Awaiting Moshiach

Written by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet Posted in In Depth

A. The Obligation to Await

“The vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie. Though he tarry — wait for him, for it will surely come.. it will not be late!” (Habakuk 2:3)

“Therefore wait for Me, says G‑d, for the day that I rise to the prey; for My judgment is to gather nations, that I assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them My indignation, all My fierce anger. For all the earth shall be consumed by the fire of My jealousy.” (Zephaniah 3:8)99

“Happy are all those that wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:18)100

Waiting for Moshiach, anticipating his coming, is not simply a virtue but a religious obligation. Rambam thus rules that whoever does not believe in — and whoever does not await (eagerly looking forward to) — the coming of Moshiach, in effect denies the whole Torah, all the prophets beginning with Moses.101 In the popular formulation of his thirteen Principles of the Faith (the hymn of Ani Ma’amin) this is put as follows:

“I believe with complete faith in the coming of Moshiach. Though he tarry, nonetheless I await him every day, that he will come.”

As stated above,102 some authorities view this principle as an integral part of the first of the Ten Commandments which states “Anochi — I am G‑d, your G‑d, who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Exodus 20:2) The connection may be seen in the fact that the initial word — Anochi — is linked with redemption:

“Anochi signifies the first redemption from Egypt and the last redemption through Moshiach.”103 Anochi is an explicit expression of compassion, consolation and comfort.104 Indeed, Anochi is an acronym with every one of its four letters signifying Biblical prophecies of the Messianic consolations and comfort.105

In view of this legal obligation to await Moshiach, therefore, one of the first questions an individual is asked on the Day of Divine Judgment is “Tzipita liyeshu’ah — did you look forward to salvation?”106

To believe in the coming of Moshiach and to await it are two separate concepts. “To believe” is a doctrinal affirmation as for any other part of the Torah: affirming the principle of Moshiach who will come eventually, whenever that may be. “To await” means an active and eager anticipation of the redemption, that it occur speedily: “I await him every day..,” literally:107

“In ikveta deMeshicha (on the ‘heels of Moshiach,’ i.e.,) when the time arrives for the glory of G‑d to be revealed in the world through the coming of our righteous Moshiach, there will surely be leaders of Israel .. who will urge the masses of Israel to strengthen the faith and to return with teshuvah, and to arouse the people to prepare themselves with teshuvah and good deeds for the coming of Moshiach..

“In those days there will also be people of little faith who will not believe those words, even as we find that during the Egyptian exile ‘they did not listen to Moses because of anguished spirit and hard labor’ (Exodus 6:9)..

“Each one will argue that he does not question the truth of the possibility of the redemption, but merely doubts the time of the redemption as to when it will occur. Yet there is an explicit verse in Malachi (3:1) that ‘The lord whom you seek (i.e., the king Moshiach) will suddenly come to his palace, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire (i.e., Elijah the prophet), behold he comes..’ At the very least, therefore, one is to consider every day that perhaps he will come that day. We find this reflected in the explicit ruling in the Gemara108 about one who vows to become a nazirite on the day that the scion of David will come..

“[If one does not sense it this way] it follows that the belief in the coming of Moshiach is extremely weak. All our talk about our righteous Moshiach is but outwardly, while our heart is not with us..”109

B. Kivuy: The Merit and Effect of Awaiting

“Everything is (bound up) with kivuy (hoping; awaiting).”110

“When Israel asked Bil’am, ‘When will salvation come?’ he answered them: ‘I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh’ (Numbers 24:17). Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to them: ‘Is this your sense? Do you not know that Bil’am .. does not wish My salvation to come? Be like your patriarch who said, ‘I wait for Your salvation, G‑d’ (Genesis 49:18).111 Wait for salvation for it is close at hand!’ Thus it says, ‘For My salvation is near to come’ (Isaiah 56:1).”112

