Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rambam- What are the Characteristics of the Messiah

What type of person is the Messiah supposed to be? Should he be a head of a Yeshiva that is constantly learning day and night? Maybe he should be a prophet that can tell us what G-D wants from us. Are these accurate descriptions of what the Messiah should be? Based on the Rambam's description of the Messiah in the eleventh and twelfth perek of the laws of kings I would venture to say no. Then what type of person, according to the Rambam, will the Messiah be?

The Rambam says, "One should not think that the King Messiah must work miracles and wonders, bring about new phenomena within the world, resurrect the dead, or perform other similar deeds. This is not true. A proof to this is that Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Sages of the Mishnah, was one of the supporters of King Ben Koziva, and described him as the King Messiah. He and all the Sages of his generation considered him to be the King Messiah until he was killed because of sin."

The Rambam also states, "If a king will arise from the House of David who is righteous with the Torah and performs the commandments like David his ancestor according to the written and oral Torah; if he will persuade all of Israel to go according to it and to search it out; and if he will fight the wars of G-d; This man is assumed to be the Messiah. If he succeeds in building the Temple on its site and gathers in all of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah."

Based on these two quotations from the Rambam I think we can begin to understand what type of person the Messiah is supposed to be. The Messiah is not thought of as supernatural on any level. From the Rambam one might vernture to say that the Messiah does not even have to be a prophet. This can be drawn from the fact that Rebbi Akiva clearly thought that Ben Kosiba (better known as Bar Kochba) was the Messiah even though he clearly was not a prophet. Also, Bar Kochba was able to win many wars against the Romans. His victories were so great that the Jews had an independant kingdom for over two and a half years and they began the rebuilding of the Temple in its place. The Rambam points out that all of this convinced Rabbi Akiva that Bar Kochba was the real Messiah. These signs, up until his death, were enough to give him an assumption (chazaka) of being the Messiah.

However, the second quote from the Rambam tells us that it is not enough that the Messiah fights the wars of G-D for the Jews, he must also be a great Torah scholar. This makes sense because the Messiah has to be able to convince all Jews to repent and return to a strict observance of the commandments. This is only possible if the Messiah himself has the ability to clearly explain and convince people why they should follow the Torah, oral and written.

The Messiah is one of the most important figures in all of Jewish thought. The Rambam tells us that the Messiah will usher in a new age that will lead to global prosperity. This type of person must contain all of the positive aspects a Jew is capable of achieving in the natural world. A person must complete all of the requirements that the Rambam points out, if one is missing than this person can not be the Messiah.

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