Filed under: Maimonides/Rambam
WHO IS THE MESSIAH AND WHAT HE WILL DO
The words of the RamBa”m :
1. In the future the King-Messiah will come to power: he will revive the Davidic Dynasty and restore it to its former sovereignty, and he will rebuild the Temple and gather in all the scattered ones of Yisrael. In his time, all the Laws will be reinstated as they were in ancient times: the sacrificial ceremonials will be restored, and the cycles of sh’mittah (“fallow”) years and yovel (“jubilee”) years will again be observed as they are written in the Torah.
2. Anyone who does not believe in him and does not anticipate his coming rejects the whole of the Torah and also our Teacher Mosheh, not just the remainder of the Prophets, for the Torah itself testifies to his coming, in these verses: “Then, Adonai your God will reverse your captivity and have mercy on you; He will gather you back in…. even if your scattered ones will be at the ends of the heavens, Adonai your God will gather you back in from there too…. Adonai your God will bring you back to the land that your ancestors possessed….” (D’varim 30:3-5). These things that are written explicitly in the Torah encapsulate everything that the Prophets said on this topic.
3. There is also reference to the King-Messiah in the Bil’am passage, where Bil’am prophesies about two “Messiahs” – the first Messiah he speaks about is David who rescued Yisrael from its enemies, and the other is the one who will arise from among David’s descendants and who will rescue Yisrael in the Last Times.
4. In that passage, Bil’am says: “I see him, but not now; I look upon him, but he is not close; a star is stepping out from Ya’akov and a sceptre is arising from Yisrael… he will crush the nobles of Mo’av and he will undermine all of Shet’s descendants; Edom will be his conquest, and his enemy, Sé’ir, will be crushed…” (B’midbar 24:17-18).
“I see him, but not now” – this refers to David…
“I look upon him, but he is not close” – this refers to the King-Messiah;
“a star is stepping out from Ya’akov” – this refers to David…
“and a sceptre is arising from Yisrael” – this refers to the King-Messiah;
“he will crush the nobles of Mo’av” – this refers to David, about whom it is written “…when he conquered Mo’av, he counted the prisoners-of-war by measuring them with a rope” (Shmuel Beit 8:2)…
“and he will undermine all of Shet’s descendants” – this refers to the King-Messiah, about whom it is written “…his dominion will extend from Sea to Sea” (Z’charyah 9:10);
“Edom will be his conquest” – this refers to David, about whom it is written “…all of Edom became servants to David” (Shmuel Beit 8:14)…
“and his enemy, Sé’ir, will be crushed” – this refers to the King-Messiah, about whom it is written “…the deliverers will ascend Mount Tziyyon to judge Mount Ésav…” (Ovad’yah 1:21… note – Mount Sé’ir was where Ésav’s descendants settled: see D’varim 2, verses 4, 8, 22, 29).
5. Furthermore, in connection with the “Refuge Cities”, the Torah says: “…when God will widen your borders… you will add to these six an additional three cities…” (D’varim 19:8-9), but this never actually occurred at any time in our history. However, we can be sure that God did not give us this mitzvah for nothing, so we anticipate that it will be implemented in the time of the King-Messiah. There is no need to cite proof for this from the writings of the Prophets because all of their Books are full of references to it.
6. You should not think that the King-Messiah will have to perform miracles and wondrous acts, or cause new phenomena to occur in the World such as bringing the dead back to life or other similar things. We can see that this is not so, because Rabbi Akiva, who was one of the greatest scholars of the Mishnah period became King ben- Kuziva’s armour-bearer and used to say that he was the King-Messiah. Indeed, he and all the Rabbis of his generation thought that ben- Kuziva was the King-Messiah, but when he was killed because of his sinfulness, they realised that he had not been the King-Messiah; however, they had never expected him to perform miracles or wondrous acts.
7. The central principle is that the Torah, with all its Laws and Decrees, is permanent and eternal, and we may neither add to them nor subtract from them [Some versions add: and anyone who tries to add anything to the Torah or remove anything from it, or to interpret any of its Laws in a manner that is not consistent with the written text – such a person is truly wicked and a heretic].