“When the Israelites enter the synagogues and houses of study, they say to the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Redeem us!’ He responds to them: ‘Are there righteous people among you? Are there G‑d-fearing people among you?’ They reply: ‘In the past .. there were.. Nowadays, however, as we go from generation to generation it grows darker for us..’ The Holy One, blessed be He, then says to them: ‘Trust in My Name and I shall stand by you .. for I shall save whoever trusts in My Name.’ ”113

“Israel has nothing but the hope that the Holy One, blessed be He, redeem them by virtue of ‘I hoped patiently unto G‑d’ (Psalms 40:2), as it is written, ‘G‑d is good unto those that hope unto Him’ (Lament. 3:25). If you might say, ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved’ (Jeremiah 8:20), then ‘Hope to G‑d, be strong and let your heart take courage, and hope to G‑d’ (Psalms 27:14) .. hope and hope again. If you should ask, ‘Until when should we hope?’ — it was already said, ‘Let Israel hope to G‑d, from this time and forever’ (Psalms 131:3), and ‘Be strong and let your heart take courage, all those that hope to G‑d’ (Psalms 31:25). If this will be done, you shall be saved, as it is said, ‘Those that hope in Me will not be ashamed’ (Isaiah 49:23), ‘Tho­se that hope to G‑d shall renew their strength’ (Isaiah 40:31), and ‘Those that hope to G‑d shall inherit the land’ (Psalms 37:9).”114

Though the study of Torah is ever so important, the need to await and hope for the redemption is addressed especially to the scholars and students of Torah, as G‑d rebukes them: “Though the words of the Torah are beloved unto you, you did not do right in awaiting My Torah but not (the restoration of) My Kingdom.”115

“[The patriarchs] exclaimed before Him: ‘Master of the universe, maybe there is no restoration for the children?’ He said to them: ‘When there is a generation that looks forward to My Kingdom, they will be redeemed immediately,’ as it is said, ‘There is hope for your future, says G‑d, that (your) children shall return to their own boundary’ (Jeremiah 31:16).”116

The daily Amidah contains the request, “Speedily cause the off­spring of Your servant David to flourish and enhance his power through Your salvation, for we hope for Your salvation all the day..” The last phrase, “for we hope..,” seems strange: what kind of reasoning is that? If we justly deserve the redemption, we shall merit it even without that hope; if we do not deserve it, of what avail will that hope be? The meaning, however, is clear:

“Speedily cause the offspring of Your servant David to flourish..;” and if it should be said that we lack merit, cause it to flourish anyway — “because we hope for your salvation..,” that is, because we have the kivuy (hope). By virtue of that kivuy we deserve that You redeem us!117

C. Demanding Moshiach

True belief in the Messianic redemption is reflected and verified in sincere anticipation, in eagerly looking forward to the coming of Moshiach. In turn, the sincerity of this hope and awaiting is tested by what is done to achieve it. For something truly desired one will ask and beg, demand, and do everything possible to attain it. The same applies to the obligatory awaiting and anti­cipation of Moshiach.

G‑d insists that we prove the sincerity of our claim to want Moshiach by doing everything in our power to bring it about, including storming the Gates of Heaven with demands for the redemption:

“The children of Israel shall sit many days without king and without prince, and without sacrifice.. Thereafter, the children of Israel shall return and ask for G‑d, their G‑d, and for David their king, and they shall be in fear before G‑d and (hope) for His goodness in the end of days.” (Hosea 3:4-5)

“Ask for G‑d” refers to the restoration of the Kingdom of Heaven; “David their king” — the restoration of the Kingdom of the House of David, through Moshiach; “fear before G‑d.. His goodness” — the restoration of the Bet Hamikdash. For Israel will not see the redemption until they shall return and ask for these!118

“Israel shall not be redeemed until they will confess and demand the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of the House of David, and the Bet Hamikdash!”119

R. Shimon bar Yochai taught a parable of a man who punished his son. The son did not know why he was being punished, but thereafter his father said to him: “Now go and do that which I had ordered you many days ago and you ignored me.”

