Counterpoint: The Traditional Jewish View of Moshiach
In a recent post, fellow Jewish Values Online blogger Moshe Daniel Levine echoed the liberal Jewish perspective that there will never be a Messianic figure. He wrote that, “The liberal Jewish community has deleted mention of the Messiah from their liturgy, doesn’t talk about him in any type of mainstream discourse, and most young Jews scoff at the idea of a panacean being who will one day arrive to fix all our worldly problems.”
He is correct in attributing the erasure of a Messianic figure to liberal Judaism. However, his claim that, “the true importance of the Messiah is that he is never coming,” is one I could not allow to stand unchallenged.
I am an Orthodox Jewish woman, raised in the US and living in Israel. I have spent many years studying what traditional Jewish sources teach about the Jewish redeemer, known in Hebrew as Moshiach. Parenthetically, Moshiach means anointed. It does not mean savior; that’s a mistranslation.
This post cannot even begin to accurately present the depth of Jewish teachings about Moshiach. As with all of Torah, each of these ideas is multi-faceted and cannot be understood on a simple level. Nevertheless, we must begin somewhere.
The traditional Jewish belief in Moshiach is an ancient one. Maimonides, one of the most influential Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages, codified the fundamentals of what traditional Jews believe. His work is known as the 13 Principles of Faith.
The 12th of these principles states that, “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.” Belief in the coming of Moshiach was already an established Jewish principle of faith almost 800 years ago.
Many people aren’t aware of this, but in traditional Jewish thought, there are actually two redeemers, known as Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben David. Their tasks complement one another and together they help prepare the world for the Messianic age spoken of so often in Torah, especially in the Book of Isaiah.
For millennia, traditional Jews have been anticipating Moshiach ben David, a Jewish leader, one who is descended from King David. Among his tasks will be to rebuild the Third and eternal Temple in Jerusalem and to complete the ingathering of the exiles, as promised in Deuteronomy (Devarim) 30:3-5.
In traditional Jewish thought, Moshiach ben David is a human being with extraordinary leadership abilities. He will come, regardless of our level of worthiness. Under his reign, war, famine and evil of all kinds will cease to exist. The yetzer hara, the evil inclination, will cease to exist. All of humanity, Jewish and non-Jewish, will worship one God, the God of the Torah, Who created and sustains the entire world.
During the period of Moshiach ben David, life will become increasingly spiritual, gradually and in stages. All false ideologies will disappear. Moshiach ben David will teach the Jewish people sublime and elevated Torah thoughts. He will increase people’s faith (emunah) and connection with God.
Levine correctly connected the idea of Moshiach to the Jewish concept of time. However, I understand things much differently than the way he presented it.
In traditional Jewish thought, time is something God created for humans. God exists outside of time. To God, past, present and future have no meaning, because God transcends time.
The traditional Jewish belief is that, in human terms, this world is finite. It was created to last 6,000 years, before transitioning into another stage of existence. It’s worth noting that we are currently in the year 5779, as Jews count time.
There’s a very specific end point built into human history. In Hebrew, we call this the keitz – the end. After the keitz, after the year 6000, comes another dimension of existence, one that is as different from our daily lives as life in the Garden of Eden was.
The sins of Adam and Eve will be completely rectified and life will become entirely spiritual. As much as life now is centered on the physical and material worlds, that’s how much life in the time of geula, in the time of redemption, in the time of Moshiach, will be primarily spiritual.
These are just some of the teachings of traditional Judaism on the topic of Moshiach.
I realize that many liberal Jews will read these words and dismiss them as being far-fetched or improbable. Nevertheless, this is what the majority of Jews have believed in for millenia. And what I believe today, with unwavering faith.
Speaking personally, as a traditional Jew, I do not believe that humanity has the capacity to heal itself. As I witness the world crumbling around us, I cling to the ancient Jewish belief in Moshiach and geula, believing that God created a world with a solid exit plan.
That plan requires Moshiach, the ultimate Messianic redeemer, as Jews have traditionally understood him.
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog posts and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
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