Could Judaism Stand Without Moshiach?
What defines a principle of the Jewish faith and why is the belief in Moshiach regarded as one?
By Levi LIBEROW
A principle of faith is a belief or standard without which a particular faith cannot stand. For example, without the belief in the divinity of Torah, there is no Judaism: one who keeps the entire Torah but does not believe it was communicated by G-d may seem to be a disciplined person, but he does not believe in the Jewish faith.
The question, then, of whether a particular belief or standard is to be included among the principles of the Jewish faith is in essence a question of whether Judaism can be described or imagined as such without that particular belief.
Is Moshiach a Distinct Principle of the Jewish Faith?
The Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishnah, lists 13 principles of the Jewish faith, the twelfth being the belief in the coming of Moshiach. These principles became widely accepted throughout the Jewish world, as evident by the Ani Ma’amin liturgy that many Jews recite (or contemplate on) daily.
However, a classical question is raised: doesn’t the belief in Divine reward and punishment include the belief in Moshiach? Why is Moshiach considered a distinct belief and principle if it is just the ultimate form of reward?
In this essay, we will focus on why the belief in Moshiach is considered a distinct principle of faith.
Moshiach: Not Only a Reward; the Raison D’être of Creation
As with many topics in Torah, when seen through the prism of the inner realm of Torah, —the “soul” of the Torah— namely Kabbalah and Chassidus, a better understanding of even the more basic layers is gained, and Moshiach is no exception to this rule.
In the works of Kabbalah and Chassidus we find a wealth of information on the inner meaning of Moshiach and the Redemption—ideas that help us appreciate why Moshiach is considered a principle of faith, – a tenet upon which stands the entire structure of Judaism.
The focal point of these teachings is that the idea of Moshiach is not only the ultimate reward for observing the Torah and mitzvos, rather that the coming of Moshiach will bring the world towards the ultimate purpose of its creation.
Let us begin from… the beginning.
What was Created Before the World?
According to Chazal (the mishnaic and talmudic sages), Moshiach is alluded to already in the first verses of the Torah, which describe G-d’s creation of the universe:
“In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth. …And the spirit of G-d was hovering over the waters.” Commenting on the latter verse, the Midrash says: “the ‘spirit of G-d’ is the spirit of Moshiach.”
More so: the Talmud teaches that seven things existed even before the world, one being “the name of Moshiach!”
In other words, at the very inception of the universe, before man was even in existence to be able to do good or evil and be rewarded for his deeds, the spirit of Moshiach was already present.
Rabbeinu Bachaye explains this so: “This verse tells us the end at the beginning, pointing out that the purpose of creation is to reach the days of Moshiach.” A different talmudic statement states this explicitly: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘The world was created solely for Moshiach.’”
The idea that Moshiach is the purpose of creation is repeated many times and in numerous sources. The Tanya, for example, says: “It is known that the era of Moshiach, especially when the dead will be resurrected, is the ultimate purpose and the fulfillment of this world. It is for this that it was created in the first place.”
Why did G-d Create the World?
To understand and appreciate why the era of Moshiach is the purpose of creation, we must gain a better understanding of what that purpose is.
Chazal tell us that the world was created “for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of the Jewish people.” “G-d made a condition with creation: ‘If the Jewish people accept the Torah, you will continue to exist; if they do not, I will restore you to a state of nothingness and emptiness.’” This means, in essence, that creation came about in order to allow for the performance of Torah and mitzvos, which require the existence of time, space and physical matter. Everything in the world exists to facilitate a specific Torah goal. It follows, then, that only when Torah and mitzvos will be observed fully and unhindered will the world have realized its purpose.
When we look closely at the promises of the Torah, the prophets and the words of Chazal pertaining to Moshiach, we find that they describe the days of Moshiach as one in which the above ideal will be achieved.
Until the arrival of Moshiach, especially in Galus, the fulfillment of mitzvos in a perfect manner is not possible for a host of reasons:
• For one, we lack the physical conditions that would facilitate this kind of observance, such as the presence of the Beis HaMikdash and the presence of all Jews in Eretz Yisrael; hundreds of mitzvos hinge on these two conditions alone!
• Additionally, there are various evil regimes in the world where the practice of Judaism—those mitzvos that can be observed—is greatly restricted or even prohibited (though this has improved dramatically over the course of the last few decades as will be discussed in principle #8).
• Physical hardships resulting mainly from external sources such as hunger, illness, war and the need to earn a livelihood, etc., are additional hindrances. The latter force us to busy our minds and hearts with undesirable—or at the very least, mundane—matters, instead of focusing our attention on upgrading our relationship with G-d and performing His Will with an even greater conviction and zeal. This obstacle too, has seen improvement.
• Also preventing the perfect observance of Torah and mitzvos—even if one were to be free of the abovementioned obstacles—are some dark traits still present in the human psyche—e.g., envy and greed, (the Yetzer Hara) which lead to rivalry, strife or just plain laziness.