8. If one day a king arises from the House of David, who is learned in the Torah and observes all the mitzvot in the same way that his ancestor David did, just as they are commanded in the Torah (Written and Oral), and who inspires all Yisrael to follow the Torah and takes steps to prevent violations of it, and who wages Adonai’s Wars – this will be a strong indication that he is the King-Messiah; and if he succeeds in all of this and also rebuilds the Temple on its ancient site and gathers in all the scattered ones of Yisrael, then we will know that he really is the King-Messiah. This one will bring harmony to the World and cause all to serve Adonai together, as it is written: “…for then I shall turn all the nations back to speaking the ‘pure language’ [i.e. Hebrew], so that they will all proclaim Adonai’s Fame and serve Him with a single purpose” (Tz’fanyah 3:9).
9. But if he does not succeed in accomplishing all these things, or if he is killed, then for sure he is not the one promised by the Torah and he should just be considered like any of the other legitimate kings of the Davidic dynasty who lived and died, and we may conclude that God caused him to arise only to test people’s faith, as it is written: “…even some of the wise will err in their attempts to clarify the predictions, to explain them and to interpret them… until the End, because its time is yet to be fixed” (Daniyyel 11:35).
10. As for Yéshu the Notzri, who claimed to be the King-Messiah and was sentenced to death by the Synhedrion and executed, Daniyyel had already prophesied about him: “…sons of rebels among your own people will raise themselves and try to establish a ‘vision’ – but they will fail” (Daniyyel 11:14). Could there be any greater deception than christianity? All the Prophets predicted that the King-Messiah would redeem and rehabilitate Yisrael, will gather together again the scattered ones and strengthen their observance of the mitzvot – but that one brought about only the slaughter of Yisrael by the sword and the dispersal and persecution of the remnant, tried to alter the Torah, and caused most of the World to be lured into the service of an idol instead of Adonai.
11. A human being is not able to comprehend the Creator of the World’s intentions, for our ways are not like His ways and our thoughts are not like His thoughts (compare Y’shayahu 55:8). In the event, though, all the words of Yéshu the Notzri and of that Yishma’elite who arose after him [Muhammad] have only served to prepare the way for the arrival of the King-Messiah, leading the whole World to serve Adonai together, as it is written: “…for then I shall turn all the nations back to speaking the ‘pure language’ [i.e. Hebrew], so that they will all proclaim Adonai’s Fame and serve Him with a single purpose” (Tz’fanyah 3:9)
12. How can that be? – Consider this: the whole World is already filled with talk about a “Messiah”, and about the Torah, and about the Mitzvot. So it has come about that these concepts have been spread to the furthest parts of the World and among even the pagan, idolatrous nations, who right now are discussing these topics and the Torah’s mitzvot. Some of them [i.e. christians] say that the mitzvot were true, but have now been abolished and were not intended to remain in force for ever, while others [i.e. Muslims] say that they contain hidden mysteries and are not to be interpreted literally, but that a “messiah” [i.e. Muhammad] already came and revealed these secrets.
13. However, when the true King-Messiah arises, and he succeeds in becoming exalted and uplifted, right away they will all realise their error and they will then understand that the teaching passed down to them from their ancestors was false, and that their prophets and their ancestors misled them (compare Yirm’yahu 16:19).
1. One should not think that any aspect of Nature will change in the Era of King-Messiah, or that there will be any new features in the behaviour of the physical Universe. The World will continue to function just as it does now. Although Y’shayahu states “The wolf will live at peace with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the young goat” (Y’shayahu 11:6), these words are just a metaphor and an allegory: they mean that Yisrael will live in security among the wicked gentiles who are compared to wolves and leopards, as for example in the verse “A wolf of the deserts attacks them, a leopard prowls through their cities” (Yirm’yahu 5:6). When those times come, all will return to the true faith and will no longer pillage or destroy; instead, they will eat only that which is permitted, at peace with Yisrael, as it is written “…lions will eat straw like oxen” (Y’shayahu 11:7).
2. In the same way, the other prophecies about the King-Messiah of a similar nature are also analogies: in the Era of the King-Messiah, everyone will realize what was meant by these metaphors and what they were intended to convey. The Rabbis taught: “There will be no difference between the present time and the Era of the King-Messiah except only that the supremacy of the gentile kingdoms will be ended” [Talmud Bavli, B’rachot 34b; Shabbat 63a, 151b; P’sahim 68a; Sanhedrin 91b, 99a].
