The 12th principle of the Jewish faith declares our belief in the coming of the Messiah (in Hebrew “Mashiah”).
When we speak of the Messiah, there are two issues that must be treated independently. One is “the person of the Messiah” and the other is the “Messianic Times”. Today we will talk about the person of the Messiah, that is, who can be considered as a candidate to be the Messiah.
Maimonides says that an individual can be considered as the Messiah if he meets three requirements a priori and two posteriori. And only when all these five conditions are met we can say that this person is the true Messiah:
Maimonides says in chapter 11 of Hilkhot Melakhim, Halakha 4 (numbers and parentheses are added by me for better understanding):
“If a king will arise (1) from the House of David (2) who diligently studies the Tora and observe its mitsvot, as set out in the Written Tora and in the Oral Tora, as David, his ancestor, and he would urge all the people of Israel to walk in the (way of the Tora) and he would correct the breaches in the observance of the Torah [i.e., he would rectify what the Jews are doing wrong in terms of religious observance], (3) and he would fight the wars of God, he could be considered the Messiah. If he is successful in the foregoing, and (4) he builds the Bet haMiqdash [= Temple] in its place [= har Habayit, Jerusalem], and (5) he gathers the exiles of Israel, one can then say without a doubt that this person is the Messiah. “
Let us analyze this text step by step text.
Yesterday we explained the first pre-requisite
(1) To be a descendant of King David. This would exclude automatically, for example, anyone who is Kohen or Levi, because David belonged to the tribe of Yehuda. For more detail on this point, see what I wrote yesterday.
There are two other requirements to be met.
(2) To qualify as a candidate for the Messiah, this person must be a studious and observant of Tora, both the written and the oral Tora law, as was King David. He must be a leader who cares and does everything possible for the Jewish people to behave according to the Tora, both individually and collectively.
(3) The Messiah must fight the “wars of God” (לוחם מלחמות ה ‘). What does “Wars of God” mean? It does not refer here to “wars” in a metaphorical sense, as if the Messiah ought to be the commander of a “Salvation Army” or fight “spiritual battles” (that is actually part of the second condition) or command an army of children. “HaShem wars” are the real wars and real military battles that we Jews fight against our enemies, as we fight today in Israel (see Hilkhot Melakhim 4:10, 7:15).
The models taking into account by Maimonides, and which he explicitly mentions in his description of the Messiah, are two historical characters: one is King David, who obviously met the three requirements (the other two were not applicable in his kingdom). And the other one is Bar Kokhba (ca. 90 -135 CE).
Maimonides cites Bar Kokhba in a different context: to explain that doing miracles is not a prerequisite for being considered the Messiah:
Hilkhot Melakhim, Halacha 3
“Do not assume that the Messiah must perform miracles and wonders … or perform other similar actions [to qualify as a candidate to be the Messiah] as the ignorant say. This is definitely not true. The evidence we have is the case of Rabbi Aqiba, one of the greatest sages of the Mishna, who supported the king Bar Kozibah [Bar Kokhba] and considered him [a priori] as the Messiah. He, and all the Sages of his generation regarded him as the anointed King [= Messiah] until he was killed [in battle] because of the sins. Once he died, [the Sages] realized that he was not the Messiah. Still, the Sages never asked him to do miracles or wonders [to be considered as the Messiah].”
Bar Kokhba met indeed all the requirements of the Messiah: (1) He was a descendant of David (2) he was a very observant Jew, who imposed the law of the Tora (see this) and (3) he fought against the enemies of Israel, then the Romans, in order to establish a Jewish state, independent of Rome, where the Tora would be the law of the land. In this independent state the other two conditions should have been met (4) rebuilding the Bet haMiqdash (the Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 68 of the Common Era) and (5) repatriating to Israel all the Jews who were exiled when the Romans destroyed the Bet haMiqdash.
When Bar Kokhba died in battle, the sages realized that, while Bar Kokhba had all the attributes for being Israel’s leader, he was not the Messiah they were waiting for.
To be continued…