The twelfth of the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, as recorded in the Siddur (the version in the original commentary to the Mishnah is slightly different) reads as follows: “I believe, with a perfect faith, in the coming of the Messiah. And although he may delay, I will nevertheless wait for him, with each day that comes.”
The duty to await the coming of Mashiach is known to all. But its sources and its details are less familiar. As we begin to read the book of Shemos, which is also known as the book of redemption—our redemption from the bondage of Egypt—we take the opportunity to discuss the obligation to await and anticipate the final and ultimate redemption.
What is the source of this duty? Is it an actual Torah obligation? Is it permitted to make predictions as to the date of the final redemption? And what is the nature of Messianic times? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
In his Laws of Kings (11:1) the Rambam rules: “The Messianic king (Melech Ha-Mashiach) will ultimately arise and renew the Davidic dynasty. He will build the Mikdash and gather the dispersed of Israel.”
In accordance with Shmuel’s opinion, as cited in Sanhedrin 99b, the Rambam (Kings 12:1) rules that the nature of the world will not change in any way, but rather “the world will continue according to its pattern.”
However, the condition of the world, physical and spiritual alike, will certainly undergo changes. In those times “there will be neither famine nor war, envy nor competition; for good will flow in abundance and all the delights will be freely available as dust” (Kings 12:5). In those days our hearts and minds will be free, and “the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d.”
The Rambam explains that our yearning for the Messianic era is not related to dominion over others or to physical celebration. Rather, the prophets and Sages yearn for this time because “they desired to be free to involve themselves in Torah and wisdom without any pressures or disturbances” (Kings 12:5).
Moreover, in the times of Mashiach our performance of mitzvos will return to its peak. In the words of the Rambam, in those times mitzvos will “return to their previous state,” and we will once again offer sacrifices and “observe the Sabbatical and Jubilee years according to all their particulars as described by the Torah.”
Beyond physical freedom—which today, Baruch Hashem, we enjoy to a much greater degree than generations past—our yearning for Mashiach is thus a yearning for closeness to Hashem, for hearing once again His revealed word and for an elevated spiritual condition that is today inaccessible.
Obligation of Yearning
The Gemara famously notes that one of the first questions a person will be asked upon reaching the World of Truth is “Did you yearn for the redemption?” (Shabbos 31b). Clearly, the implication is that we are charged not only to believe in the coming redemption, but even to expect and to yearn for it.
This duty is echoed in the ruling of the Rambam, who writes: “Anyone who does not believe in him or does not await his coming, denies not only the statements of the other prophets, but those of the Torah and Moshe, our teacher” (Laws of Kings 11:1).
Concerning the Torah source of the coming redemption, the Rambam notes the Pasuk in Devarim (30:3-5), where the Torah tells us that Hashem will have mercy upon us and will return us to the Land of Israel, adding: “These explicit words of the Torah include all the statements made by all the prophets.”
Torah prophecies provide the source for believing in a final redemption. Disbelieving in the redemption is effectively a disbelief in the Torah that promises it. But what is the source of a duty to yearn for this redemption?
While the majority of Rishonim—the Behag, Rambam, Chinuch, Semag, and others—do not note the yearning for redemption as a full mitzvah (certainly not as one of the 613 mitzvos), the Semak (R. Yitzchak of Corbeil, Mitzvah 1) notes yearning for redemption as a part of the basic mitzvah of Emunah.
He explains that the first of the Ten Commandments mentions the redemption from Egypt, thus instructing us that, “just as I wish you to believe that I supervise and guide the world, and I took you out from Egypt […] so too I wish you to believe that I am Hashem your G-d, and I will gather you and redeem you.” The Semak explains that this is the source for the above statement that a person will be asked: “Did you yern for the redemption?”
Sefer Charedim also notes an obligation to expect redemption each day, mentioning two Pesukim as support for this duty. The first is in Zephaniah, where the Pasuk writes, “Thus go and await Me, the word of Hashem” (3:8), and the second is in Habakkuk, in which the Pasuk states, “If He delays, await him” (2:3). Chazal understand this as a reference to the coming redemption. According to the Charedim yearning for redemption is considered a mitzvah midivrei kabbalah—a mitzvah not explicit in the Torah but mentioned by the Prophets.
According to other Rishonim, who do not mention an explicit source for the obligation, it is possible that the duty to expect and yearn for the coming redemption is derived from sevara—a simple rational conclusion. If the redemption, as the Rambam writes, will bring us closeness to Hashem and to His Torah, then of course we must anticipate and yearn for this time. One who fails to do so, effectively spurns the hope and purpose of the Jewish People.
Waiting Each Day
The wording of the Rambam’s principle of faith as found in the Siddur (printed at the end of the Shacharis prayer) is, “I will nevertheless wait for him, with each day that comes.” Must we expect the coming of Mashiach each day? What does the idea of waiting each day imply?
It is said in the name of the Brisker Rav (Rav Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik zt”l) that the meaning is that a person must expect the coming of Mashiach every day. According to this interpretation, one who declares with certainly that the redemption will not come today is violating the principle of faith, even if he generally believes and expects the coming redemption.
