The Rambam has taught us an important lesson here. The question we raised earlier was that seemingly, there is no legal ramification of the fact that moshiach will not appear before the Jewish people does teshuva; why then does the Rambam mention it in his code of law? Doesn’t the Rambam say in Hilchos Melachim 12:2 that we should not spend too much time trying to figure out how matters will unfold after the coming of moshiach? And if the Rambam holds that the Torah promises us that we will do teshuva before he comes, then it will certainly be so, whether we know about it or not.
However, the answer is that it is very important for us to know about this now, so that there should be no room to mistake a false redemption for the real one. Now that we know about the prediction that the redemption will be preceded by teshuva, we can argue as follows: if the entire Jewish people repents and follows all the laws of the Torah, then certainly the redemption will come immediately, as Chazal say, “All times have passed, and the redemption depends only on teshuva” (Sanhedrin 97b). Similarly, moshiach said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who asked him when he was coming, “Today,” which the Gemara interprets to mean, “Today if you listen to His voice” (Sanhedrin 98a). And if they have not yet done teshuva, the Rambam tells us in his legal code that it is impossible for the redemption to come. He writes that this is explicitly stated in the Torah – the Torah promises that teshuva will precede the redemption. Since that is the case, whoever thinks otherwise – that there is a possibility of a redemption without teshuva – is thinking against what the Torah says, and is thus denying the Torah, R”L.
[Thus these words of the Rambam prevent us from following any false messiah. When a messianic candidate arises, we tell him, “If the Jewish people did teshuva the geulah would have come already, so it must be that they did not repent; therefore you can’t be moshiach.”
Question: What if the Jewish people does teshuva and moshiach doesn’t come - what’s preventing us from making a Zionist movement at that point (assuming that we don’t know the Three Oaths and we have only read the Rambam)? Answer: We don’t know what’s in people’s hearts and we can’t tell whether they did teshuva or not. If we think there is teshuva, we’re obviously making a mistake. So either way, there is never going to be a situation where we can make a Zionist movement. That’s how the Rambam in effect brought down the Three Oaths: we can never know when the time has come, and when the time does come, the redemption is going to come by itself.
Question: In Hilchos Melachim 11:4, the Rambam says, “If a king arises from the house of David, studying Torah and following the commandments like his father David, in accordance with the written and oral Torah, and he compels all of Israel to follow it and reinforce its weak points, and he fights the wars of Hashem, then he is presumed to be moshiach. If he succeeds and builds the Beis Hamikdash on its ancient site and gathers in the exiles of Israel, then he is certainly moshiach. If he did not succeed… he is like every good king.” So we see that it is possible for a messianic candidate to complete stage one, yet fail at stage two. Now, part of stage one is that he will compel everyone to do teshuva. But the Rebbe is saying here that if everyone does teshuva, the redemption will certainly come – how then can this candidate go on to fail? Answer: Again, we cannot know what’s in people’s hearts. Although previously everyone – even the messianic leader himself – thought the teshuva was real, his failure at stage two reveals to us that the teshuva was not real.
Rabbi Menachem Kasher (Hatekufah Hagedolah p. 98) asks another important question here. He quotes the Radak on Yishaya 59:16, who says that there seems to be a contradiction: the Torah says that teshuva will precede the redemption, but Yishaya says “And I saw that there was no helper…” and Yechezkel says “Not for your sake will I do it, House of Israel…” So it seems that through the kindness of G-d and the merit of the Patriarchs they will leave exile, not on their own merit. And Chazal too were in disagreement as to whether the geulah would happen without teshuva… “Behold, we see that they were in doubt as to whether there would be an ingathering of the exiles through teshuva or not, due to the contradiction in the pesukim,” writes the Radak. So, asks Kasher, how could the Satmar Rebbe call it heresy if the Radak says it is a legitimate possibility? The answer that the Rebbe only said that according to the Rambam. The debate between the Zionists and the anti-Zionists is not over the question of redemption without teshuva; it’s over the Three Oaths. The Three Oaths are what forbid us from founding a state. The question the Rebbe was dealing with was only: why doesn’t the Rambam mention the Three Oaths in his code of law? And his answer to that is that the Rambam found another way to preclude the possibility of anyone thinking of making a false messianic or non-messianic movement to redeem the Jews: he said that teshuva is a precondition of the redemption, and we can never know on our own if teshuva took place. If the Radak disagreed with that, and the Radak decided to write a code of law, he would have no choice but to mention the Three Oaths, and say, yes, there may be a redemption without teshuva, but under no circumstances can there be a redemption without moshiach.]
