How does Zionism contrast with what the messiah will do?

In one of your responses, you said that zionism is an attempt to return
the Jewish kindom on our own, without waiting for the Messiah.

This is not a correct definition of zionism. Do ANY zionists claim that
zionism means to try to return the Jewish kingdom or an Israeli knesset or
some other form of government? The KING Messiah is part and parcel of the
idea of returing the kingdom. You seem to be assuming again that the
Messiah is a miracle man who will magically come along and turn everything
to rubble, perhaps hypnotize the Jewish world into believing that he is
certainly the Mashiach, before he takes over as opposed to us Jews taking
practical steps to make ourselves a king first, and then have that king
progressively try to become the Mashiach via natural means. The idea of
him having prophetic powers is only after he becomes a Mashiach, a thing we
already discussed, as proven via the precise wording concerning Bar
Kochba's claim in Sanhedrin 93b. In other words, your idea of "Mashiach" is
an easy way out of doing the hard work that G-d wants us to do, so it
seems...

If you recall, we discussed the Rambam in Melachim 11:4 in which he says that if the messiah makes the whole Jewish people follow the Torah and "fights the wars of Hashem", he establishes a chezkas moshiach. You took this as proof that it is permitted to fight wars even at this early stage, before he even has the chazakah. But I argued as follows:

Even if we were to prove (by comparison to other places where the Rambam uses the phrase "wars of Hashem") that the Rambam means literal warfare, this would not mean that moshiach violates the oaths before knowing that he is moshiach. The reason is that the Rambam is to be read in order: only if the messianic canditate succeeds in bringing all the Jews to repent may he go on to the next step of fighting wars. Once he has accomplished the repentance of all the Jews, clearly Hashem is telling us that he has enough of a chezkas moshiach to be allowed to fight wars. Once he fights the wars, he reaches an even higher level of chazakah, allowing him to gather the exiles and build the Temple.

Now you are proposing that we appoint a king and he begin to do the work of moshiach, without waiting for any prophecy. Even if you were to succeed in doing this, this king we appoint will have to complete stage 1 the repentance of the Jewish people before he continues to stage 2.

Zionism, on the other hand, proposes to go straight to stage 2. That would be unacceptable for a messianic candidate, and certainly it is unacceptable for a movement that doesn't even claim to have a messianic candidate.

You write the following words: "This is not a correct definition of zionism. Do ANY zionists claim that zionism means to try to return the Jewish kingdom or an Israeli knesset or some other form of government? The KING Messiah is part and parcel of the
idea of returing the kingdom."

Here you seem to be defending Zionism precisely on the grounds that it does NOT claim to be a messianic movement. This is the common Agudist and Haredi argument that if we don't construe the state as having any connection with geulah, it won't be a violation of the oaths, just another stage in the Jewish exile. The problem with this is that the state undeniably steps out of the bounds of exile by maintaining an army, warfare, independence, ministers and so on. You just cannot sit and pretend that this is exile as usual. Call it what you want, but the facts speak for themselves that this is kibutz galiyos and putting an end to shibud malchuyos.

The Brisker Rav is quoted as saying: "The Rambam says that moshiach will redeem the Jewish people from shibud malchuyos. Anyone who believes that it is possible to be redeemed from shibud malchuyos without moshiach is lacking in full belief in moshiach."

As to your point
concerning the precise order of fulfilling the messianic criteria, you may
have a point. I would question, however, that when the Rambam states "and
will compel all of Israel to walk in the ways of Torah and reinforce the
breaches in its observance" that this does not have to mean as you seem to
be saying that "he succeeds in causing all Jews to become frum." I argue
the fact that he is an individual who is a public figure who speaks to the
masses in terms of advising them in strong terms (i.e. compelling) that they
must observe the Torah lest we incur Divine wrath, etc. Correct me if I'm
wrong, but you seem to be saying that this person must be successful, and
success is measured in terms of all Jews actually becoming religious, as
opposed to success being defined as the success of publicly compelling (i.e.
speaking public words of rebuke to try to arouse teshuva).

