A Human Messiah Vs. A Messianic Era
The belief in a Human Messiah is stated in the Torah,1 Talmud2 Rambam3 and all Jewish halachic sources, but let's try to understand why:
All G-dly revelations have come through people. For example, the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai were effected through the leadership of Moshe; the building of the Bais Hamikdosh was accomplished by Kings Dovid and Shlomo.
In fact, the Jewish people always believed in leaders, in people who were G-d's "spokesmen" and representatives to the Jewish nation and the world, even when they were in exile. The Exilarch, Nasi, Tzadik Hador, Gaon, Rosh Yeshivah and Rebbe are a few of the titles used for the Jewish leaders who guided the Jewish people and to whom the nation was beholden. Judaism without the notion of a leader is a total departure from tradition.
The rationale behind the human factor in bringing about G-d's plan is that the whole purpose of creation is to synthesize the physical and spiritual domains.4 This we do by asserting the domination of the soul over the body.5 The means to accomplish this is through the observance of Torah and mitzvos. Who are the people who are the prime examples of this synthesis?
The leaders of all generations of Jews who were the role models and the ones instrumental in generating this attitude to the rest of their community. They are the ones who demonstrate that a human being can become G-dly. A community without its tzadik remains hopelessly mired in its materiality and physical constraints. The tzadik serves as the bridge between the two worlds, or better put, he is the one who demonstrates that there is no dichotomy in the first place.6
Golus, is not simply a geographic location or a historical era. Golus is a state of mind, in which there exists a barrier to the aforementioned synthesis.7
To break out of Golus and to lead others out of this mindset, requires a person who is involved in the physical realm, acutely aware of world issues and problems, familiar with the human condition, and who, simultaneously, is in touch with the G-dly. In everything mundane he sees Divinity, everything physical, is to him, an expression of Divine purpose. This individual, who recognizes no duality, is Moshiach, the only one who can usher in the age wherein everyone can overcome the hurdle of Golus and experience this unity of existence.
To imagine that the world will precipitously change is incredible and unrealistic, while the suggestion that the world will evolve slowly but inexorably into a utopia is just plain naive. All we have to do is look at the Holocaust, or what is happening in the former Yugoslavia to put to rest once and for all, the belief that people will naturally evolve into more caring and decent people. As long as people don't change, there can be no utopia.
On the other hand, to believe that G-d will unilaterally change the world without human involvement is to deny our role in creation as G-d's partners. If G-d could and must do it Himself, why did He bother with us in the first place?
Thus, the most rational approach to the emergence of a Messianic Age, is that G-d will change the world by way of his chosen human messenger Moshiach, who will lead the world to a Messianic Age, by tapping our latent positive and Divine energies. This approach posits that it is G-d, Moshiach and us, who collectively will bring about the desired changes in the world.
In the realm of evil conduct, individuals have changed the course of the world, with the acquiescence and assistance of other people. Evil, charismatic despots, have succeeded in bringing out the worst in people.
On the other hand, scientists, with but a single discovery, have forever altered the world's landscape. Why, then, should it be so hard to accept the possibility of the emergence of an extremely good person who will elicit the best qualities of humankind, and thereby change the world?
1. Bamidbar 24:17-18; Zecharya 9:7: Yesshayohu 11:1.
2. Sanhedrin 98b-99a, Rashi.
3. Hilchot Melachim 11:1.
4. See Tanchuma, Naso 7:1; Tanya, ch. 36.
5. Tanya, ch. 32.
6. See Schochet, The Mystical Dimension, vol. Ill, p. 85-124 for an extensive treatment of the role of the Tzadik in Judaism.
7. See Migolah LeGeulah, p. 7-54.