Maamar Shalosh Shevuos Siman 41

[In the previous siman, the Rebbe asked how the Rambam can rule (in Hilchos Teshuva 7:5) that the Jewish people must do teshuva before the redemption, in view of the fact that there is a dispute about this in the Gemara between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, and all indications are that we follow Rabbi Yehoshua that the redemption may come without teshuva. Furthermore, when it comes to matters that are in the hands of Hashem, the Rambam elsewhere states that we don’t issue any rulings at all.]

An honest analysis of all these problems points to one solution: the Rambam’s statement that the redemption must be preceded by teshuva has nothing to do with the dispute among the Tannaim and Amoraim in the Gemara. The Rambam is talking about something else about which there is universal agreement, since it is written clearly in the Torah.

The Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, end of paragraph 3, brings this dispute (which appears in the Gemara between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua) in a different form. Three opinions are cited in the Midrash: 1) Rabbi Yehuda holds that if the Jewish people do not repent, they will not be redeemed. 2) Rabbi Shimon holds that even if they do not repent, when the end-time arrives they will be redeemed immediately. 3) Rabbi Eliezer holds that if they do not repent, Hashem will raise up a king as harsh as Haman and then they will repent.

In the Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, end of Chapter 43 (in our text this is in chapter 42), also quotes the statement of Rabbi Yehuda as it is found in the Tanchuma: that if the Jewish people do not repent, they will not be redeemed. But then the following line appears: “But Israel will not do great (the word “great” is not in our text) teshuva until Eliyahu comes, as Scripture says, ‘Behold I am sending you Eliyahu the prophet… And he will bring back the hearts of the fathers…’” This statement implies that the teshuva they will do before Eliyahu’s coming will be a lower level of teshuva, as Chazal deduce in Shabbos, Chapter Klal Gadol (68a), that the word “great” implies that there also exists a smaller one [or another one, to use the exact wording of the Gemara].

My holy ancestor, the Yismach Moshe (on the Haftarah of Parshas Shemos) explained that before the coming of Eliyahu and moshiach, they will do teshuva initiated from below, while later they will do teshuva initiated from above. In one verse (Malachi 3:7), Hashem addresses the Jewish people and says, “Return to Me!” In another verse (Eichah 5:21), the Jewish people says to Hashem, “Bring us back to You, Hashem, and we will return.” Each wants the other to initiate the process. The Yismach Moshe says that both will come true: the first before Eliyahu and moshiach, and the second afterwards.

The Akeidah makes a similar point on Parshas Nitzavim, Shaar 100. He says that there will be two waves of repentance: one before the coming of moshiach, and a greater one later. He uses this to explain the verse, “Let the wicked leave his ways behind, and the man of iniquity his plans; and let him return to Hashem…” (Yishaya 55:7) Seemingly, once the wicked man has left behind his evil ways, he has repented already. What then is the meaning of the rest of the verse – “let him return to Hashem”? The answer is that leaving behind one’s evil ways is not complete teshuva; one still needs a higher level of teshuva.

There are many other statements of Chazal (for example, Eichah Rabbah 5:21) indicating that there are two stages of teshuva, one before the coming of Eliyahu and moshiach, a teshuva expressed in the words “return to Me” i.e. return on your own to Me before the appearance of moshiach, and only then “I will return to you”; and another stage of teshuva accomplished by the coming of Eliyahu and moshiach, who will have great abilities to rouse the entire Jewish people to teshuva – expressed in the words “bring us back, Hashem.” In most places in Chazal and the Rishonim, it is predicted that Eliyahu will bring the entire Jewish people to teshuva before the coming of moshiach, as I will quote later on (Siman 50). The Rambam as well, in Hilchos Melachim 12:2, writes that Eliyahu will be the messenger to guide the people in the right path and prepare their hearts. He then says, “Some of the Sages say that Eliyahu will come before moshiach comes,” implying that there is a dispute about this, and that perhaps the king moshiach himself will lead all the Jews to teshuva before the redemption, and only then will Eliyahu come to lead them to a higher level of teshuva. Later (Simanim 51-54) we will explore the question of what source the Rambam may have had for a dispute about when Eliyahu will come.