3. It appears from the plain meaning of the Prophets’ words that the War of Gog and Magog (Y’hezkel, ch. 38) will take place at the beginning of the Messianic Era, and before this War, a Prophet will arise to correct Yisrael’s behaviour and to prepare their hearts for the final redemption, as it is written: “See, I am sending the Prophet Éliyyahu back to you before the arrival of Adonai’s great and awesome Day” (Mal’achi 3:23). He will not come to declare the pure impure, or to declare the impure pure; neither will he come to disqualify the lineage of those thought to be of flawless descent, or to validate lineage which is thought to be stained. He will come to bring harmony to the World; as the prophecy just stated continues “…he will turn the hearts of fathers with their children back [to God]” (ibid., 3:24).
4. Some of the Rabbis said that Éliyyahu (ELIJAH) will appear even before the arrival of the King-Messiah; but no-one can know how these or any other similar matters will occur until they actually happen, because they are are not specified explicitly in the words of the Prophets, and even the Rabbis had no established tradition regarding these matters, other than what the verses hint; this is why there are differences of opinion about these issues. In any case, the sequence of these events and their precise details are not part of the basic principles of our faith.
5. A person should not devote too much time to the study of the haggadot and the midrashim that deal with these and similar topics, or consider them of major importance, because they will not bring him either to respect or to love of God. For the same reason, one should not waste his time trying to calculate the appointed time of the King-Messiah’s coming: the Rabbis said “…the souls of those who attempt to calculate the time of King-Messiah’s coming deserve to perish!” [Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 97b]. Instead, one should simply await his coming, believing only in the general principles of the topic, as just explained.
6. In the time of the King-Messiah, when his kingdom has been secured and all of Yisrael has gathered around him, every person’s pedigree will be established by him through the prophetic insight that he will be imbued with, as it is written “…he will sit refining and purifying [silver]…” (Mal’achi 3:3). He will purify the pedigree of the L’viyim first, stating “this one is a Kohen by pedigree” or “this one is a Lévi by pedigree”, and any who are not designated in this way will be allocated the status of common Yisrael. This is what is meant by the verse “The Tir’shata [N’hemyah] decreed that [none of them should eat any of the kod’shei kodashim] until such time as a Chief Kohen arises who wears the Urim v’Tummim” (Ezra 2:63) – from this we can see that the pedigrees of those who right now can only be presumed will in his time be determined and made known through prophetic insight. He will define the lineage of the other Yisr’élim according to their tribe alone [not by individual families], that is, he will declare “this one is from such-and-such tribe” and “that one is from such-and-such tribe”. But he will not declare a person who is presumed to be legitimate a mamzer or a slave, following the legal principle that once a family has been emancipated, it remains so [even if it is later found that it was emancipated in error].
7. The Rabbis and the Prophets did not long for the Messianic Age in order for Yisrael to rule over the whole World, or to dominate all the gentiles, or so that the other nations should honour them, or so they would be able to to feast, to drink and to celebrate. Their only desire was for Yisrael to be free to devote themselves to the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to persecute or disturb them, so they would become worthy of life in the World to Come, as I explained in the volume dealing with T’shuvah (“Repentance”).
8. In that time there will be neither famine nor war, envy nor competition: goodness will flow in abundance and all delights will be as widespread as dust. The occupation of the entire World will be solely devoted to knowing Adonai, and Yisrael will become great sages understanding the great mysteries. They will attain a knowledge of their Creator to the greatest extent possible for a human being; as it is written: “…for the World will be as full of the knowledge of Adonai as the water covering the sea-bed.” (Y’shayahu 11:9).
He was interred in the holy city of Tiberias, where to this day thousands come to pray and meditate upon the life and teachings of this “guide for the perplexed” of all generations, of whom it is said, “From Moshe to Moshe, there arose none like Moshe.”
RaMBaM’s ‘Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishna’:
Gather scholars, and stand in your positions!
For a choice gift I bestow upon you!
Come, my sons, hearken unto me,
The Fear of God I teach you.
Hearken, heed unto me, nourish yourselves well,
your souls shall be as a succulent garden.
Who is the man who desires life,
Who loves days in which to see good,
Upon whom the yoke of the evil king will not rise,
Who will not be misled by misdirection, nor be among his victims,
Who will not to be stained with the tyrants’ delicacies, or with his wine!
