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How will moshiach force Jews to keep the Torah? Will all Jews have to do teshuva before the geulah begins?

Nov. 1, 2007

Dear Rabbi,

Do you define the Rambam's word "vayachof" in
hilchot Melachim 11:4 as "force" rather than as "compel"? Forcing implies
physical force, even against the will of the person. I am wondering though
how do you imagine a potential mashiach forcing Jews to observe the Torah?
Is he going to go from Jewish home to home to and threaten each person to
observe the Torah? If not, then how will this idea of "forcing" as you put
it manifest itself?

And let's add in a gemara in Sanhedrin, 111a: "It was taught in a
Baraisa: R. Simai says: It is stated: And I shall take you unto Me as a
people. And it is stated in the next verse: And I shall bring you to the
land of Israel. The Torah thereby compares the Israelites' exodus from
Egypt to their coming to the land of Israel. Just as their coming to the
land was realized by only two survivors out of six hundred thousand, so too
their exodus from Egypt was realized by only two survivors out of six
hundred thousand. Rava said: And so it will be in the Messianic era, as it
is stated: And she will be humbled there as in the days of her youth, and
as on the day she came out of the land of Egypt." The latter verse is taken
from Hosea 2:17 which describes God's restoration of the Jewish people, i.e.
Israel's numbers will be reduced in the same measure they were reduced upon
her Exodus from Egypt. Now of course, this is one point of view in the
gemara. There are others who say that as much as 1/5th of the people left
Egypt, but no more than that. Thus, if we include this aspect into the
entire picture, it makes it a lot more difficult for one to claim that we
must first need to see the potential mashiach successfully forcing all the
Jewish people to do teshuva before he can go on to the next step of fighting
the wars because it there is ample source proof that a vast majority of Jews
may never end up observing the Torah, and will thus not merit returning to
the land in the Messianic era. That's why I say the word "compel" which
implies an "attempt by way of words, words that may end up falling on deaf
ears for many" is accurate, as it is all-inclusive to the possibility that
many Jews will not end up doing the teshuva we are looking to happen first.
And yet, if that potential Mashiach is successful at compelling, i.e. at
speaking words to the masses to try to get them to listen and do teshuva,
then that satisfactorily fulfills the criteria of "vayachof." But if you
say it means "force" then 1) you need to prove how this "forcing of teshuva"
will manifest itself, and 2) you would seem to be ignoring the chazal's that
speak of many not ending up doing teshuva despite being compelled to do so
by this potential Messianic figure.

I am not necessarily saying that the moshiach will use physical force. But he must succeed, not just try. Your question from Sanhedrin 111a is a good one. According to that opinion, Rava, with today's Jewish population of 13 million, only 43 Jews will emerge from exile. Now, there are more than that number of good, observant Jews even now, before moshiach. So how do we understand the Gemora? I would suggest that the Gemora refers to the millions of Jews who have gone lost and been "sifted out" as Rabbi Avigdor Miller said (tape 52) during the long exile. The ones who remain after this process may indeed be 2 out of 600,000 and the process is unfortunately not over yet. The remaining Jews who have some connection to Judaism are the ones moshiach will have to force or compel to do teshuva.

The Satmar Rebbe (Vayoel Moshe Chapter 41, page 55) learns that "veyachof" does not mean threatening at gunpoint, but a sort of powerful influence. Here is the quote:

"We can also explain [the apparent contradiction between Rabbi Yehoshua who says that the redemption can come without teshuva and the verse in Devarim 30:2 that promises that Israel will do teshuva before the redemption] based on the Maharsha in Sanhedrin 97, which says that even Rabbi Yehoshua agrees that they will do teshuva through a king as harsh as Haman before the coming of moshiach, and the dispute is that Rabbi Eliezer holds that 'only if they do teshuva they will be redeemed' i.e. willing teshuva, without the force of a king as harsh as Haman, which is more valued so writes the Maharsha. And since the entire dispute is only over willing teshuva, we can say that they also did not speak about teshuva that will come through the king moshiach, which is also not completely willing teshuva during exile, as the Rambam writes in his golden language, that the king moshiach will force all of Israel to fulfill the holy Torah, so that this is also a type of forcing, similarly to what the Rambam writes in the chapter Chelek regarding the king moshiach: 'And that king will be very great&and his reputation will fill the nations more that King Shlomo, and all the nations will make peace with him, and all the lands will serve him because of his great righteousness and the wonders that will take place through him, and anyone who will arise against him, Hashem will destroy and deliver him into his hand&' And if so, all the more so that his fear will be upon Israel, so that this will be like forcing them to do teshuva."

The Satmar Rebbe seems to be saying that at this point, when all the gentiles are serving moshiach, that is when the Jews will feel compelled to repent. If he has not yet made the Jews repent, how does he have the right to fight subdue the gentiles? I think the key words here are "because of his great righteousness" the gentiles will not be physically forced to serve him, but will do so out of recognition of his righteousness. If so, the Rebbe's statement "all the more so that his fear will be upon Israel" means not fear of physical punishment but a kind of awe and respect that forces or compels them to listen.