Just to clarify the question, the question on the words of the Rambam
is: Is the Rambam emphasizing the person doing the compelling (i.e. that he
satisfies being "successful" by merely compelling, i.e. teaching to the
masses), or is he emphasizing the people being compelled to observe the
Torah (i.e. that we need to see that all of the Jews are observing the Torah
first in order for him to have successfully fulfilled this task)? I
maintain that his mere compelling is satisfactory because there is really no
way we can ever really know for certain that all of the Jewish people are
now observing the Torah, and one can even ask precisely what "observing"
means? Perfect tzaddikim who will never sin again? Learning 10 hours per
day instead of 30 minutes per day? Yet, we CAN know when someone speaks
to the masses in terms of the importance of general Torah study and
observance.

You propose that the appointed moshiach figure need merely speak to the public, not succeed in making them observe the Torah. You also ask why I care so much about the order of the Rambam. The answer to both questions is the same: that on the one hand we have the sugya of the Three Oaths forbidding war with the nations, and at the other hand we have this Rambam saying that the potential moshiach will fight wars. This apparent contradiction forces us to say that the Rambam only permits wars after some level of proof that this man is moshiach. The level of proof is attained when the man gets all the Jews to observe the Torah. Now, if you are going to interpret the Rambam's words to mean that he doesn't need to succeed, just speak convincingly, than there is no longer proof, because any Jewish leader could do that. Any important rabbi with a sufficient following and good funding could speak and cause himself to be heard by most Jews in the various ways that are available today. So where is the proof that he is at least enough bechezkas moshiach to be permitted to go on to step 2 and fight wars?

Well, we should first should make this person under Messianic
consideration as becoming a king to rule over us whose ultimate goals he
makes known to us and emphasizes more than anything else he might choose to
talk about that he wishes to get the Jewish people to observe the Torah,
wage the wars, build the beis hamikdash, and have the Jewish people return
to Israel. This, as opposed to addressing a myriad of other Torah subjects
such as for instance the shaila's and teshuva's of weather or not women need
to bentsch gomel, medical issues in halachah, etc. etc. And he must also
be from the lineage of Solomon. He has to at least emphasize these things
so that we know what is on his mind. As long as he knows he is a
descendant of Solomon, and he lets us know that his agenda fits the
description of the Rambam's, then why wouldn't such a person be a Messianic
candidate? Who else would you be looking for to be a Messianic candidate?
Do you think he MUST be the greatest talmid chacham ever, or even in our
generation, first? I think the fact that R. Akiva and his colleagues
presumed Bar Kochba to be the Mashiach proves otherwise. Consider, why
didn't they consider R. Akiva to be the Mashiach? Wasn't he (or any of the
other members of the Sanhedrin for that matter) a far greater Torah scholar
than Bar Kochba? In how many Talmudic debates was Bar Kochba involved
compared to others? Zero? I'm not saying that he too was not a Torah
scholar, but compared to the likes of R. Akiva and others? Clearly he was
not on their level. Yet, they still considered him to be the Mashiach.

You ask, who else would I be looking for to be a messianic candidate? Perhaps a person such as you describe would be a candidate, but there would still be an insufficient level of proof for him to have the right to fight any wars.

What I understand from the previous paragraph is that you are paskening
that the Messianic candidate MUST first bring all the Jews to "teshuva"
before he can fight any wars. Several questions on this apparent belief of
yours, one of which is how can one such as you or me or anyone else prove
that all the Jewish people have done teshuva? And there are many different
aspects to what precisely teshuva is, right? One can sincerely repent one
moment, sin, then repent again, sin again, etc., ad infinitum. Is that
still considered "doing teshuva." Or must we all be perfect tzaddikim, and
if so how are you and I or anyone else going to know that we are all perfect
tzaddikim who will never sin again? Doesn't seem like we can really know
when that will ever happen unless some Divine, supernatural being tells us
first. Perhaps that is why the Rambam did not write that "If a King arises
from the house of David...and you see that everyone does complete teshuva,
and he fights the wars of G-d, etc." Rather, what he wrote was that "and
he compels all of Israel to observe the Torah, etc." "Compels" means that
he is trying to get the Jewish people to observe the Torah. This is
something that we certainly can know about if we are speaking about the one
person who is making the attempt to compel because we can see him and hear
him often enough to know if he is making this attempt. However, one cannot
possibly know if every single Jew is obeying his compelling words, can we?
Do you think otherwise? If so, I would like to know how you can know that,
unless every single Jew becomes a navi to know what goes on in the minds and
deeds of every single Jew.

