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Nitzavim-Vayeilech 5764-2004

“Hastening the Messiah”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Parashiot Nitzavim and Vayeilech are always read together before Rosh Hashanah, unless there is a Shabbat in between Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In these parashiot, Moses gathers the People of Israel together on the last day of his life, and, for the second time, initiates them into the Covenant of G-d.

Nitzavim is a parasha of heartfelt poetry and soaring prophecy, but, even more significantly, this parasha, according to the great sages R’ Saadiah Gaon (882-942, leading Jewish philosopher and head of the Babylonian Jewish community) and the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204, the great Jewish philosopher, codifier and physician) is the parasha that predicts and fundamentally describes the Messianic era.

In Deuteronomy 30:1, Moses tells the people that when all his prophecies of blessings and curses come upon them, then all the Jews who are in exile among the nations will take the lessons of the Torah to heart. Says the Torah in Deuteronomy 30:2: “V’shav’tah ahd Hashem Eh’loh’keh’chah, v’sha’mah’tah v’ko’loh, k’chol ah’sher ah’no’chee m’tzav’chah ha’yom, ah’tah ooh’vah’neh’chah, b’chol l’vov’chah ooh’v’chol nahf’sheh’chah.” Moses predicts that the children of Israel will return to the Lord, their G-d, will listen to G-d’s voice, and will heed everything that he (Moses) commands the people today. You, the people, and your children will return to G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.

Moses then predicts that G-d will have mercy upon His people and bring back the captivity of Israel, gathering the people from all the nations among which they have been scattered. Even if the dispersed of Israel will be at the far ends of heaven, from there G-d will gather you in and from there He will take you. And He will bring you to the land that your forefathers possessed, and you shall posses it. G-d will do good to you and make you more numerous than your forefathers. The Lord, your G-d, will circumcise your hearts, and the hearts of your offspring, to love the Lord, your G-d, with all your heart and will all your soul, that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:3-6).

Clearly these inspiring verses resound with overtones that could only be Messianic. It is therefore quite evident why, according to many commentators, these verses serve as the Torah’s source for the Messianic era.

The idea of the Messiah in Jewish tradition is an ancient concept. The Messiah (which literally means “anointed”), is the king who, at the climax of human history, will rule and redeem Israel. He is expected to attain for Israel the bounteous blessings promised by the prophets. The Messiah will defeat the enemies of Israel, and restore the people to their land. Even more importantly, he will reconcile the people with G-d and introduce a period of spiritual and physical bliss. The Messiah is to be a prophet, a warrior, a judge, a king, and a teacher of Torah.

In the Laws of Kings, Maimonides writes that Messiah the king will return the monarchy to the house of David, a prophecy that was similarly predicted in the famous words of the prophet Amos 9:10: “On that day I will raise up the Tabernacle (Sukkah) of David that is fallen.”

According to Maimonides, the king from the house of David who restores the monarchy will rebuild the Temple and gather in the exiles. The order of redemption, however, is a subject of debate. Some commentators maintain that the Temple will be rebuilt first, and only then will the Messiah come. Others say that the ingathering of exiles must come first, so that the majority of the people reside on the land, allowing the Temple to be rebuilt.

The Netziv (R’ Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893, author of biblical commentary Ha’amek Davar) sees in these scriptures a roadmap for the Messianic era. First, there will be an awakening to return to the land of Israel, followed by an ingathering of the exiles. Although it is a slow process, the people will come to the land of Israel and G-d will punish His people’s persecutors, which will mark the arrival of the Messiah.

Although the belief in the coming of Messiah is one of the fundamental Jewish beliefs, and is included in Maimonides’ famed 13 Principles of Faith, many of the details of the Messianic era are shrouded in doubt. What is absolutely certain, however, is that the Messianic era must be preceded by the return of the Jewish people to G-d. It is this same concept of Teshuvah–return–that is emphasized during the month of Elul and during the High Holy Day festivals that follow.

Whoever the Messiah will be, whatever the Messiah will look like, however the Messiah will arrive, one thing we know for certain is that we, the people of Israel, can hasten Messiah’s arrival by doing what is right and just in the eyes of G-d.

May you be blessed.