“Even so, all the thousands that perished in battle in the days of David, perished only because they did not demand that the Bet Hamikdash be built. This presents an a fortiori argument:

“If this happened to those in whose midst there had not been a Bet Hamikdash, which, therefore, was not destroyed in their days, yet they were punished for not demanding it, how much more so then with regards to ourselves in whose days the Bet Hamikdash is destroyed and we do not mourn it and do not seek mercy for it!”120

We pray for the redemption several times every day. Even so, requesting by itself is not enough. One must demand the redemption, just as with the wages of a hired worker: the law stipulates that if the worker does not demand his wages, there is no obligation to give it to him on the very day that he completes his work.121 So, too, we must demand our redemption. Failure to do so shows that this matter is clearly not that urgent to us!122

98.     See my Chassidic Dimensions, pp. 64-67, 78f., and 188, and the sources cited there. Cf. Keter Shem Tov, sect. 370; and R. Dov Ber of Mezhirech, Maggid Devarav Leya’akov, sect. 235.

99.     Note that this is another of the few Scriptural verses that contain all the letters of the aleph-bet (see above, note 21*). As noted by various texts, however, it is the only one which also contains the final forms of the five letters (mem, nun, tzadik, peh, kaf) which have double forms. The additional significance of this follows from the fact that these five letters “all pertain to the mystery of the redemption!” Pirkei deR. Eliezer, ch. 48 (cf. Aruch, s.v. chamesh; and note R. Bachaya on Genesis 47:28, and Redak on Isaiah 9:6). Cf. also Bamidbar Rabba 18:21, and parallel passages.

100.   See Sanhedrin 97b. Cf. also Rashi on Isaiah 26:2 and Psalms 130:6.

101.   See above, note 3. For a comprehensive analysis of Rambam’s ruling, see Chidushim Ubi’urim Behilchot Melachim, sect. II.

102.   See above, note 4.

103.   Shemot Rabba 3:4. See Mayim Rabim-5636, ch. 134 (p. 144f.).

104.   Pesikta Rabaty 21:15. See there also 34:8 (ed. Friedmann, ch. 33, p. 153a). Cf. Torah Shelemah, Yitro, on Exodus 20:2, notes 33, 34, and 46.

105.   See Midrash Hagadol on Deuteronomy 5:6 (p. 103).

106.   Shabbat 31a

107.   See Zohar I:4a: “Who among you awaits every day the light that will shine forth.. [i.e., “awaiting the coming of Moshiach every day;” Commentary of R. Abraham Galante, cited there in Or Hachamah] when [the King] shall be glorified and called King over all the kings in the world? He who does not look forward to this every day [i.e., he does not await the salvations every day; ibid.] in this world, has no share here.” [“This is the concept of ‘Did you look forward to salvation?’. That is why (the sages) instituted to say in the ‘Eighteen Blessings’ (Amidah; 15th Blessing) ‘for we hope for Your salvation every day (lit. all the day);’ ” Commentary of R. Chaim Vital, cited there in Or Hachamah. Cf. Peri Eitz Chayim, Sha’ar Ha’amidah ch. 19: when saying “for we hope for Your salvation all the day,” have in mind that man is asked after death, “Did you look forward to salvation?”] See also Zohar I:140a: “..those that eagerly await the redemption each day, as it is said, ‘A hoard of salvation’ (Isaiah 33:6) — which refers to those who eagerly await salvation every day.”

108.   Eruvin 43a-b. See Radvaz on Rambam, Hilchot Nezirut 4:11.

109.   Chafetz Chaim, Chizuk Emunah, quoted in Chafetz Chaim al Hatorah, Vayera, p. 56f., note 2. Note also Torat Ze’ev, quoted in Hagadah shel Pesach Mibet Levi [Brisk], p. 120: “It is incumbent to await the coming of Moshiach every single day, and all day long.. It is not enough to believe in the coming of Moshiach, but each day one must await his coming.. Furthermore, it is not enough to await his coming every day, but it is to be in the manner of our prayer ‘we await Your salvation all the day,’ that is, to await and expect it every day, and all day long, literally every moment!”

