By: Rabbi Dovid Markel
As Maimonides states at the conclusion of his magnum opus, Mishneh Torah, the concept of Moshiach has become widespread due to the borrowing and appropriation of this idea by other religions. He points out that ultimately this will pave the path for the worldwide acceptance of the true Moshiach when he finally will arrive, may it be speedily in our days. However, this also is the cause for so many of the blatant misconceptions and false notions regarding Moshiach today; notions that are prevalent not only amongst gentiles, but amongst many Jews as well. As the old saying goes, “Sometimes, having a little knowledge is worse than having no knowledge at all.”
The story is told of an older Jewish couple in Czarist Russia whose house was ransacked during a pogrom; something which was all too prevalent in those days. The distraught woman was in tears, and to comfort her, her husband told her not to worry: “Soon Moshiach will come and take us to the land of Israel, where we won’t have to live in fear of these anti-Semites any longer.” “Why should we be forced to move?” She quipped, “Let him take them instead!”
Unfortunately, the concept of Moshiach has become shrouded in mystery and misconceptions, so that for many of us it has simply come to mean liberation from all our material and physical woes. In many ways, the yearning for Moshiach has become nothing more than a cry of desperation having little to do with spiritual attainment or enlightenment.
In part, this is a result of the incredible suffering Jews have endured throughout the long and bitter exile. From the destruction of our Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, to the rape, pillaging and decimation of entire Jewish communities during the Dark Ages, the religious persecutions of the Spanish inquisition and the countless expulsions from land to land throughout exile, the wholesale horrors of the Chemelnitzky massacres and finally, the ghastly nightmare of the Nazi gas chambers, Jews have clung to the belief and hope of a bright Messianic future. However, the exile experience has left us with a very bitter taste in our mouths and the result is that many of us only see the coming redemption in physical terms.
However, just as an artist does not paint on a canvas that has a finished painting on it, so too, we need to step back from our preconceived notions and start anew on a fresh canvas. Only then can we have any new insight into the subject. Although it is quite beyond the parameters of this small article, let us at least draw a brief sketch of how that era may look. Just as an artist uses the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue to mix his palate of colors, let us use three primary texts as our foundation to a fuller picture of the Messianic era.
וגר זאב עם כבש ונמר עם גדי ירבץ, ועגל וכפיר ומריא יחדיו ונער קטן נוהג בם, ופרה ודב תרעינה יחדיו ירבצו ילדיהן, ואריה כבקר יאכל תבן, ושעשע יונק על חור פתן, ועל מאורת צפעוני גמול ידו הדה, לא ירעו ולא ישחיתו בכל הר קדשי כי מלאה הארץ דעה את ה’ כמים לים מכסים.
And the wolf shall dwell with the sheep, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat; and the calf, lion cub and buffalo shall be together with a young child leading them. The cow and bear will graze together, their young lying together, and the lion will eat hay like the cattle. The infant will play by a viper’s hole, while the toddler will stretch his hand over the adder’s lair. They will neither do harm nor destruction in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem as the waters cover the ocean floor.
וְשָׁפַט בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם, וְהוֹכִיחַ לְעַמִּים רַבִּים; וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת–לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.
And He shall judge between the nations, and shall reproof many people. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation will not lift sword against nation, nor will they study warfare any longer.
ובאותו הזמן, לא יהיה שם לא רעב ולא מלחמה ולא קנאה ותחרות–שהטובה תהיה מושפעת הרבה, וכל המעדנים מצויין כעפר. ולא יהיה עסק כל העולם, אלא לדעת את ה’ בלבד. ולפיכך יהיו ישראל חכמים גדולים, ויודעים דברים הסתומים העמוקים; וישיגו דעת בוראם כפי כוח האדם, שנאמר “כי מלאה הארץ, דעה את ה’, כמים, לים מכסים.
רמב”ם הל’ מלכים פרק יב הל’ ה’
During that era there will be no famine nor war nor envy and competition, because goodness will be in great abundance and all delights will be as available as dust. The preoccupation of the whole world will be solely to know HaShem. Therefore, the Jewish people will be great sages knowing hidden, deep matters and they will comprehend the knowledge of their Creator to the extent of human potential, as the verse states, ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem as the waters cover the ocean floor.
Maimonidies, Laws of Kings 12:5
These texts give us three different descriptions of the Messianic era: (a) an era of world peace in which all nations will no longer engage in warfare; (b) a miraculous time in which all wild animals will be tamed; and (c) a time of abundant material pleasures, giving us the leisure to know HaShem and to serve Him without distraction.
Four questions come to mind upon examining these texts:
- Will it be a physical utopia of overflowing abundance of worldly pleasures and delights, or is it a spiritual utopia in which our focus will totally be on spirituality and G-dliness? Is it a time of physical delights or spiritual ecstasies?
- These descriptions seem to be phantasmagoric flights of fancy that do not seem to fit into our paradigm of reality. Could these things actually happen?
- Utopian bliss sounds wonderful now, but if it is eternal, won’t it become dreadfully boring? What will we do to occupy ourselves for this eternity?
- What difference does all this make for to my life today?
 The famous phrase, “The lion shall lay with the lamb” is based on these verses, but does not actually exist.
 See Medrash Alpha Beitus 6, which describes a physical utopia: “There will be rivers of wine oils delicacies and sweets etc. when Moshiach will come.” Talmud, Shabbos 30b as well describes a time that the land of Israel will grow pastries. Rambam, however, explains this to mean that all delicacies will be available and plentiful like dust and not that they will actually grow from the ground. See, however, Netzach Yisroel Ch. 50 that says that delicacies will actually grow from the ground. He explains though, that this doesn’t break the natural order of the world and the world will revert to what it would have been like, would we have not sinned. Though Rambam’s statement that delicacies will be abundant like the dust of the earth is metaphoric, the point that there will be tremendous physical pleasure is the same.
 What seems tantalizing to one person is awful to the next. For one, the thought of an abundance of physicality is appealing, whereas the thought of sitting and studying Torah the whole day seems downright boring and vice versa.
 A constant pleasure is not pleasurable. (Kesser Shem Tov 121)