical, man will not desire or crave them, and as a result there will be no jealousy or rivalry. Obviously, however, there will remain the need for material things in order that the body should be healthy and fit.

Maimonides writes at the end of his "Laws of Kings": "In that era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d. The Jews will, therefore, be great sages and will know the hidden matters, and will attain an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of human potential; as it is written [Isaiah 11:9], ‘For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed.’"

(The above points are derived from the precise wording in the Hebrew text. [See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 27, pp. 239-40])

e) The criterion of Divine service

In addition to the above, one is required to believe that this state of affairs will not come about without tremendous religious effort on the part of man. The Redemption will come through the religious observance of the Jewish people in general (throughout the generations), and particularly through the efforts of the last generation that actually brings the Redemption through t’shuva (repentance; return to G-d) and good deeds.

This concept is depicted by a vivid analogy brought in classical sources (Introduction to Shibolei HaLeket), that the final generation, which brings redemption, is compared to a midget standing on the shoulder of a giant. In other words, the main accomplishments that come to fruition during the Redemption are from the efforts of previous generations, whose stature, piety and scholarship vastly exceeded that of the latter generations. However, the final generation of exile has one distinct advantage despite its lower stature; namely, it is responsible for actually bringing the Redemption literally in the world. This is comparable to a midget standing on the shoulder of a giant; he can actually reach higher than the giant himself, albeit not through his own independent virtues.

Maimonides, in "Laws of Repentance," also stresses the role of the final generation in bringing the Redemption. He writes: "The Jewish people will only be redeemed through repentance, and the Torah has already promised that eventually the Jewish people will indeed repent, and then their redemption will be immediate."

This connection between the religious efforts of the Jewish people and their redemption is discussed in some depth in chapter 37 of Tanya. There it is explained that the Redemption is not merely a reward for the efforts of the Jewish people in exile, but more accurately, it is the direct result of their efforts. This is based on the kabbalistic doctrine that each mitzva is responsible for bringing a specific Divine light into the world. Thus, the Redemption is no more than the cumulative effect of the light which has been brought into the world during all the generations of Jewish observance. However, during exile this light is not apparent, and only with the Redemption will it become so. (See Tanya, ibid., at length.)

From this it follows that the final element of the redemptive process, which is incumbent on the last generation of the exile, is not primarily the accumulation of further Divine light. This has been accomplished by the cumulative effect of all the generations of Jewish observance. The final generation is responsible largely for promoting the awareness and realization that sufficient light has already accumulated, and the world has reached a "critical mass" where redemption must now occur. (See sicha of Parshas Chayei Sara 5752)

(To be continued.)


Failure to believe that the world will again make possible the full observance of Torah is tantamount to denial of the relevance of the vast majority of the Torah’s precepts.


Home | Contents | Archives | Interactive | Calendar | Contact | Bulletin Board | Advertise

©Copyright. No content may be reprinted without permission.