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How the Satmar Rebbe Answered the Brisker Rov's Question

The year was 1959. The Brisker Rov, his family and guests sat around the table at the Sheva Berachos of his youngest son, R’ Meir, and the conversation turned to Zionism. One of those present related that Reb Leib Hakohein, son of the Chofetz Chaim, said that they once asked the Chofetz Chaim, “Why aren’t you excited about the building of Eretz Yisroel that is going on now?” He replied, “I will give you an analogy. If a wealthy man went bankrupt and was left with nothing but the clothes on his back, and you gave him a few coins, he would be very happy. But if you went over to a wealthy man who is still wealthy and gave him a few coins, he would laugh at you, since it is nothing compared to the millions that he has. Here too, the secular Jews have already dropped their belief in Judaism and have nothing left of the promises of the Torah, Neviim and Chazal. That’s why they are so happy over the tiny amount of building that’s going on in Eretz Yisroel. But we – we are like the wealthy man who is still wealthy. We’re not bankrupt. To us, the words of the Torah, Neviim and Chazal are holy of holies, and we know that everything that they promised about the days of moshiach will come true in all its glory. Not one word of Hashem’s promises will fall short of materializing. Just as the wealthy man does not rejoice over the few coins which are a tiny percent of his fortune, so too we do not rejoice over the current building of Eretz Yisroel.” (See Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Bo for a similar story.)

From the way this storyteller had quoted the Chofetz Chaim, it sounded as if the Zionist building of Eretz Yisroel was at least some percent of the redemption we are awaiting. Those present never forgot the Brisker Rov’s reaction to this. He trembled and said “Percent? Every day we say the 13 principles of faith in the Siddur, and the twelfth is: I believe with perfect faith in the coming of moshiach, and though he may tarry, still I will await his coming every day. What is this, a question in the middle of the Ani Maamin? If the writer was already asking questions, he could have asked questions on the other principles too. For example, he could have written, ‘I believe with perfect faith that the Creator rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those who transgress His commandments and even though we sometimes see the righteous suffer and the wicked succeed, still…’ Or, ‘I believe with perfect faith that the Creator has no body, and though it says in the Torah “under His feet” and “written with the finger of G-d” and “the hand of Hashem, the eyes of Hashem, the ears of Hashem” these are only metaphors for the sake of human readers whose understanding is limited to the physical.’ Clearly, the Ani Maamin is not the place for questions and answers. It just says what you have to believe. So why this question in the 12th principle?

“The answer is that this is not a question and answer; this is part of the emunah. It is not enough to believe in moshiach in the back of one’s mind; one must actively wait for him every day. This is also stated by the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim 11:1:

וכל מי שאינו מאמין בו, או מי שאינו מחכה לביאתו, לא בשאר נביאים בלבד הוא כופר, אלא בתורה ובמשה רבינו,

Anyone who does not believe in him, or anyone who does not wait for his coming, is denying not only the other prophets, but also the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu…

“The reason is that if someone believes in moshiach but does not wait for him every day, it is because he lacks faith that he might come any moment, as soon as Hashem decides the time is right.”

The Brisker Rov added, “Not only every day must one wait, but all day long, as we say in Shmoneh Esrei, ‘For your saving we wait all day long.’

“For someone who has that kind of emunah, the whole Zionist state is not more than child’s play, and not even that.”

One of those present asked the Brisker Rov, “But don’t we know that Eliyahu Hanavi has to come before moshiach? If Eliyahu didn’t come yesterday, how could we believe moshiach may come today?”

The Brisker Rov said, “When moshiach comes, he will answer that question too. But in any case our obligation is to wait for moshiach every single day, all day.” (Mishkenos Haro’im, p. 846)

Let’s look at this idea, that Eliyahu will precede moshiach, a little more closely.

The Gemara in Eiruvin 43b says:
תא שמע: הריני נזיר ביום שבן דוד בא ־ מותר לשתות יין בשבתות ובימים טובים ואסור לשתות יין כל ימות החול. אי אמרת בשלמא יש תחומין ־ היינו דבשבתות ובימים טובים מותר. אלא אי אמרת אין תחומין, בשבתות ובימים טובים אמאי מותר? ־ שאני התם, דאמר קרא (מלאכי ג׳) הנה אנכי שלח לכם את אליה הנביא וגו׳, והא לא אתא אליהו מאתמול. ־ אי הכי, בחול כל יומא ויומא נמי לישתרי, דהא לא אתא אליהו מאתמולִ אלא אמרינן: לבית דין הגדול אתא. הכא נמי ־ לימא: לבית דין הגדול אתאִ ־ כבר מובטח להן לישראל שאין אליהו בא לא בערבי שבתות ולא בערבי ימים טובים מפני הטורח.