The other factor here is that the Gemora in Sanhedrin
concludes that the geula will happen even if the Jewish people do not do
teshuva. There are many different ways of explaining this, but one is
simply that G-d will put the thoughts in the mind of a gentile king or ruler
to make decrees that are harsher than Haman. At that point, the Jewish
people will have THOUGHTS of teshuva, and in the process flea the exile,
but they will not actually do complete teshuva. This is the geula of "in
its time" and "not for your sake o Israel do I bring you back" and "let him
come, but let me not see him..." So it seems that there can be a geula, not
the one desired but geula nevertheless, where the Jewish people do not do
teshuva (at least not the best form of teshuva, but one that occurs out of
pain and suffering at the hands of the gentile nations).

You wrote that the Gemora in Sanhedrin about a king as severe as Haman means that the Jews will not do complete teshuva. What is your source for this interpretation?

The Satmar Rav discusses the Gemora in Sanhedrin at length and concludes that Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua and all the others agree that the kibutz galuyos and building of Eretz Yisroel will not (i.e. is not allowed to) happen without teshuva; they are only disagreeing as to whether moshiach can come without teshuva. If moshiach comes without teshuva, he will have the job of making the teshuva happen. See Vayoel Moshe simanim 40-41, and in our Parsha Pearls sheet for Rosh Hashanah. (By the way, the parsha sheets have been published as a book, "In the Footsteps of the Flock" and will be in stores in a few weeks. Look for it.)

See Sanhedrin 98a, where it concludes that "For My sake I will act
(i.e due ONLY to the desecration of His name will G-d bring the redemption
of His people---see Rashi and Redak)." When it states "for MY sake" it
means "NOT FOR THEIR SAKE" which means, not because they have done teshuva,
at least not complete teshuva, and at least not all of the Jews (for some
will certainly have done teshuva, however one chooses to define that term).
En toto, this means that due to the lack of sincere repentence, G-d will
put the thoughts into the head of an evil king to oppress Israel, and even
then they will not sincerely repent, and some won't repent at all...yet
this oppression by this evil king is still defined as a desecration of G-d's
name (even though it was G-d Who put such thoughts into his head to oppress
Israel, still we can say that this king will go TOO FAR, beyond G-d's
desired intention, a thing that results in the world wide profanation of
His name as explained by Rashi and Redak). This is a similar scenario as to
the redemption from Egypt, where the Jews remained on the 49th level of
tuma even while G-d was redeeming them. This particular discussion in the
Gemora is not speaking about the Mashiach himself, but about the redemption
process--although it is an extremely fine line to distinguish between the
two).

What does it say in Vayoel Moshe regarding the specific interpretation
of the concluding words in that Gemora "For My sake I will act." (See Rashi
and Redak's comments on Isaiah 48:11 from which the Gemora took this
expression, and on Isaiah 59:16).

Is he saying that "G-d's acting" does not mean that he is beginning the
geula process despite our not meriting it?

On your question from Yishaya 48:11 and 59:16 and the Radak and Rashi there yes, the Vayoel Moshe interprets all of this to refer to moshiach's coming. "For My sake I will do it" means I will bring moshiach. "And He saw that there was no man and He was silent and there was no one praying, and His arm saved for Him&" Despite Israel not deserving redemption, G-d will act when the time comes. What act will He do? Bring moshiach.

However, you surely mean to ask me about the words of Rashi on 48:11 which say that G-d will act to stop the desecration of His name, which implies an act of taking revenge on the enemies of the Jews. Also on 59:16 Rashi says explicitly that G-d will take revenge on His enemies, even though we are not deserving of it. The Radak on the latter verse says, "So we see that Chazal were uncertain as to whether the ingathering of the exiles would happen through teshuva or not&"

