Messianic Faith versus Messianic Speculation




Our faith in the future redemption of Israel and humanity is a “gift of hope” that we share with the other peoples of the earth. As Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, a leading 19th century sage, wrote:


“The entire world thirsts for redemption. Grief and misery, reigning in both huts and palaces, arouse messianic longings in every heart. It is not only Israel whose redemption depends upon the rebuilding of Zion; and surely, their confident expectation that the redemption will indeed come about is not the least valuable dowry which the Jew brings with him into the community of nations.” (Cited in “The Hirsch Haggadah” – pages 282-83, Feldheim Publications)


Dear Friends,


As we mentioned, Maimonides teaches that the belief in the coming of the Messiah is one of the thirteen principles of our faith (commentary of Maimonides to Mishnah Sanhedrin, chap. 10). The following statement is the well-known summary of this teaching of Maimonides:


“I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.”


We are to have faith in the coming of the Messiah; yet, Maimonides also wrote the following comments concerning speculation on the exact order of the messianic events:


“All these and similar matters a person cannot know how they will happen until they happen, for these matters are undefined in the words of the prophets; moreover, even the sages have no established tradition regarding these matters, but only their interpretations of the verses. There is therefore disagreement among them concerning these matters. Regardless, neither the order of the occurrence of these events nor their precise detail are among the basic principles of our faith.” (Mishneh Torah, the Laws of Kings, chapter 12:2)


Maimonides adds: “One should not try to determine the appointed time” (for the Messiah’s arrival), and he concludes, “Rather, one should await and believe in the general conception of the matter, as explained.”


The Chofetz Chaim was a leading sage of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He said that we are in the final stage of the exile and close to the birth of the messianic age; yet, he did not offer an exact date, as he wrote:


“Let the reader not be misled by my saying we have reached the end of days into thinking that I have declared this to be the exact moment of final redemption. That time is surely hidden from us until the light of the Messiah’s salvation is revealed. Generally, however, we can surely say we are in the period of the “birth pangs of the Messiah” – the birth pangs of redemption. In our day, all the signs stated in the Talmud regarding this period have been realized. We have no way of knowing how long this era will last.”


And he added: “The nature of our redemption depends upon Hashem’s will and upon the merit we arouse from below.” (Cited in “The Chofetz Chaim Looks At Eternity,” pages 83, 84)


According to Jewish tradition, our focus during this difficult period of birth pangs should be on Torah study, prayer, and good deeds that lead to love and unity. We should also strive to avoid words and deeds that lead to strife and disunity, especially now, when there is so much suffering and danger. In this spirit, our sages teach that Hashem is saying to us:


“My beloved children! Is there anything I lack that I should have to ask of you? All I ask of you is that you love one another, that you honor one another, that you respect one another. In this way, no sin, robbery, or based deed will be found among you, so that you will remain undefiled forever. Thus it is written (Micah 6:8): ‘He has told you, O human being, what is good! What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, love lovingkindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ ” (Tanna Dvei Eliyahu 28)


During this difficult period of birth pangs, we can gain strength and faith by remembering that Moses and all the prophets spoke about our exile, the birth pangs preceding the messianic age, and the final redemption of this age. These prophecies are discussed by our sages in the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Zohar – the classical work on the hidden wisdom of the Torah.  


In the spirit of the above teachings, we should not focus our thoughts on the exact order of the pre-messianic events or on the exact date of the Messiah’s arrival in Zion; instead we should focus on our primary task: to do what Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, asks of us. This was the message that Moses, our teacher, conveyed to our people before we entered the Promised Land:


“The hidden things belong to Hashem, our God, but that which has been revealed is ours and our children’s forever: to fulfill all the words of this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 29:28)


The new month of Adar begins Monday evening, Feb. 23rd.


Shalom, and have a Good Month!

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen


Related Insights and Information:


1. As mentioned above, during this difficult and dangerous period of birth pangs, we need to strengthen our ability to love and honor each other. I would like to share with you a related quote from Rabbi Noach Weinberg, a noted Torah educator and outreach activist, who recently passed away. He had the ability to distill the ancient spiritual wisdom of our people into pithy sayings, and in the following saying, he shares with us an insight which can strengthen our ability to love others and to avoid hatred:


“Love is identifying a person with his virtues and excusing his faults. Hate is identifying a person with his faults and excusing his virtues.” (Cited in Mishpacha Magazine, 17 Shvat, 5769)


2. The books , “The Hirsch Haggadah”  and “The Chofetz Chaim Looks at Eternity,” are published by Feldheim:


3. The following recent letters from our series are now in our archive:


How to Act During Zion’s Birth Pangs: Parts One and Two

Hazon - Our Universal Vision