Why do you claim that the Rambam makes teshuva a prerequisite for geulah?

Feb 11 2008

You often write that the Rambam says moshiach will compel all Jews to do teshuva before the geulah can begin, and that therefore even if Zionism were to claim that a particular person is moshiach, they would not be permitted to establish their state and fight wars, since the teshuva stage is not yet accomplished.

But let's look at the source. The Rambam states vis a vis his criteria of one who may become
the vodai Mashiach, that "he compels all of Israel to walk (either "walk"
means in the ways of Hashem or the Torah)." Now this is a fine point here,
but if you notice the Rambam does not say that he compels Israel to do
teshuva. That is not the word he chooses. Why not? I think it is
reasonable to say that the reason is 1) that it
would be impossible to determine if and when each yachid Jew has done
teshuva or not, so we could never know if he has succeeded as such and 2)
as R. Avigdor Miller said, not every Jew will necessarily
end up doing teshuva; perhaps the Divine intent is to peel away such Jews,
after every effort to bring them back may fail (of course, we human beings
cannot know for certain at which point in time God's intent to peel such
Jews away might be, so we should not give up trying to change them for the
better). Thus, a slightly different meaning I think is more accurate here,
on two counts.

First of all, when the Rambam says "compels ALL OF ISRAEL," he is
probably referring to compelling the leaders of Israel who represent the
concept of "ALL OF ISRAEL." Again, as you probably know, there is a
difference in Torah between the concept of the k'lal and the prat, the
yachid and the rabim, in many areas. Certainly, those who are in
positions of leadership over the Jewish people represent the concept of the
k'lal, as pointed out in the examples of Saul and Shimshon committing
suicide precisely because they represented the k'lal, and thus "God's power"
in the eyes of the nations. Thus, for starters, when the potential
Mashiach is compelling, it is reasonable to say that he is not speaking of
compelling literally ALL of the individual Jews among the Jewish people.
But rather, he is compelling the leaders of the Jewish people who do
represent the entire Jewish people as a nation. And yes, I believe that
means he will have to compel even very religious Rabbi's who may be even
much wiser than the potential Mashiach is in his present state of
potentiality (a concept that we have discussed earlier via R. Akiva and the
sages supporting the less learned Bar Kochba as a potential Mashiach). Now
then, as far as the difference between compelling to do teshuva versus
compelling to "walk" as the Rambam specifically puts it, I think he means
to emphasize that as far as the potential Mashiach's influence upon great
sages and leaders (or even not so great one's) is concerned, it is in the
area of "Lalechet bechol drachav uldavka bo," i.e. to walk in God's ways
and cleave unto Him. This concept is not the same as a simple call to
teshuva as teshuva is normally defined by the likes of the Rambam in hilchot
teshuva, among others. The latter is individual teshuva, for every
yachid Jew to work on, and also it is something that each of us cannot know
if and when it will be accomplished with any certainty. However, to
fulfill the concept of walking in God's ways and cleaving unto Him is a
different matter. As one classic example of the definition of walking in
God's ways, I believe that Ibn Ezra and the follow up commentary by the Avi
Ezer are telling: Says the Ibn Ezra, "To cleave unto God, this is a great
secret." Period, and he leaves it as a great secret. The Avi Ezer
ellaborates: "True, it is correct what the master, the Ibn Era says. And
the secret is revealed to those who fear Him. And the secret lies in the
cleaving itself; not to mix together the attributes of God; to know when
to have the attribute and when not. Not to be modest, and pleasent, and
nice, when the commandment in question involves the attribute of anger;
and not to cleave unto mercy, when the commandment is that one must garb
oneself in vengeance. It is not that you should be merciful BECAUSE He is
merciful, but IN THE MANNER that He is merciful, you should be merciful;
in the manner, and not your own definition of mercy. Few, few are the
great ones, who seize the attributes honestly and truthfully and don't
stumble over them...these are the GEDOLIM, the one's who accept kabalat ol
malchut, (i.e. even when the attribute goes against ones nature, one must
push aside one's nature to sieze the proper attribute). There is a time for
love, and there is a time for hate; there is a time for peace, and there
is a time for war...and one has to know what, and one has to know when, and
not make a blanket statement, such as "Dracheha darchei noam!" as if to say
"Good morning, I have discovered a new truth!" Of course there is a time
for naim, but as He proclaims it in halachah, not as we wish to define
it."

You spoke at length about moshiach's job being to force Israel including those who are religious to walk in G-d's attributes of vengeance and war against the wicked nations. Once the door is open to explain that Rambam as referring to teshuva on a matter of attitudes (rather than as teshuva in the simple sense of keeping the laws of the Torah) I could say the exact opposite explanation. Namely, that in this generation when the majority of Jews are Zionists, moshiach's job will be to force the frum Zionists to give up their attitude of warfare and vengeance and anger against the gentiles and to live in peace with the gentiles in exile. Once moshiach succeeds in that task, the stage will be set for him to proceed with the redemption, because the Jewish people will have left all initiatives of their own behind and will be looking only to Hashem for a solution to the exile. Moshiach (read: the geulah process initiated by moshiach) is one of the things that come only when we divert our minds from it (hesech hadaas).

Your view of moshiach, on the other hand, reminds me of the famous parable of the soup stone. A poor wayfarer came to a town where no one would give him a meal, so he played a clever trick: he announced in the town square that he was going to make soup out of a stone. Eager to witness this feat, the townspeople offered him a pot of water and a fire, and he boiled the water with a stone in it. Then he said it tasted good but needed some salt, and some carrots, and some parsley, and so on, until he had a delicious soup, and everyone thought he had performed a miracle. But in truth the stone played no role. Here too, you are saying that moshiach will encourage the Jews to practice vengeance and war and anger at the nations and to conquer Eretz Yisroel and build the Temple and so I ask you, what did moshiach do? What is this geulah of moshiach that we've been waiting for so long? To you, moshiach is just someone who comes and says, "Why should we wait for moshiach? Let's just do it ourselves!"