The answer to this is that after moshiach comes, the teshuva that they will do will not really be to their credit, because they will be almost forced into it. Moshiach will be a powerful person; the Rambam in his introduction to Chelek says that fear of him will fall even upon the nations, and G-d will destroy whoever stands up against him. All the more so that his fear will be upon the Jews, and they will be forced into teshuva. The Rambam's wording in Melachim 11:4 is that moshiach will "force all of Israel to walk in it and strengthen its breach". So the entire process, beginning with the appearance of moshiach, following with the forced teshuva and culminating with the revenge on the enemies and the gathering of the exiles, is called "I will act" and "His arm saved for His own sake". In other words, even after the teshuva, the revenge G-d takes on the nations will not be in the merit of that teshuva, since it was a forced teshuva. It will be for His own sake, for the sake of His desecrated name. And when the Radak says that the gathering of the exiles might happen without teshuva, he means that the process culminating in the gathering of the exiles might begin without teshuva, and the gathering itself will not be in the merit of the teshuva. But teshuva there must be.

If you read further in the Radak, you'll see that he really says this himself: "And one can resolve the contradiction in the verses by saying that most of Israel will repent after they see the signs of the redemption, and regarding this is says, 'And He saw that there was no man' for they will not repent until they see the beginning of the salvation." They will repent, but that repentance will not count for much because it happens only after the signs of the redemption appear, i.e. moshiach.

I would also make this additional point about geula from all that emerges
from our discussions: That is, the question is, is the main purpose of
"geula" that all Jews should become "frum?" While it is certainly a
preferable and desireable goal that should go hand in hand with wanting to
see "geula," is it the ikar definition of geula that "geula simply means all
Jews are frum first?" Indeed, the entire Jewish people has the possibility
of becoming "frum" without need of "geula." Or is the main idea of "geula"
is that the world, Jew and gentile alike, recognize the more general
concept that the G-d of Israel is indeed the omnipotent One and only G-d,
and that such recognition is accomplished through His people's PHYSICAL
exaltation vis a vis the nations, even if such elevation occurs while the
Jewish people are not (as yet) what one could define as being in a state of
complete frumkite? The Jewish people as a nation are a manifestation of
the G-d of Israel's attribute of omnipotence in the eyes of the nations,
regardless of what kind (i.e. religious or not) of Jewish people. In other
words, when we say that G-d will cause the geula "not for our sake--not
because we are observant Jews who merit it--but because of the desecration
of His holy name..." what we are saying is that geula is largely about the
overriding factor that if G-d does not at some point in time "cause" the
"geula" to come about despite our unworthiness, then the nations will not
recognize His attribute of all-powerfullness. They will end up believing
that He is not all-powerfull, which means, in their view, that He is not
really G-d, a thing that is counter to the very idea of what geula is
supposed to be about. After all, what is G-d if He is not all-powerfull?;
and if the nations can keep His people in a physical state of degradation,
they will conclude this to mean that even when we His people dwell under
their subjugation in a more benign kind of golus do the nations view the G-d
of Israel's power as being dormant or non-existant. Once the nations of
the world recognize that G-d IS all-powerfull, then everything else can
flow from there. After they are defeated in battle, particularly by a
people that is far less numerous and physically powerfull as the nations who
attack them, they will then realize that He is truely the all-powerfull
G-d, and they must fear Him alone, which means they must do what He tells
them to do henceforth.

Geulah means that G-d will be recognized by the whole world, Jewish and non-Jewish. It would be ridiculous to think that the non-Jewish world will recognize him while the Jews continues to violate and trample on His Torah.