In any case, according to the above (that there is a stage of teshuva before the coming of moshiach) we can say that the dispute in the Gemara and Midrashim between the Tannaim and Amoraim as to whether the Jewish people might be redeemed without teshuva is referring to this teshuva that precedes the coming of Eliyahu and moshiach. Certainly, all agree that Hashem would prefer that we do teshuva first on our own, as the prophet says, “Return to Me and I will return to you.” But in the words of Eichah, the Jewish people respond with the argument, “Bring us back to You, Hashem, and then we will return.” This is the subject of the dispute between the Tannaim and Amoraim: whether it is possible that Eliyahu and moshiach might be revealed to the world without teshuva.

Indeed Rashi appears to say that the “redemption” mentioned in this Gemara in Sanhedrin refers to moshiach coming. On the words of Rav, “The matter depends only on teshuva,” Rashi comments, “If all of Israel returns in teshuva, he will come, but if not, he will not come.” Similarly, later on page 98a, where the Gemara quotes the verse in Daniel (12:7), “And when the scattering of the holy people’s power is complete, all these things will come to an end,” Rashi comments, “After their power is depleted and they are very lowly, these troubles will end and moshiach will come, as we say (Devarim 32) ‘For their hand is weak.’” So we see that the whole dispute is only about the period before moshiach comes: whether there is a possibility that he may come to a lowly generation even before they do teshuva.

The Gemara calls the coming of moshiach “redemption” because the appearance of Eliyahu or moshiach to herald the redemption is itself called redemption, even before they have taken any action to redeem the Jewish people or gather in their exiles. The Maharal of Prague goes even further in his work Netzach Yisroel, Chapter 24, and says that the reason why Hashem imposed an oath on the Jewish people not to reveal the time of the redemption is because as soon as they reveal the time, they have, in a sense, brought the redemption, for whoever knows when he will be let out is as if he is already redeemed. If even the announcement of the time of redemption is like redemption, certainly the actual arrival of Eliyahu or moshiach’s, when the world will know that the redeemer has come, can be considered redemption.

See Berachos 9a which states that the redemption from Egypt was considered to have happened at night, because at that time Pharaoh gave the Jews permission to leave. This is despite the fact that they were not permitted [by Hashem] to leave at that time – they had to wait until daylight. Similarly, the coming of Eliyahu and moshiach to announce the redemption will be at least the beginning of the redemption, even before they take any action towards redemption. And it is regarding this kind of redemption that the Tannaim and Amoraim disagree as to whether it can take place without repentance.

The Maharsha on Sanhedrin 97b says that even Rabbi Yehoshua agrees that the redemption must be preceded by at least repentance spurred on by a king as harsh as Haman, as the Gemara says. The dispute, then, is only over whether we need voluntary teshuva: Rabbi Eliezer says that as long as the Jews do not repent of their own free will, without the threat of a king as harsh as Haman, they will not be redeemed, while Rabbi Yehoshua does not require such a high level of teshuva. This fits well with what I am saying that the redemption discussed here is the coming of moshiach, and thus the teshuva discussed here is only the voluntary teshuva that the Jewish people do before the coming of the moshiach, not the teshuva that moshiach will bring about, for that teshuva – like the teshuva due to a harsh king - will not be done completely willingly, and thus will not be as valuable as the teshuva done during exile. The Rambam, with his golden style, puts it well when he says, “The king moshiach will force all of Israel” to keep the Torah. In other words, moshiach’s influence on the Jews will be similar to force. And as the Rambam writes regarding moshiach in his commentary on Perek Chelek in Sanhedrin, “That king will be very great… and his reputation will spread throughout the nations more that King Solomon. All the nations will make peace with him and all the countries will serve him due to his great righteousness and the wonders that come about through him. Anyone who rises up against him, Hashem will destroy and deliver him into his hands…” If the non-Jews will fear him, then certainly the Jews will, and so it will be as if they are forced to repent. I have already brought the Yismach Moshe’s explanation: that the teshuva that will take place after the coming of moshiach is described as “Bring us back, Hashem” and not as “Return to Me.”

We find a similar concept in the case of converts to Judaism: the Maharam ben Chaviv (quoted by the Mishneh Lemelech, Hilchos Bikurim 4:3) says that those converts who joined the Jewish people at the time of the Exodus from Egypt - the “mixed multitude” that went up with them, who saw the greatness of Moshe and Aharon and were overcome with fear of the Jews – are not as great as the converts who convert during exile, out of their own free will alone.