It was taught in a Baraisa: “If one vows to be a Nazir on the day the Son of David comes, he is allowed to drink wine on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but he is forbidden during the weekdays.” This seems to be a proof that there is a prohibition of techumin (Shabbos boundaries) in the sky. That is why moshiach cannot come on Shabbos or Yom Tov. The Gemara responds: No, the reason why one may drink on Shabbos is because Eliyahu did not come the day before. If so, it should be permitted on weekdays too, because Eliyahu didn’t come yesterday! – The answer is that perhaps Eliyahu did in fact come yesterday to the great Beis Din, and we did not hear about it. If so, Shabbos should also be forbidden, because perhaps Eliyahu came on Friday and we didn’t hear about it! – The answer is that the Jewish people was already promised that Eliyahu will not come on Erev Shabbos or Erev Yom Tov, so as not to disturb the Jews in the midst of their preparations.

So we see that what this person at the Sheva Berachos asked the Brisker Rov - that moshiach cannot come today because Eliyahu didn’t come yesterday - is not really a question at all: it could be that Eliyahu did come to the great Beis Din and we didn’t hear about it. However, what he could have asked is, how can we say “I will await his coming every day” if moshiach cannot come on Shabbos or Yom Tov? And on this the Brisker Rov would reply with simple faith, “When moshiach comes, he will answer that question too.”

What the Brisker Rov may not have realized is that at that very same time, on the other side of the world, the Satmar Rov was writing an answer to his question. In Vayoel Moshe Siman 51, the Rebbe discusses the Rambam’s statement in Hilchos Melachim 12:2:

ויש מן החכמים שאומרים שקודם ביאת המשיח יבא אליהו, וכל אלו הדברים וכיוצא בהן לא ידע אדם איך יהיו עד שיהיו

There are some among the Sages who say that Eliyahu will come before moshiach, and all these things and the like nobody will know how they will happen until they happen.

The Rambam implies that there are two opinions among Chazal: some say that Eliyahu will come before moshiach, and some say after. The question is, where did the Rambam find a second opinion on this subject? It seems clear from the Gemara in Eiruvin quoted above that Eliyahu will come before.

The Rebbe points out, however, that in Hilchos Nezirus 4:11, when the Rambam brings down the Gemara in Eiruvin, he gives a different reason to permit drinking wine on Shabbos:

האומר הריני נזיר ביום שבן דוד בא בו, אם בחול נדר הרי זה אסור לעולם, ואם בשבת או ביום טוב נדר אותה שבת או אותו יום טוב מותר, מכאן ואילך אסור לעולם, שהדבר ספק אם יבא בשבת או ביום טוב או לא יבוא, והואיל והוא ספק ביום שנדר לא חלה עליו נזירות שספק נזירות להקל.

If one vows to be a Nazir on the day the Son of David comes, if he vowed on a weekday, he is forbidden forever, but if he vowed on Shabbos or Yom Tov, that Shabbos or Yom Tov is permitted, but afterwards he is forbidden forever. For it is doubtful whether he will come on Shabbos or Yom Tov, and where there is a doubt in Nezirus we go to the lenient side.

The doubt about whether moshiach will come on Shabbos is presumably due to the question of whether there are Shabbos boundaries in the sky. But the obvious question is, why didn’t the Rambam give the reason stated in the Gemara: that Eliyahu will not come on Friday, and then it would be permitted without a doubt?

The Satmar Rebbe answers that the Rambam is being consistent with what he wrote in Hilchos Melachim. True, Eliyahu will not come on a Friday, but since Eliyahu might not come before moshiach at all, we cannot be certain that moshiach will not come on Shabbos. But we can still pasken in accordance with the Baraisa that it is allowed to drink wine on Shabbos, because of the rule that “a doubt in Nezirus goes to the lenient side.” (Usually when in doubt about a Torah law one must be strict; however, when making a vow, a person only means to include definite cases. For instance, one who consecrates all his “beheimos” (domestic animals) does not mean to include a “kvi” since it is doubtful whether that is a domestic animal or a wild animal like a deer. Here too, the person making the vow did not mean to become a Nazir on a day when moshiach might not be able to come.)

Based on the above, it is fully understandable why the Ani Maamin says, “I will await his coming every day” – even Shabbos and Yom Tov. True, the Ani Maamin was not written by the Rambam, but it is based on the Rambam’s 13 principles in his commentary to Sanhedrin, and the writer followed the Rambam’s opinions. And the Rambam, as we see in Hilchos Nezirus, holds that moshiach may indeed come on Shabbos or Yom Tov.