As to your point about how it can happen when Jews continue to violate
and trample on the Torah, this is a very broad statement. Violating the
Torah means sinning. Sinning can be intentional or unintentional.
Unintentional sinners can bring karbanos when the proper halachic scenarios
are in place. Thus, your statement must be interpreted to mean
"intentional sinners." I believe it was the Chazon Ish who said that a Jew
in our days who is not Torah observant should be viewed as a tinok
shenishbo, due to presumed lack of Torah education. I believe he said this
even in reference to those who would normally say or do something that would
be considered as an act of kefirah, because such people are not asking such
questions because they really understand about the ways of Hashem and are
yet still rebelling. Rather we can assume that they are asking out of
sincere curiousity. For example, someone recently asked a local Rav why is
it that a mamzer is punished by G-d by Him not allowing such a person to
marry into the Jewish people, since the mamzer had no control over what his
parents did? The Rav gave some logical reasons, but then concluded by
saying that the question actually borders on heresy, since we haven't the
right to challenge the moral decisions of Hashem. However, another local
Rav took issue with this remark. Was the question really asked in order to
challenge the morality of Hashem's ways? Or was it asked out of sincere
curiousity by one who simply does not know about the idea of what Hashem is
about (i.e. the One who created morality has the right to dictate what
morality is and what it isn't)? Thus, the extra terseness in referring to
the question as bordering on heresy was probably not appropriate. If the
same question was posed by a great Rav on the other hand, or by a King Saul
concerning the morality of His command to wipe out all of Amalek, then
perhaps we can say such a question borders on kefira. There are also
exceptions to this rule of a present day sinner being considered as a tinok
shenishbo. Such as one who does a sin which one should naturally realize is
a sin even had the Torah not commanded us, such as murder, theft, etc. I
don't think that one can excuse someone who commits such acts as a tinok
shenishbo, even if he totally lacked Torah education because such things one
should naturally realize are wrong. Yet, when it comes to such mitzvot as
Shabbos observance, kashrus, etc., and probably the vast majority of
mitzvos (and certainly their halachic pratim) things that most people would
not ordinarily realize on their own are morally right to observe, of such
people I think most authorities categorize as tinok shenishbo who are not to
be viewed as those who are "trampling on the Torah." Not that the reward
in the world to come for such Jews will be as great as others who endeavor
to observe the mitzvot and are infinitely more knowledgeable in Torah than
those who don't learn Torah. But yet, their punishment is probably
mitigated by their lack of education, whereas the punishment of those who
know better yet still sin may not be so easily mitigated. My point is that
I think you should either be more specific about what you mean when you
mention "trampling on the Torah" or else use such a term only with extreme
care.

This all began with the question of what the Rambam means when he says the messianic candidate must force everyone to repent. As in every Talmudic debate, we have to keep in mind who is the makshan and who is the metaretz which side is trying to raise difficulties and which side is trying to resolve difficulties, who is the defender and who is the attacker. You paint me as if I am taking a few words in a Rambam and building a whole halachic ruling on their exact order. But remember that I am the one trying to reconcile the Rambam with the Three Oaths. You, on the other hand, in your insistence that the moshiach could fight wars without any proof that he is moshiach, are in effect raising a difficulty, because you are interpreting the Rambam in such a way that he contradicts the Oaths.

As to the question of what is teshuva and who is frum, it seems that you are trying to blur the boundaries and make it one long continuous spectrum, from the greatest rasha to the greatest tzaddik, such that one cannot (or at least a human being cannot) point to a certain line dividing the good from the bad. The non-religious are tinok shenishbah, the religious also sin sometimes, and so on. But there is a clear line. The idea of tinok shenishbah applies to certain halachic questions (I believe it was the Aruch Laner who first applied it to wine) and also should influence our approach to reaching out to these lost Jews. But that does not change the fact that they are kofrim. Perhaps kofrim by accident, through no fault of their own, but still they are on the other side of a well-definable line. Moshiach's job will be to get every Jew on the right side of the line. They may still sin once in a while accidentally or from inability to resist, but it will be possible to know that they are on this side of the line.

There are also some Jews who will never come back. Rabbi Avigdor Miller on his tapes 52 (the Serpent and the Keg) and 179 (Benefits of Exile) spoke about exile as a sifting process. Behold it is I who gives the order, and I will shake throughout all the nations the house of Israel, as something is shaken in the sieve. (Amos 9:9) Shaking means expulsions, exiles, troubles. If you have flour mixed with pebbles, by holding it still you wont separate it. You must shake that sieve up and down. Now the flour would prefer you should let it alone. But we want pure flour, so we shake it up and down, back and forth, and that causes the flour to go out and the dirt is kept back. As Hashem leads us through the nations He is sifting out the wicked. He took us into Spain and then there was an expulsion. The wicked remained, converted, and the good ones continued. He took us to Germany and there was Reform, assimilation, and the wicked intermarried and we got rid of them. He took us to Russia, there was Communism, many Jews embraced Communism and intermarried, and they got lost. All this was for the benefit of ridding us of the undesirable elements. And to quote from Yechezkel (20:35-38), I shall bring you into the wilderness of nations&and I shall cause you to pass under my staff&and I shall pick out from you those who rebel and those who are disloyal to Me.