Let him turn unto my feast which I have prepared,
And to my wine that I have poured,
And to my table which I have set.
Come, dine my fare and drink my mixed wine!
Behold, within it are elements of all luscious fruits, aged and new;
And spiced wine, essence of pomegranates,
Causing the lips of the feeble to speak!
It is the select portion of my wine,
The first of all my grain, my threshing, and my cultivation.
Its wine is from a vineyard aged and ample.
Its bread of the valiant; the portion of all who eat it is rich.
Its taste is as the flavor of oil-drenched wafers.
Partake the delicacies and sip the delectable drinks, my sons,
Partake, companions, drink and intoxicate thyselves, my keen thinkers,
This is the table that is before GOD !
It is a commentary on the Mishna which your forefathers studied,
An explanation of the fences shepherds, leaders of your children, erected,
And the pillars of the foundation, which form your own bases,
And the customs, and the decrees, and the amendments fixed by your sentries,
Are since the day that GOD commanded us, on till your generations.
And behold, it is as the Tower of David standing on it’s hills,
A thousand shields suspended upon it,
With all implements of warriors’ battles and quivers of the mighty!
I Moshe ben-Maimon the Sefardi erected it.
From the sea of the Talmud I have drawn it.
Upon the sapphire of Tosefta I established it.
With pearls of the Sifra I embedded it.
And with gold-plating of the Sifray I overlaid it.
Upon the words of the Gaonim I bolstered it,
And as silver is smelt I purified it,
And into the depths of my heart I poured it.
And behold! It is like a vineyard of delight and pleasure-planted,
And through day and night I guarded it, and periodically I irrigated it,
Until its buds ripened, and its grapes mellowed.
And now every bud is budding,
And each of its fruits, is blooming,
And the mandrake flowers, fragrance granting.
I opened its gates and did not hold them secure.
Day and night I never closed them.
For every upright and sincere seeker I released it,
And as a gift-offering for the scholars I sent it.
But I declare a ban upon reproducing its words;
It is for those who sit before GOD to partake to satiety
And wear as a garment of worth
Maimonides’s full name was Moses ben Maimon; in Hebrew he is known by the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Rambam. He was born in Spain shortly before the fanatical Muslim Almohades came to power there. To avoid persecution by the Muslim sect — which was wont to offer Jews and Christians the choice of conversion to Islam or death — Maimonides fled with his family, first to Morocco, later to Israel, and finally to Egypt. He apparently hoped to continue his studies for several years more, but when his brother David, a jewelry merchant, perished in the Indian Ocean with much of the family’s fortune, he had to begin earning money. He probably started practicing medicine at this time.
Rambam reached the peak of his professional reputation as a doctor when he was appointed to the staff of the court of Saladin as royal physician. He was charged with personally supervising the health of the Grand Vizier Alfadhel, as well as members of the royal family. He devoted himself wholeheartedly and tirelessly to his profession, and his fame as a conscientious, skilled, compassionate physician radiated far and wide. His reputation spread to such an extent that King Richard the Lionhearted of England sought his medical services and offered him the position as his personal physician. Rambam declined the offer, preferring to remain in Egypt where he had been appointed Nagid (Supreme Head) of all Egyptian Jewry, employing his dignified position to protect his coreligionists throughout the Islamic world.
Over fifteen treatises on the theory and practice of medicine have been attributed to him. Among these are a treatise on poisons and their antidotes which was used throughout the Middle Ages, a discourse on asthma, and a list of hygienic regulations which would lead to a healthful life. His rabbinic works, too, are replete with references to medicine and its practice and numerous rules for healthful physical well-being.
Oath for Physicians
There is an ancient physicians oath which articulates the physicians deeply felt obligation to heal the sick. Rambam, as a devoted physician and guide for the perplexed, composed an oath for all physicians, Jews and gentiles1, which expresses the profound obligation of the physician to heal with devotion and humility, and a prayer for G-d‘s assistance and intervention.
