The proper interpretation of the Rambam, in my opinion, can be understood by looking at the first question that I asked two posts ago.
The issue is: It is important to understand that the Rambam’s book of Halacha is a carefully sourced work. (While the Rambam does not provide sources for his work, he certainly had them) In the vast majority of cases, Rambam does not make statements of his own; he only restates Halachic rulings from the two Talmuds and the Midrash. In rare cases, Rambam steps out of this constraint to deliver a refutation to a position that had some currency in the world of Jewish thought.
However, in this case, according to Gil Theory, neither condition is met. There is no known Talmudic or Midrashic source for the Rambam’s ruling, so it cannot be taken as a restatement, It can only be relevant as a response to a position of some currency. However, up to the time of the Rambam there was no Jewish position that held this way. As such, the Rambam’s ruling, if it is understood as a Condition of Failure, can only be taken as a display of Ruach Hakodesh so mind-bogglingly accurate that it must be prophecy.
But, if we look at the Rambam in a different way, we can solve this problem.
There is a passage in the Talmud Sanhedrin 98b, which reads as follows. Said Rav Gidel: Said Rav: Israel will, in the future, consume the days of Moshiach [Rashi: The satiety that will be in those days, will be for Israel.]. Said R’ Yosef: This is obvious. Who then will eat them? Will Chilik and Billik eat them? This comes to exclude the opinion of R’ Hillel, who said: There is no Moshiach for Israel, for they have already consumed it in the days of Chizkiyah.
On 99a, the Talmud reads: “R’ Hillel said: There is no Moshiach for Israel, for they have already consumed it in the days of Chiziyah. Said R’ Yosef: May R’ Hillel’s Master forgive him! When was Chizkiya? In the time of the First Temple. And Zechariah prophesies in the time of the Second Temple. And he says: Rejoice exceedingly, daughter of Zion, celebrate, daughter of Jerusalem, behold your king comes, he is righteous and saved, he is a poor man, riding on a donkey.
The opinion of R’ Hillel, which is rejected by the mainstream of the Talmud is that, although Israel was promised redemption through Moshiach, they forfeited that promise by failing to merit that redemption when the redeemer arose, in the time of Chizkiyah. Thus, the prophecy that the Rambam quotes from Bilam, about “A star arising in Jacob” and the prophecies of Yeshayahu and Micha, and the others, who speak of the King Moshiach, were supposed to have been fulfilled in Chizkiyah, and, since Israel did not merit the full redemption at that time, we have lost the privilege of being redeemed by Moshiach. (Rashi takes the position that R’ Hillel’s opinion is that the redemption would still happen, only not through the Moshiach, rather G-d himself will redeem the people.)
The Talmud rejects this position, with Rav Yosef refuting it through demonstrating that, long after Chizkiyah, there were still prophecies about the coming of Moshiach.
I would suggest that it is this rejection which the Rambam is codifying in what we have called Clause C of Melachim 11:5. Suppose there does arise a king who begins to carry out the tasks of Moshiach. But, the king does not succeed. (Leave aside the question of how we can demonstrate that he did not succeed.) Let us just take this as a given that the man has been clearly shown to have failed in his efforts to redeem Israel. Someone might suggest that all the promises of the Torah about King Moshiach were directed at this King. And, since he failed, Israel has forfeited that promise, and we should no longer await the coming of Moshiach.
Just to make it more concrete, let us take Bar Kochba as an example. Bar Kochba was believed by many Jews to be Moshiach. (Rabbi Akiva applied to him Bilam’s prophecy, and this is where he got his name.) Looking back, it is clear that Bar Kochba did not, and will not, bring about the redemption of the Jewish people. Bar Kochba’s war was lost, and the Roman’s utterly destroyed him, his army and his kingdom. History has moved on and the Jewish redemption cannot even take the form of a victorious war against the Romans, because they don’t really exist anymore. So, the logical thing to do would be to accept the fact that R’ Akiva’s description of Bar Kochba as the fulfillment of Bilam’s prophecy was not correct.
But, we are confronted with a Neo-R’ Hillel.
Neo-R’ Hillel claims that, in fact, Bar Kochba was the one about whom the Torah promised when it said “A Star shall go forth from Jacob.”
But, Neo-R’ Hillel’s listeners argue, Bar Kochba did not bring about the redemption of the Jewish people.