The Rambam in Chapter 11 of Hilchos Melachim says that the reason why anyone who does not believe in the coming of moshiach, or does not wait for his coming, is a denier of the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu, is because the Torah testifies, “Hashem your G-d will return your exiles and will once again gather you… and Hashem will bring you…” The Rambam concludes, “These things, which are explicit in the Torah, encompass all the things stated by all the prophets.” If so, the precedence of teshuva – the fact that teshuva will precede all these explicitly stated events (which were later stated by the prophets) – is also stated in the same verses. The Torah testifies to its truth just as it testifies to the coming of moshiach.
And there is no doubt that one who denies this promise – that it is impossible for the redemption to come without teshuva – is just as bad as one who denies the promise of the coming of moshiach itself. And on the contrary, he is worse. The reason for this is that, as the Chasam Sofer (Responsa, Yoreh Deah 356) says, logically, there is no reason to include belief in the redemption among the fundamental principles of faith. [The principles of faith are concepts without which the entire Judaism would fall apart. For example, if someone worships Hashem thinking that He is not the first cause, he is worshipping a different god. If our Torah were not the same one given to Moshe Rabbeinu, we would not have to follow it.] If, Heaven forbid, our sins caused us to be exiled forever, as Rabbi Akiva actually holds regarding the Ten Tribes (Sanhedrin 110b), would it then become permitted to throw off Hashem’s yoke or to deviate one iota from the Torah, even from Rabbinic law? Certainly not. So how can belief in the redemption be considered a fundamental of Judaism? However, answers the Chasam Sofer, since the foundation of all of Judaism is belief in the Torah, and the Torah foretells our final redemption in Parshas Nitzavim and Haazinu, whoever doubts that redemption is denying the Torah. The Chasam Sofer goes on at length to make his point clear – see there.
[Seemingly, if belief in the redemption is considered fundamental just because it is written in the Torah, every fact written in the Torah should be considered equally fundamental, and there should be hundreds of principles of faith, not just 13. The Chasam Sofer deals with this question by differentiating between the vast majority of the Torah, which describes events witnessed by the entire Jewish people (or their predecessors such as Adam and Noach) and passed down from father to son, and those few sections that deal with events not witnessed by the Jewish people, such as the story of Bilam. Denying even one event witnessed by all undermines belief in everything, leading to the collapse of Judaism. Presumably, the Chasam Sofer means that such denial is already covered under principle 7, belief in the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu, and we do not need a separate principle for each fact in the Torah. But denying the story of Bilam does not upset the concept of tradition; it is simply denying the veracity of the Torah. Denying the Torah’s predictions about the redemption falls in this latter category.]
Now, one who denies the Torah’s promise, written in the same verses of Nitzavim, that there cannot be a redemption without teshuva, is even worse. Not only is he denying what is written in the Torah, but the very idea of taking a redemption and a sovereign state on our own, before the end time has arrived, is a heretical concept, R”L.
Chazal say that the Bnei Ephraim, who left Egypt early, “did not believe in G-d.” I have already quoted the words of the Maharash Yaffe (Rabbi Shmuel ben Yitzchak Yaffe), who comments that although it was only a mistake, since according to their calculation, the 400 years were up, and they definitely did believe in G-d’s word and trust in His deliverance, according to what they thought - still, since they did not receive any prophecy from Hashem, they should not have redeemed themselves by their own power. The fact that they did not receive any prophecy from Hashem should have indicated to them that they had erred. The Maharash Yaffe also explains the reason for the prohibition against going up as a wall, “Since Hashem scattered us, we have no permission to gather together on our own until Hashem gathers us through moshiach.”