So we learn that moshiach will not bring these Jews back. According to this, when it says moshiach will make everyone repent, it means that he will solidify the Jewish people and make it clear who is in and who is out. Whoever is in, will be a believer in the 13 ikrim and a keeper of mitzvos, although he may sin occasionally. Whoever is out will not consider himself part of the Jewish people, although he may technically be Jewish.

In hil.beis habechira, the Rambam states
that it is a positve mitzvah for us to build the beis hamikdash and bring
sacrifices in it, etc." Yet, in hil.melachim the Rambam speaks of the
Mashiach building the beis hamikdash. So, whose mitzvah is it, we Jews
who are not Mashiach or only Mashiach? According to one such as yourself,
it would seem that the words in hil.beis habechira are superfluous, or else
maybe you can say that what the Rambam really meant was that when the oaths
in Kesubos are in affect, then we non-Mashiach Jews can't build the beis
hamikdash and only the Mashiach can do it? Of course, that is difficult to
say in my opinion because the Rambam lived long after the oaths were in
force and he should therefor not have said that it is a mitzvah for anyone
else save for Mashiach to build it... I don't know how you would otherwise
try to explain it. However, the Kesef Mishneh's comments in hil.melachim
are that "These words of the Rambam (concerning the Mashiach building the
beis hamikdash), as well as in the following chapter concerning the
Mashiach, one should not draw halachic conclusions from...rather he writes
them to strengthen our faith in the coming of the Mashiach." This tells me
that the building of the beis hamikdash first of all requires the
understanding that it is a mitzvah to conquer that location for the sake of
kidush Hashem, and that the mitzvah of building it rests upon the Jewish
people who are not Mashiach. Yet, if we have been remiss in doing this,
then the task will fall onto the potential Mashiach to complete.

In Egeret Yemen, the Rambam further states, "The mitzvot (all of them)
are not dependent upon the coming of the Mashiach. Rather, we are
obligated to immerse ourselves in Torah and mitzvot, and if we do what we
are obligated to do, and G-d allows us to later see the coming of the
Mashiach, all the better. But if not, we have not lost a thing, etc."
Thus, if the Rambam considered it a mitzvah for us to build the beis
hamikdash, then it seems logical to say that he did not consider this the
exclusive domain of the Mashiach's responsibility. Only if we fail to do it
due to our lack of desire (or else our lack of understanding) to sanctify
G-d's name among other things, then the Mashiach will be left to do it.

We have discussed previously the meaning of the Rambams codification of laws relating to the Temple, which will only apply (in the future) when moshiach comes.

In this case, you are ignoring the fact that when David Hamelech decided to build the Beis Hamikdash, Nasan Hanavi told him not to, and said it would be Solomon's job. In the time of the building of the second temple, there were also at least three prophets around. Zechariah spoke clearly about it. My point is that even if the Rambam codifies it as a mitzvah, it is not something we just get up and do on our own without any prophecy and direction by G-d. And so it will be in the future.

You quoted the Kesef Mishneh as follows: "These words of the Rambam (concerning the Mashiach building the
beis hamikdash), as well as in the following chapter concerning the
Mashiach, one should not draw halachic conclusions from...rather he writes
them to strengthen our faith in the coming of the Mashiach." Maybe you have a different printing of the Kesef Mishneh, but in mine the words "one should not draw halachic conclusions from" do not appear. I only see the words "ein li lefaresh bahem davar" which means "I have nothing to explain about them" i.e. the Kesef Mishneh did not see anything in these two chapters requiring his elucidation (except for the point about Ben Koziva to which the Raavad objects, as he continues to say).

As per your comment about Zechariah speaking clearly about building the
Beis Hamikdash, fyi I came accross the following commentary in Me'am Loez,
Zechariah 1:1: "Zechariah admonished the Israelites who had returned from
the Babylonian exile, and urged them to improve their ways. They deserved
reproof for a number of wrongs. One was their failure to begin rebuilding
the Temple after the earlier ban was no longer in force."