The oath attributed to Rambam reads:
O G-d, Thou has formed the body of man with infinite goodness; Thou has united in him innumerable forces incessantly at work like so many instruments so as to preserve in its entirety this beautiful house containing his immortal soul, and these forces act with all the order, concord, and harmony imaginable. But if weakness or violent passion disturb this harmony, these forces act against one another and the body returns to the dust whence it came. Thou sendest then to man Thy messengers, the diseases which announce the approach of danger, and bid him prepare to overcome them. The Eternal Providence has appointed me to, watch over the life and health of Thy creatures. May the love of my art actuate me at all times, may neither avarice, or miserliness, nor the thirst for glory or a great reputation engage my mind; for, enemies of truth and philanthropy, they could easily deceive me and make me forgetful of my lofty aim of doing good to Thy children. Endow me with strength of heart and mind, so that both may be ready to serve the rich and the poor, the good and the wicked, friend and enemy, and that I may never see in the patient anything else but a fellow creature in pain.
If physicians more learned than I wish to counsel me, inspire me with confidence in and obedience toward the recognition of them, for the study of the science is great. It is not given to one alone to see all that others see. May I be moderate in everything except in the knowledge of this science; so far as it is concerned, may I be insatiable; grant me the strength and opportunity always to correct what I have acquired, always to extend its domain; for knowledge is boundless and the spirit of man can also extend infinitely, daily to enrich itself with new acquirements. Today he can discover his errors of yesterday, and tomorrow he may obtain new light on what he thinks himself sure of today.
G-d, Thou hast appointed me to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures: here am I ready for my vocation2.
Maimonides’s major contribution to Jewish life remains the Mishneh Torah, his code of Jewish law. His intention was to compose a book that would guide Jews on how to behave in all situations just by reading the Torah and his code, without having to expend large amounts of time searching through the Talmud. Needless to say, this provocative rationale did not endear Maimonides to many traditional Jews, who feared that people would rely on his code and no longer study the Talmud. Despite sometimes intense opposition, the Mishneh Torah became a standard guide to Jewish practice: It later served as the model for the Shulkhan Arukh, the sixteenthcentury code of Jewish law that is still regarded as authoritative by Orthodox Jews.
Philosophically, Maimonides was a religious rationalist. His damning attacks on people who held ideas he regarded as primitive — those, for example, who understood literally such biblical expressions as “the finger of God” so infuriated his opponents that they proscribed parts of his code and all of The Guide to the Perplexed. Other, more liberal, spirits forbade study of the Guide to anyone not of mature years. An old joke has it that these rabbis feared that a Jew would start reading a section in the Guide in which Maimonides summarizes a rationalist attack on religion, and fall asleep before reading Maimonides’s counterattack-thereby spending the night as a heretic.
How Maimonides’s opponents reacted to his works was no joke, however. Three leading rabbis in France denounced his books to the Dominicans, who headed the French Inquisition. The Inquisitors were only too happy to intervene and burn the books. Eight years later, when the Dominicans started burning the Talmud, one of the rabbis involved, Jonah Gerondi, concluded that God was punishing him and French Jewry for their unjust condemnation of Maimonides. He resolved to travel to Maimonides’s grave in Tiberias, in Israel, to request forgiveness.
Throughout most of the Jewish world, Maimonides remained a hero, of course. When he died, Egyptian Jews observed three full days of mourning, and applied to his death the biblical verse “The ark of the Lord has been taken” (I Samuel 4:11).
The writings and achievements of this sage seem to cover an impossibly large number of activities. Maimonides was the first person to write a systematic code of all Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah; he produced one of the great philosophic statements of Judaism, The Guide to the Perplexed; published a commentary on the entire Mishna; served as physician to the sultan of Egypt; wrote numerous books on medicine; and, in his “spare time,” served as leader of Cairo’s Jewish community. It is hardly surprising that when Shmuel ibn Tibbon, the Hebrew translator of The Guide to the Perplexed (which had been written in Arabic), wrote Maimonides that he wished to visit him to discuss some difficult points in the translation, Maimonides discouraged him from coming:
I dwell at Fostat, and the sultan resides at Cairo [about a mile and a half away]…. My duties to the sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning, and when he or any of his children or any of the inmates of his harem are indisposed, I dare not quit Cairo, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one of the two royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I leave for Cairo very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Fostat until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. . . I find the antechamber filled with people, both Jews and gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes-a mixed multitude who await the time of my return.
I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment, the only meal I take in the twentyfour hours. Then I go forth to attend to my patients, and write prescriptions and directions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours or more in the night. I converse with and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue; and when night falls I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak.
In consequence of this, no Israelite can have any private interview with me, except on the Sabbath. On that day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of the members, come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day.