This argument (that we must not leave exile without an explicit prophecy from Hashem) becomes even stronger in this final exile: at least in Egypt there was a promise of redemption after 400 years, but in the present exile no one has any idea how long it will last. The Rambam writes in Igeres Teiman that even in Egypt, when the exile was supposed to last 400 years, the count was hidden from us, and we knew that the end had come only when Moshe and Aharon came and said the code words, “I have surely remembered you…” - all the more so in the present exile, whose great length the prophets feared with trembling. And the Book of Daniel teaches that the end of this exile is a hidden secret, and we are not allowed to know anything until moshiach is revealed.
[The Rebbe now brings four proofs from Chazal that the redemption cannot happen before moshiach comes. Thus both are true: no redemption without moshiach, and no redemption without teshuva. One without the other is not enough.]
1) And the Midrash Rabbah on Devarim 1:19 says:
Why does the Torah say “turn yourselves northward”? If you see him (Esav) planning to start a conflict with you, do not stand up against him. Rather, wait until moshiach comes and fulfills the verse (Tehillim 31:20), “How great is the goodness that You have hidden away for those who fear You.” (The word “tzafon” – north – can also mean hidden.)
2) The Midrash also says later in the same place:
Israel said to the Holy One, blessed be He: “Master of the World, how long will be subjugated under his hand?” He said to them, “Until the day comes of which it is written (Bamidbar 24:17), ‘A star shall go forth from Jacob’… At that time I will make My kingdom appear and I will reign over you, as it is written (Ovadiah 1:21), ‘The saviors shall go up on Mount Zion.’”
3) The same concept appears in the Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis Rabbah 56:2) on Parashas Vayeira:
"[On the third day, Avraham lifted up his eyes] and saw the Place from afar” (Bereishis 22:4). Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Place will one day be distanced from its owners [during the exile when Jews would be far from the site of the Beis Hamikdash and Eretz Yisroel.] But will the exile last forever? No, for Scripture states (Tehillim 132:14): “This is My resting place forever, here I will dwell” – with the arrival of the one described as “a poor man riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). [In other words, moshiach, who will be riding a donkey, is alluded to in Avraham’s words, “Sit here with the donkey.”
4) Another proof that we will not leave exile until moshiach comes can be brought from the words of Shmuel in the Gemara, “There is no difference between this world and the days of moshiach except that now we are subjugated to the nations” (Shabbos 63a). We see here that at least freedom from the subjugation of the nations depends of the coming of moshiach. Those in the Gemara who disagree with Shmuel hold that even the other changes in nature described in Scripture will take effect immediately after moshiach comes, but as far as Shmuel’s point that until moshiach there will be subjugation, they do not disagree at all.
This can be proven from the words of Rashi on Sanhedrin 91b, “This is talking about the days of moshiach – when the subjugation of exile is over.” So we see that Rashi clearly states that the end of subjugation depends on the coming of moshiach. [From the context it is clear that Rashi says this according to those who disagree with Shmuel. The Gemara poses a contradiction between two verses in Yishaya: one verse says that the sun and the moon will be embarrassed in the future, and the other says that the moon will shine like the sun and the sun will shine seven times stronger than the light of the Seven Days of Creation. The Gemara answers that in the days of moshiach they will shine stronger, but in the World to Come they will be embarrassed (by the light of the tzaddikim). Then the Gemara asks: But according to Shmuel, who says nature will not change when moshiach comes, what will we answer? The Gemara answers that both are describing the World to Come: one was said regarding the camp of the righteous and one regarding the camp of the Divine Presence. Rashi’s comment was made on the first stage of Gemara, so clearly it was said according to those who disagree with Shmuel.]
Countless other statements of Chazal make it clear that there will be no freedom from the subjugation of the nations until moshiach comes. But what the Rambam is saying in Hilchos Teshuva is that even after moshiach comes, there will not be any redemption without teshuva.