In the days of Moshiach, however, all of these obstacles will be completely removed, and Torah and mitzvos will be observed to the fullest (as will be discussed further in principle #4).
To Feel “At Home” in Our World
Chassidic teachings give us deeper insight into the perfection the world will reach in the era of Moshiach by using the term “dira batachtonim” – “an abode in the lower realms.”
This term originates in the Midrash which states that the reason why the world was brought into being is because “G-d desired (נתאווה) a dwelling place in the lowest realms.”
The term “dira” (abode, or home) used by the Midrash makes this somewhat lofty idea a more tangible concept:
What distinguishes a person’s home from the public space, is that at home he behaves as himself, freely; he feels no need to put on a facade. Also, at home a person feels fully comfortable since he has reached his own place where he can find steady rest.
Similarly, in all of the “worlds” (our physical one and even the spiritual ones), G-d’s glory shines through various types of masks and concealments called in Kabbalistic terminology tzimtzumim.
What this means in simple terms is that G-d and His Will aren’t fully exposed. The end result of this chain of tzimtzumim is a world which hardly makes it easy to observe Torah and mitzvos (as we all can attest to), to the point where G-d’s existence can even be denied! (Hence the term tachtonim – “lowest”).
G-d, however, desires a dira, a home, to be constructed for Him in this very world; He Wishes to so-called “be Himself”, i.e., allow His very Essence to shine, through His Will being adhered to fully by all in the very place that represents the diametrical opposite.
And He wants this dira to also be made from the world itself by the world itself: by man fulfilling his Divine duties in this world in spite of the difficulties it presents to him, using materials found within it only.
The Wisdom and Will of G-d, as expressed through Torah and mitzvos, serve as the channels through which G-dliness is drawn into the world, thus gradually transforming it into His home, as will be explored in-depth in principle #7.)
The Long-Term Goal: a Mikdash the Size of the World
To better understand this, we will turn to a place in the world that (even before the ultimate Redemption) is described by G-d as His home: the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash.
G-d chose as His dwelling place—that is, as His place of revelation—a structure built from physical materials contributed by the Jewish people. Through hard work carried out in accordance with G-d’s instructions, physical objects such as gold and silver became part and parcel of the physical structure that would serve as a dwelling place for G-d.
In this structure, G-d eventually rested His presence. The Jewish people gathered three times a year within this home “to see” G-d by witnessing the miracles that were a normal, constant occurrence in the Mikdash, “and to be seen” by G-d, as from this structure G-dliness issued forth into the world, allowing for various forms of Divine communication such as prophecy and others. This structure also served as the passageway through which the prayers of all Jews around the world and the prayers and Divine service of the kohanim and leviyim ascended On High, to be warmly accepted by G-d.
The ultimate purpose of the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash is for the function that it serves—a place where G-d is revealed—to be extended to the entire world. This is done by enabling and motivating the Jewish people to observe the Torah and mitzvos so that they eventually bring about G-dly revelation in every part of the world, transforming the entire world into an abode for G-d, a Mishkan / Beis Hamikdash in macrocosm.
[Indeed, on the verse “Make for Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them (ושכנתי בתוכם) ”the sages ask: it should have said “I will dwell in it?” Rather the Torah is saying that G-d resides within each and every Jew who makes himself a sanctuary for G-d by fulfilling his Divine mission.]
With the culmination of this transformation, the purpose of creation—making a dwelling place for G-d in the lowest realm—will have been achieved.
This idea is echoed in the teaching of Chazal that “Jerusalem is destined to spread forth over the entire land of Israel and the land of Israel will spread out to the entire world.” The cause for this expansion of the physical space of Jerusalem and Israel is the expansion of the spiritual state of these holy places.
In this vein, it is worthwhile to make mention of what the Tzemach Tzedek responded to a follower of his who wished to relocate and live in Eretz Yisrael. The Rebbe told him “make this place Eretz Yisrael!” Our efforts in the field of Torah and mitzvos transform the gentile lands into holy land, and this spiritual transformation will ultimately become apparent to all.
The World in the Days of Moshiach
The time in which the world will be a dwelling place for G-d, a home in which He will be fully revealed, is the era of Moshiach. This is indeed what defines the era of Moshiach. At that time, “G-d’s glory will be revealed and all flesh together will see that the mouth of G-d has spoken. ”As a result of this great divine revelation, the Gentiles too will accept G-d’s sovereignty and serve Him in unison, and “the sole occupation of the entire world will be to know G-d alone.”
When viewed in light of the above, Moshiach is indeed a foundation of Judaism—arguably the foundation of Judaism; in the words of the Chafetz Chaim: “the principle of the principles” — for Moshiach is not merely one who redeems a particular nation from hardship but one who brings about the very fulfillment of Judaism’s purpose—that the world be a dwelling place for G-d.
When you say “Ani ma’amin b’vias haMoshiach”, you are saying, “I believe in the ability of Judaism to express its full potential.”