Neo-R’ Hillel nods sadly. This is true, he concedes, but, Bar Kochba was the one about whom the Torah promised. Unfortunately, he did not merit carrying out his mission.
So, say the listeners, shouldn’t we continue to await the coming of Moshiach?
No, says Neo R’ Hillel, there will be no Moshiach for Israel; the Jews have already consumed that merit in the time of Bar Kochba.
But, the listeners rage, isn’t that position rejected in the Talmud? Don’t the majority of the scholars disagree with this idea?
At this, Neo R’ Hillel smiles. Why did they reject the position? Because there were later prophecies that confirmed the coming of Moshiach, after Chizkiyah’s death. Bar Kochba, on the other hand, came after all those prophecies. Clearly, he is the one about whom the Torah promised, and we should no longer look for any future Moshiach!
At this the Rambam steps in and codifies the Talmud’s rejection of R’ Hillel’s position: He states clearly: If he does not succeed to this extent… then he is NOT the one about whom the Torah promised. No, R’ Hillel, the Torah’s promise of Moshiach must be fulfilled in entirety. If a man fulfills only part of the promise of the Torah, we should not assume that the promise has been lost. Rather, we should assume that the king that you thought might be Moshiach is not Moshiach, he is just a regular, good Jewish king. Any resemblance to Moshiach is there only as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel, which states: Some of the wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come.
I am sure that it is clear to the intelligent reader that this approach resolves three of the four questions that I posed to Gil Theory.1) What is the Rambam’s Talmudic source for his codification?
Answer: The Talmud in Sanhedrin, which rejects the opinion of R’ Hillel. [Very important note: I am not suggesting that the Neo-R’ Hillel position that I invented was one that was current among the Jews in the time of the Rambam, or any other time. Since the Rambam is restating a ruling from the Talmud, it does not have to thrust against any real position held by any Jew. This is not the case in Gil Theory, where the Rambam is not
restating a Halacha from the Talmuds. ]
3) Why does the Rambam say that “This is not the one about whom the Torah promised,” instead of simply saying “This is not Moshiach.”
Answer: Because the thrust is not against saying that someone is Moshiach. The thrust is against saying that someone was not Moshiach, but he used up the prophecy of Moshiach in the Torah. To this the Rambam replies “This is not the one about whom the Torah promised.”
4)Why doesn’t the Rambam state explicitly “If he died,” rather than using the phrase “if he did not succeed to this point?
(According to Gil Theory, this was a problem, because Gil Theory suggests that the Rambam is saying that someone who dies cannot be Moshiach, but the Rambam is talking to someone who believes that someone who dies may yet “succeed to this extent,” so, why does the Rambam leave out his main thrust?) But, according to our interpretation there is no problem. The Rambam is talking to someone that agrees
that the candidate did not (and will not) “succeed to this extent.” He is stating that such a person cannot be considered the “one about whom the Torah promised.”
The only question left to answer is 2) Why does the Rambam say “If he did not succeed to this extent, or was killed”?
I would suggest that the answer here may be that the Rambam is using the method of Lo Zu Af Zu, a common method in Halachic literature, where one presents two cases, in order of novelty. The Rambam is saying that not only can the Neo-R’ Hillel not be right in the case of “He did not succeed to this point” he also cannot be right in the case of “he was killed.” Because, the Neo R’ Hillel might argue the following. True, Chizkiyahu is not the one about whom the Torah promised. But, we know this (not because he did not succeed, but) because, after he won the war against Sancheiriv, he did not continue to attempt to carry out the Messianic mission, (of returning the exiled tribes of Israel.) So, clearly he was not the one. But, Bar Kochba continued to try, to the end of his life, to redeem Israel, and he was killed in doing so. So, perhaps he was the intended Moshiach, and his death was the foiling of the Messianic prophecy. To this, the Rambam adds, that not only the one who did not succeed to this extent, but also the one who was killed, cannot be the one about whom the Torah promised, and the real Moshiach is yet to come.
I think that if you read these three posts with an open mind, you will see that my explanation of the Rambam is far more plausible than Gil’s. So, there is nothing Halachically wrong with believing that the Rebbe is Moshiach.
There is still one question on this, and that is that the fact that the Rambam alludes to someone that did not succeed creates a condition of failure by implication. So, doesn’t that exclude that Rebbe, indirectly?I have already alluded to the answer to this question in an earlier part of this post, and I will address it more fully, later.