Twenty-one Questions about the Messiah

["Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Chayei Sarah 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

1. Q: What will be the Messiah’s task before he becomes the Messiah?
A: He will be king (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 11:1).

2. Q: Will he really be king, or just in a symbolic, metaphoric sense, like a Torah scholar?
A: He will really be king – the king referred to in the ten chapters of Rambam’s Hilchot Melachim.

3. Q: What will his job be?
A: To restore the David monarchy as of old (ibid. 11:1 elaborates).

4. Q: How will we know who he is?
A: He will have to fulfill six criteria: 1. Be a king. 2. Be from the Davidic line. 3. Be a Torah scholar. 4. Observe the mitzvot. 5. Compel the nation to observe the mitzvot. 6. Fight G-d’s wars (ibid. 11:4).

5. Q: How will he compel mitzvah observance?
A: Like any king who passes laws and makes certain they are fulfilled.

6. Q: What are “G-d’s wars”?
A: Real wars like King David fought: “The first Mashiach [anointed one], King David, saved Israel from their enemies. The last Mashiach, who will emerge from David’s descendants, will save Israel from Esau’s descendants” (ibid. 11:1).

7. Q: Can you elaborate?
A: Rambam wrote (ibid. 4:10): “The king’s intent and goal shall be to exalt the true religion, to fill the world with justice, to smash the power of the wicked, and to fight G-d’s wars. For ideally, we do not crown anyone king unless he is prepared to pursue justice and war, as it says, “Our king will judge us, go forth before us and wage our wars” (Shmuel 1 18:20). Likewise, [David’s wife] Avigail said of David that he fought G-d’s wars (ibid. 25:28).

8. Q: If someone fulfills these six conditions is he the true Messiah?
A: No, he is then the “presumed Messiah.” In other words, as he has fulfilled the six prerequisites, we relate to him as the Messiah until it becomes clear whether or not he really is (Hilchot Melachim 11:4).

9. Q: What conditions must be fulfilled for him to become the true Messiah?
A: There are four conditions: “1. He was successful. 2. He vanquished all the surrounding nations. 3. He built the Temple. 4. He gathered in the dispersed of Israel. Then he is the Messiah for sure” (ibid.).

10. Q: And if he failed, is he then a false Messiah?
A: No. Whoever has fulfilled the six conditions is a reputable king (ibid.).

11. Q: Today, do we have a true Messiah?
A: No. No one has fulfilled these four conditions.

12. Q: Is there anyone who is the “presumed Messiah”?
A. No. Neither is there anyone who has fulfilled the six conditions of the presumed Messiah.

13. Q: When will the Messiah come?
A. We don’t know. “One should not calculate the end. Our Sages said, ‘Blasted be those who calculate the end” (ibid. 12:2)

14. Q: How will the Messiah look and how will he operate?
A: No one knows exactly. “Regarding all such matters, no one will know how it will be until it happens” (ibid. 12:2).

15. Q: Won’t the Messiah bring the Jewish People to repentance?
A: He will lead the Nation according to the Torah (ibid. 11:4). The one who will bring them to repentance is Eliyahu the Prophet (ibid. 12:2).

16. Q: What known figure is similar to the Messiah?
A. King David (ibid. 11:1).

17. Q: Is there another example?
A. Bar-Kochba, whom Rabbi Akiva and all the sages of his generation said was the Messianic King (ibid. 11:3).

18. Q: But he wasn’t?
A. He was the presumed Messiah, but not the true Messiah. When he unfortunately died, it became clear that he was not the Messiah (ibid.).

19. Q: Does the Messiah have to perform miracles?
A. No. One proof is that Bar Kochba was not asked to perform miracles. Otherwise, they would immediately have declared that he was not the Messiah (ibid.).

20. Q: What must we do to bring closer the Messiah’s advent?
A. We must become stronger in good traits -- kindness, the fear of G-d, Torah learning, observance of all the mitzvot, those between man and G-d, those between man and man, those associated with agriculture in Eretz Yisrael and those associated with building the Land, Shabbat, Kashrut, loving one’s fellow Jew and going to the army, study of Halachah and study of faith.

21. Q: Will this take time?
A. We don’t know. We await the Messiah whichever day he comes (Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith and see Hilchot Nezirut 4:11).