110.   Bereishit Rabba 98:14

111.   See Targum Yehonathan, and Bereishit Rabba 98:14, on this verse.

112.   Shemot Rabba 30:24

113.   Midrash Tehilim 31:1

114.   Midrash Tehilim 40:1

115.   Pesikta Rabaty 35:2 (ed. Friedmann, ch. 34).

116.   Eychah Zutta, par. 26 (ed. Buber, p. 65); Yalkut Shimoni II:997.

117.   Tzemach David, quoted in Midbar Kedemot, s.v. kivuy (kof: par. 16). — In this context note also Tossafot Harosh on Genesis 15:6: “He believed in G‑d, and He accounted it to him as tzedakah,” i.e., the Holy One, blessed be He, accounted to Abraham the faith he had in Him as tzedakah (lit. meritorious righteousness). This shows that the prophet’s words that “Zion shall be redeemed by justice and her repatriates by tzedakah” (Isaiah 1:27) .. and many other such verses, do not refer only to one’s personal or monetary tzedakah (charity). The complete faith of Israel believing all the promises given unto them through the prophets is also referred to as tzedakah. It is worthy in the eyes of G‑d, and (by virtue thereof) in His great compassion He will bring upon us that which He promised us. Cf. Mechilta, Beshalach, Vayehi: end of ch. 6; Eliyahu Rabba, ch. 25; and Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, ch. 26.

118.   Midrash Shemuel, ch. 13, cited by Rashi and Redak on Hosea 3:4-5.

119.   Bet Yossef on Tur-Orach Chayim ch. 188 (from the Midrash cited above, as quoted by Shibalei Haleket, sect. 157).

120.   Midrash Tehilim 17:4; Midrash Shemuel, ch. 31; cited by Redak on II-Samuel 24:25, see there; and in Halachic context in Roke’ach, Hilchot Tefilah, sect. 322. See also Responsa Chatam Sofer VI:no. 86.

121.   Baba Metzia 9:12 (111a)

122.   Sichot Chafetz Chaim, par. 14; quoted in Chafetz Chaim al Siddur Hatefilah, par. 168 (p. 80).

  Note in this context that Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1 enumerates as one of the five things by virtue of which Israel shall be redeemed, “tzevachah — an outcry of prayer” for the redemption (cf. the version in Midrash Tehilim 106:9).

  As for Ketuvot 111a and Shir Rabba 2:7 (cf. Tanchuma, ed. Buber, Devarim:4, note 13) that G‑d adjured Israel not to press for a hastening of the ketz (cf. Rashi on Ketuvot 111a, “through excessive prayer”): (a) Note Responsa Avnei Nezer, Yoreh De’ah, no. 454, par. 40ff., that this does not fall into Halachic purview of practical implications. (b) The adjuration to Israel was counterbalanced by another one to the nations of the world not to make the yoke of exile too heavy on Israel “for by making their yoke too heavy on Israel they would cause the end to come before its time!” (Shir Rabba, ibid.) As the nations clearly violated the oath addressed to them, therefore, Israel is freed from its own. (Cf. Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, ch. 24; and see Kovetz Torah shebe’al Peh, vol. XIII, Jerusalem 1971, pp. 144-5.)

Moreover, (c) Berayta deR. Yishmael in Pirkei Heichalot (cited in R. Chaim Vital’s introduction to Eitz Chayim) states — in comment on Daniel 7:25 — that these adjurations were in effect for 1000 years only, and no more! (Cf. Zohar II:17a; and also ibid., I:116b). Cf. Chida, Midbar Kedemot, s.v. gimel:25, and Devash Lefi, s.v. yod:11 (which seems based on R. Chaim Vital’s Sha’ar Hapesukim, Daniel 12); and see also Petach Einayim on Sanhedrin 98a.

On the issue of Messianic activism, see also Darkei Chayim Veshalom (Munkatsh), pp. 143ff. and 213ff.

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