The Gemara notes the fact that the Mashiach can come each day in a law relating to Nedarim (vows). A person who takes a Nazirite vow “on any day on which the son of David comes” is prohibited from drinking wine every day of the year, because of the possibility that the Mashiach will come on each day (Eruvin 43a-b; Rambam, Laws of Nezirus Chap. 4). However, the Gemara proceeds to mention days of the year (such as Shabbos and festivals) on which we know that Mashiach will not come.
The Chafetz Chaim, however, explains that the intention is not to an expectation of redemption on this very day, but to a general expectation of the coming redemption (Kuntress Tzipiya Liyshu’a). Based on this understanding, the idea of a daily obligation will mean that we must yearn for the redemption each day, but our anticipation need not refer to any special date (or to that very day). One must simply expect and anticipate a future redemption, whenever its appropriate time will come.
In the Commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin, Introduction to Chap. 10) which is the source for the 13 principles of the Rambam, there is no mention of expecting Mashiach each day, but only a general duty to believe and to expect the coming of Mashiach. The Rambam adds: “Do not think that he will be delayed, and if he procrastinates, await him.” The idea of “each day” is also not mentioned in the Sephardic shortened form of the Rambam’s principles of faith, and the shortened form at the beginning of Kaftor Vaferach also makes no mention of the idea.
Rabbi Yehuda Shapiro, a leading disciple of the Chazon Ish, thus wrote, “Our expectation of Mashiach is unrelated to any specific time. It is like a mother awaiting the return of her son, who yearns for his return even if she knows that he will not return today” (Daas Yehuda, Chochma Umussar, no. 77). Ahavas Meisharim (Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein, a disciple of the Alter of Kelm, no. 38) even wrote that the expectation of Mashiach’s coming on each day “is a great mistake that our evil inclination deceives us to weaken our faith and our hope.”
Note that even the opinion of the Brisker Rav is not entirely clear on this matter, and Rabbi Yisrael Eliyahu Weintraub (in a letter, published at the end of Kuntress Adecha Teiteh) writes that his intention was not properly understood.
Predicting the Date
The Rambam in his commentary to the Mishnah adds a warning against predicting a specific date for the coming of Mashiach: “And he should not fix a time for him, nor interpret Scripture as a special date. And the Sages said: Those who calculate the End should die.” The Rambam records a similar warning in his Laws of Kings (12:2), explaining that there is no clear conclusion as to when the redemption will come, and therefore one should refrain from calculations and from dwelling upon them.
The source of this instruction is the Gemara in Sanhedrin (97b), which presents scriptural calculations concerning the final redemption—all dates that had long passed by the time the Gemara was published. Due to the tragedy of shattered hopes, which time and again caused huge damage to Jewish morale over long years of exile, the Gemara concludes (citing R. Yochanan): “Those who calculate the End should die.”
This did not prevent many, from the times of Chazal and through to Rishonim and Acharonim, to make predictions concerning the time of the final redemption. These include Rav Saadya Gaon (Emunos Ve’deos, Maamar 8), Sefer Kaftor Vaferach (Chap. 6), and even the Rambam himself (in his Iggeres Teiman)—among many other attempts at predicting the time of the final redemption.
Asked by a publisher of the Jewish calendar whether or not to mention a prediction for the coming on Mashiach in the year 5,760 (2,000), Rav Shmuel Wosner zt”l wrote that these predictions were made as “slips of the pen,” the result of fervent hope and anticipation of Mashiach. However, one should certainly refrain from printing such a prediction or discussing it in a public forum.
As the Rambam writes, the matter of the coming of Mashiach is shrouded in cloudiness. We cannot know details of how the process of Mashiach’s coming will take place. Even in Chazal there are several disputes concerning the matter, including whether the redemption will be sudden or a long process, the order of events such as Mashiach’s coming and the building of the Mikdash, and others.
Certainly, we must be grateful for what we have today: the ability to live in the Land of Israel in a Jewish autonomy, and the capacity to practice our religion freely almost everywhere around the globe. This was certainly not the state of affairs for many long years of exile.
At the same time, we remain duty bound to await and long for the final redemption, the time when the word of Hashem will be revealed in the world, and our closeness with Hashem will be tangibly felt. This yearning should be with us always. As we mention in the daily Shemoneh Esrei, “We hope for Your redemption the entire day”—we continually feel the absence of Hashem’s revealed presence and yearn for its return.
It is told of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l that he delayed a serious operation he was due to undergo for a number of hours, immersing himself in Torah study, after which he agreed to undergo the operation.
At his family’s inquiry, he explained that he was concerned lest the operation render him a baal mum—a person with a significant physical blemish, which would render him disqualified to serve on the Sanhedrin. His yearning for redemption was so great, that in the buildup to a serious operation the matter of serving on the Sanhedrin was at the forefront of his thoughts.
May the final redemption come speedily, in our days.