In other words, according to the above, it was not that he was now
informing them that they could go ahead and start building the Beis
Hamikdash, and thanks to his prophetic words they could now beging the
building (a thing which would have been a proof, according to your
reasoning, that we too must wait for he words of a prophet to tell us when
to start building). Rather, he was criticizing them for not building it
EARLIER when the 70 year period had expired. What he was telling them was a
criticism for not building it earlier when they could have, which is pretty
much in line with what I'm saying about today's situation.

The question I have is, what was their excuse for not building it
earlier? Surely, they must have had plenty of Torah scholars who could
have told them to build it without delay. Could it be that they too had
Torah based rationale for not building it? Considering their level of
Torah wisdom, I think they must have had some pretty strong arguements in
favor of delaying. Yet, Zechariah still rebuked them for delaying.

I looked in the English Meam Loez from which your quote came, and after the word ban it says in parentheses Ezra 4. So the ban means the ban of the earlier king Koresh (who is called Artachshasta in Ezra 4:7). In the Hebrew Meam Loez it just says "achar shehufsak" which leaves it unclear why the work was stopped. Since both are translations of the original Ladino it is hard to know what it really said.

But take a close look at Ezra chapter 4 and 5 with Rashi. The work was stopped because of the letter sent by the enemies of Yehuda and Binyamin. It was stopped for all the years of Koresh and Achashverosh and until the second year of Daryavesh. Then it says that Chagai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews that they should continue building the Temple without the permission of Daryavesh (5:1 with Rashi). They obeyed the prophets, and then some people informed the king of what they were doing. Daryavesh checked his royal records, and decided to give them permission. According to this, they certainly needed the prophecy of these prophets to begin building.

Even according to your understanding of the Meam Loez, that Zechariah was telling them they should have started building on their own after the 70 years were up, you see that they took Yirmiyahu's prophecy of 70 years as a permission to build the Temple at the end of the 70 years. But today we have no such prophecy telling us when the end of the exile will be.

See Drashos Haran, Drash 5, who writes: "The length of the Egyptian exile was foretold as 400 years, and yet the children of Ephraim miscalculated. The length of the Babylonian exile was foretold to Yirmiyahu (29:10) as 70 years, and yet Belshatzar, Achashveirosh and even the great Daniel miscalculated (Megillah 11b). So what will become of our present exile, whose length is shrouded in the intentionally obscure language at the end of the book of Daniel?"

Regarding your reference to Drashos Haran, I ask as follows: Isn't there a chazal in Sanhedrin that says that "all 'end times' have passed (and all that remains is that we do 'teshuva')?" The concept of an "end time" is a pre-determined pre-calculated time by G-d,
such as the return from Babylonia as you mentioned above. For such a thing
there were Divinely mandated end times that apparently we were required to
know. So if we are using "end times" as our basis, according to this
there are no more pre-determined times to be concerned with, i.e. we no
longer need to be concerned with trying to calculate an exact time that G-d
decided upon lest we miscalculate and suffer the consequences, whatever they
may be. Thus, the full redemption can come at any time henceforth
depending on us (including our teshuva---by the way, I saw a source quoting
the Vilna Gaon defining Teshuva for geula as being ONLY Torah study--or else
due to excessive Jewish suffering at the hands of the nations due to our
unrepentent sins on the one hand, coupled with G-d's desire to end the
desecration of His name even still on the other hand, events which causes
us to have thoughts of teshuva). The Gemora says that R. Akiva was on the
Har Habayit and was laughing while his colleagues were crying. When they
asked him why he was laughing at the site of foxes on the holiest site, he
said that now that the 2nd half of the prophecy had been fulfilled he
realized the redemption could come at any time henceforth. Further proof
is that he supported Bar Kochba so soon after the destruction. He later
retracted that support, but the retraction was due to Bar Kochba's
misdeeds, not because he changed his mind about the possibility of the
geula coming at any time.

Your kashya on the Ran (and the Rambam who writes the same thing in Igeres Teiman) is a good one. Maybe the Ran and the Rambam just meant that if mistakes were made even when a geulah had a specified time, then all the more so that mistake can be made regarding the future geulah, which has no specified time and depends on other factors. Since these other factors are much less concrete and quantifiable than the 400 years of Egpyt or the 70 years of Bavel, Jews are likely to err and tried to end the exile when G-d doesn't want it to end yet.