Therefore, since Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua disagree only over voluntary teshuva, as explained, their dispute does not touch at all on the teshuva that will take place after the coming of moshiach. Rather, as I have explained, they disagree as to whether there is a possibility that moshiach will come if the Jews do not repent beforehand, during the time when Hashem’s presence is unfortunately hidden, in the depths of exile. There are Baraisos and other statements in the Gemara implying that the Jewish people will not repent before moshiach’s coming, even through a king as harsh as Haman. This is the Yerushalmi’s version of the dispute (quoted about in Siman 40 - that Rabbi Eliezer holds that teshuva through a harsh king is enough for the redemption to come, while Rabbi Yehoshua holds that even that is unnecessary). Therefore, the Rambam does not speak about this issue of teshuva before moshiach at all, because his practice is not to rule on such disputes, as explained above (end of Siman 40).

The proof that the Rambam does not rule on this dispute is that in Hilchos Melachim, he writes that the sure sign of moshiach is that he will compel all of Israel to follow the laws of the Torah. If moshiach will force them to keep the Torah, it must be that they won’t have done teshuva before he comes. [Seemingly this means the Rambam is ruling in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua that they need not do teshuva before moshiach. See below, where the Rebbe explains how this Rambam fits with Rabbi Eliezer as well.]

The Rambam avoids discussing what will happen before moshiach, because the issue of whether moshiach may come without prior teshuva is a disagreement in the Gemara, and therefore the Rambam does not give a clear decision on it, as I quoted above (end of Siman 40) that the Rambam’s practice was not to rule on any matter that is in the hands of Hashem (i.e. whether to send us moshiach if we haven’t yet done teshuva). However, the Rambam holds that after moshiach comes, before he takes any action toward redemption or gathering in the exiles, he will surely lead all of the Jewish people to teshuva. And on that point there is no dispute; that is the anonymous Baraisa quoted in the Yerushalmi (Taanis 3a: “Israel was redeemed from Egypt for five reasons...and because of teshuva… in the end of days you shall repent to Hashem your G-d and listen to His voice”]. It does not depend on the dispute between the Tannaim; it is explicit in the verse of the Torah, “And you shall repent…” which is followed (in Parshas Nitzavim) by the ingathering of the exiles, their redemption and coming to the Holy Land.

One might be tempted to argue that sometimes the Torah does not follow chronological order, so perhaps the ingathering will actually take place before the teshuva. However, the Gemara in Pesachim 6b says that the Torah only deviates from chronological order in two different sections, but in one section, what is first is first and what is second is second.

Accordingly, the Torah states explicitly that teshuva will come before everything else, at a time when the Jews are still at the end of their exile, as the beginning of that passage of the Torah reads, “And you shall take it to your hearts among all the nations where Hashem your G-d will have scattered you, and you shall repent to Hashem….” The Rambam holds that since this promise is made by the Torah, it is impossible to deny it, and thus there cannot be any dispute about it. Therefore, he writes in Hilchos Melachim that moshiach will lead the Jews to fulfill the Torah, because this is something everyone can agree to. It fits either way – according to the opinion that they will certainly do teshuva even before moshiach comes, then certainly they will be keeping the Torah in moshiach’s time [and we would understand “he will force them to follow it” to mean that he will force them to continue doing what they are already doing]. And even according to the opinion that it is possible for him to come without teshuva, it is at least certain that he will lead them to teshuva, as the Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuva, “Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva.” We must understand that with these words, the Rambam includes the possibility of teshuva after the coming of moshiach, as he writes in Hilchos Melachim. Thus, when he writes in Hilchos Teshuva that the redemption will happen through teshuva, he means the active process of redemption itself that will take place after the coming of moshiach – that redemption will not take place without teshuva. Rather, certainly [if there has been no teshuva prior to that time], moshiach will possess a powerful Divinely granted influence to lead the Jews to teshuva, and this is described by the verse, “Bring us back, Hashem.”

I have already quoted (Siman 21) the Raavad’s opinion in his commentary on the Mishnah: that even after moshiach comes, the Jewish people will not come to Eretz Yisroel until they have done teshuva, gathered into the wilderness and undergone a sorting process. The Rambam, on the other hand, does not go into detail about how things will proceed after moshiach comes; as he writes in Hilchos Melachim, it is impossible for us to know any of these things. But one thing is clear from the Rambam: no part of the process will happen without teshuva.