When you make aliyah, at least as an Orthodox Jew, the one topic that comes up all the time is Mashiach (the Messiah). I think this is true even for those who don’t consider themselves “Orthodox” or “religious”. Something is happening here, whether you think it’s good or not. While Mashiach is certainly not here yet, and the world is not yet a paradise, it’s next to impossible to deny that it’s at least Messian-ish. Big news stories, like corona, fuel the constant speculation.
Many people think the important question is, who is the Messiah? As I’ve heard many times, “When he comes, we’ll ask him, ‘Is this your first time in Jerusalem?’” But this is totally wrong. The real question is “What is a Mashiach?” In other words, what is his job description? I believe even many Jews miss that question, or at least, don’t know the answer
.The Rambam codifies statements brought in the Torah, Prophets and Talmud, into a list of qualifications:
- Renew the Davidic dynasty, restoring it to its initial sovereignty.
- Ensure a rebuilt and functioning Beit Hamikdash (Temple)
- Gather the Jews to Israel
But these are really one-time jobs. It’s not even clear that he has to do anything himself to accomplish any of these – only that they have to exist in his lifetime to qualify him as Mashiach. We’ve already created a sovereign state and ingathered about half the Jews in the world. In fact, pretty much no Jew who wishes to is prevented from living in Israel (coronavirus notwithstanding). Many believe that we could even build the Temple on our own – or at least bring the Passover Sacrifice – without supernatural intervention. Certainly, things could be better, but that’s largely in our hands already.
Rambam goes further and says that the Mashiach need not perform any miracles. So, if the Mashiach isn’t a frum genie / general contractor / travel agent (frum = religious in Yiddish), what do we need him for?
As a kid, I played a little bit of organized sports – not well – and, of course, we had our own unorganized games. There was one huge difference between those two activities which came up over and over – the unorganized games would often devolve into an argument over cheating. It happened much less frequently in organized sports. In organized games, like Little League, one team loses, and they get over it. They can even, sometimes, look at what they did wrong that caused them to lose. On the other hand, unorganized games have no impartial referee enforcing the agreed-upon rules, so everyone has to try to guard his own rights. Against all encroachments – real and imagined.
Mashiach is the one thing the entire world lacks – a trusted, and trustworthy, leader. In short, Mashiach is the world’s referee.
The prophet Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 11:3-6 describes the Mashiach this way (translation from chabad.org):
3. And he shall be animated by the fear of the L-rd, and neither with the sight of his eyes shall he judge, nor with the hearing of his ears shall he chastise.
4. And he shall judge the poor justly, and he shall chastise with equity the humble of the earth, and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall put the wicked to death.
5. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faith the girdle of his loins.
6. And a wolf shall live with a lamb, and a leopard shall lie with a kid; and a calf and a lion cub and a fatling [shall lie] together, and a small child shall lead them.
According to this prophecy, Mashiach is the one thing we don’t have today – a totally fair, honest and selfless leader. Verses 3-5 do not describe miracles. They describe an ability to judge what’s really going on fairly – in other words, righteously – and to have that fairness recognized by everyone, even other nations. They also describe an ability to enforce those judgments – “smiting the earth with the rod of his mouth”. This is what leads to the idyllic situation of verse 6 – the metaphoric lamb has nothing to fear from the wolf, because there is someone protecting him.
Because of our deserved lack of trust in our leaders and each other, we spend a great deal of our time and energy defending our rights in the hopes that things won’t get worse, even if we know they won’t get better. We try to create more-and-more complicated systems to check and balance those in power, lest our group get cheated. We then complain about the gridlock those systems were designed to create.
We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. But imagine if we weren’t trying to manage a “Lord of the Flies” situation? Imagine the ability of a China to build a bridge in two days; the peace of mind of teachers, knowing they’d be paid, even before “forming a government”; charedim not protesting, because no one is afraid of anyone “destroying Judaism”; real corruption punished, without the use of trumped-up charges; a secure leader who can take criticism and doesn’t need to forcibly excise dissent; and the list goes on. That’s a Messianic era and why we could really use Mashiach.