Maybe Moshiach?
By Zushe Kohn
On Motzaei Shabbos Parshas Sh’mos, a week after a distinguished panel of Chabad Rabbis was interviewed on the Zev Brenner program – 570 AM, WMCA – another interview was aired, featuring the man who ‘merited’ to put the Moshiach issue back on the front burner. Some of his comments serve as excellent springboards for clarifying some of the Moshiach issues from a Torah perspective. Following is the first in a series of installments dealing with these issues. We will use the letter ‘B’ to represent his name.

I. "At this point, the affirmation that the Rebbe is the Moshiach is contrary to the fundamental understanding of the parameters… of the Messianic faith of Judaism…. Taking a fundamental belief of Judaism, and affirming that one can identify the Messiah, with confidence, even though he died in an unredeemed world, that is, without doing those things that Judaism requires the Messiah to do in order to be recognized as such – this is a betrayal of a fundamental belief of Judaism."

Comment: The assertions are: 1. Moshiach must redeem the world in order to be recognized as Moshiach. 2. Someone who died without redeeming the world cannot be Moshiach. 3. ‘Redeeming the world,’ means doing those things that Judaism requires Moshiach to do. 4. To identify as Moshiach someone who has died without redeeming the world is a betrayal of a fundamental belief in Judaism.

Are these assertions correct?

Not at all.

The Rambam speaks of two sets of activities that Moshiach must perform. The first set consists of 1. impelling all of Jewish people to walk in the ways of Torah and to strengthen the breaches in its observance, and 2. fighting the wars of G-d. This is in addition to the requirement that he be a leader from the House of David, steeped in the study of Torah, and deeply involved with the fulfillment of mitzvos.

One who meets these requirements is defined by the Rambam as "B’chezkas Moshiach," or "Presumed Moshiach." B’chezkas Moshiach is not synonymous with Safek Moshiach (possibly Moshiach), but is, rather, a category that requires us to relate to that individual as Moshiach. Throughout the Torah the term chazaka implies a presumption, in which we relate to the subject of the chazaka as though it were in fact the thing that we presume it to be. As the Rambam himself states in Hilchos Isurei Bia, Chapter 1, Law 2 – which, by Divine providence, happens to be one of the chapters of the Rambam Yomi at the time of this writing – Beis Din executes even severe penalties, such as lashes, and capital punishment, on the basis of a chazaka.

*[To cite one example, from another of this week’s Rambam Yomi portions: In Hilchos Naara Besula, Chapter one, Halacha 1, the Rambam distinguishes between Ones and Mefateh. Ones means having immoral relations with a Naara Besula against her will; Mefateh means having such relations with the girl’s consent. In either case, the man who perpetrated the act must pay the girl’s father Chamishim Kasef. In the case of the Ones, however, the perpetrator must also marry the girl, and is prohibited from ever divorcing her. What happens though, if the witnesses do not know whether the act was perpetrated with or against the girl’s consent? Says the Rambam: "If it happened in the field, it is presumed to be a case of anusa; if it happened in the city, it is presumed to be a case of mefuta." On the basis of this presumption, Beis Din forces the man to marry this girl (if both she and her father wish him to do so), and to remain married to her for the rest of his life. This is not a case of Safek anusa o mefuta, for if it were, then Beis Din would be unable to force the man to marry her.]

When an individual, therefore, is identified as B’chezkas Moshiach, it means that we are to relate to him as the real McCoy. HaGaon Rav Yosef HaLevi Heller, in his Kuntres Hilchasa L’Meshicha, takes it even a step further. He asks: Why do we need the category of B’chezkas Moshiach altogether? Why not just wait and see if the person in question builds the Beis HaMikdash and gathers the dispersed of Israel, at which point he will attain the status of Moshiach Vadai? One of Rav Heller’s answers – "B’p’shitus yesh lomar," as he puts it – is that once an individual attains the status of Chezkas Moshiach, we are obligated to believe that he is the person who is going to bring the Redemption. The belief in this individual Messiah-ship thus becomes incorporated within the parameters of the 12th Ani Maamin. In other words, when we affirm our faith in the coming of Moshiach, we are affirming our belief that this individual who is B’chezkas Moshiach is the one who will in fact bring the Redemption. (See there, chapter 9, for a more lengthy discussion.)

Consequently, one who does not believe in the Messianic identity of he who has met the criteria for B’chezkas Moshiach not only violates halacha, but also betrays the 12th Ani Maamin, it seems – the very Ani Maamin described by the Chafetz Chaim as "Ikar HaIkrim."

At any rate, when the potential redeemer is identified as B’chezkas Moshiach, he has not yet redeemed the world. In fact, he has not even completed the tasks of "impelling all of the Jewish people" and "fighting the wars of G-d." Rather, he is deeply engaged in the process. That he has not yet completed these tasks is clear from the words the Rambam uses to describe the activities that grant Moshiach the status of Moshiach Vadai. These are his words, "If he has done so and succeeded, (i.e., in accomplishing the 1st set of activities), and built the Holy Temple in its place and gathered the dispersed of Israel, then he is Moshiach Vadai." In other words, complete success in impelling all of the Jewish people to walk in the ways of the Torah and to strengthen its breaches, and complete success in fighting the wars of G-d, are aspects of Moshiach Vadai and not B’chezkas Moshiach.

These three little words of the Rambam, i.e., "im asa v’hitzliach," ("if he has done so and succeeded") seem to have escaped the attention of some (though not too many, for more often than not, people making assertions such as the one cited above, in the opening paragraph, have never even seen this Rambam). It’s not that they are maliciously ignoring the words, but that they are not properly medakdek in the Rambam’s words.

In summary:

A. According to halacha Moshiach is recognized as such by meeting the following criteria: 1. He is a leader, 2. descended of King David, 3. steeped in the study of Torah, 4. deeply involved with the fulfillment of mitzvos, 5. engaged in bringing all of the Jewish people back to the folds of Torah, and 6. engaged in fighting the battles of G-d. At this stage, Moshiach has not yet brought the Redemption. (See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5, end of Parshas VaYeitzei (2), where in light of this Rambam, the Rebbe distinguishes between 4 stages in the activities of Moshiach).

B. It appears quite obvious that there is an obligation to believe that the person who is B’chezkas Moshiach will in fact bring the Redemption.

So, is Moshiach recognized as such only after he redeems the world? No. He is first recognized as Moshiach upon attaining the status of B’chezkas Moshiach.

II. The question still remains: If the Presumed Moshiach passes on after achieving his Messianic status (as described above), but before redeeming the world, does he lose his status of B’chezkas Moshiach? Do we now have to wait for another individual to fill his shoes, or does the original Presumed Messiah return from the dead to redeem the world? And what about the time in between? Is it "recess," or do the dynamics that the Presumed Moshiach has set in place continue to pave the way toward Redemption?

We will examine these issues in the upcoming weeks, b’ezras Hashem.


Throughout the Torah the term chazaka implies a presumption, in which we relate to the subject of the chazaka as though it were in fact the thing that we presume it to be.



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