Maamar Shalosh Shevuos Siman 37

[In the previous three simanim, the Rebbe argued that since an oath cannot be imposed on unborn future generations, the Three Oaths are merely the Gemara’s way of stating the severity of a prohibition that existed already, without the oaths. Now he will attempt to show what exactly that prohibition is, by analyzing the statements of the Rambam and others regarding the signs of redemption and the criteria for identifying moshiach.]

The Rambam in his Letter to Yemen writes in reaction to an event that took place at that time: a certain individual claimed to be moshiach, and was able to perform signs, wonders, resurrection of the dead and similar feats. He thus gathered a following of Jews. The Rambam writes at great length and warns that people should not believe in him. He expresses amazement at the rabbi to whom he addresses the letter: since he was familiar with the works of Chazal, how could he be misled in such a matter? In great detail, the Rambam explains the qualities that the true messianic king will have: he will be a very distinguished prophet, on a level higher than all the prophets aside from Moshe Rabbeinu. Furthermore, Hashem will give him special abilities that even Moshe did not possess, as Scripture says: “He will sniff with the fear of Hashem; he will not judge by eyesight…” (Yishaya 11:2). “The spirit of Hashem will rest upon him…” (ibid. v. 3). A hitherto unknown man will arise, writes the Rambam, and the signs and wonders that he will cause to happen will be the proofs of his authenticity. Now [writes the Rambam earlier in the letter], it is known that Hashem does not give the gift of prophecy to anyone who is not on the highest level of wisdom. The Rambam writes further that he could collect from all the books of the Tanach statements about the qualities of moshiach and his special abilities. For example, at the moment when he is revealed, all the rulers of the world will be overwhelmed by the news. Fear and confusion will strike their governments, and they will make plans for how to resist him, with the sword or otherwise. This indicates, writes the Rambam, that they will not be able to dispute his messianic status, or deny him; they will simply be overwhelmed by the wonders that he will bring about, and they will be speechless.

However, writes the Rambam, the absence of rivalry and warfare from the east to the west is not something that will happen when the messiah is first revealed, but rather later, after the War of Gog and Magog.

Earlier, the Rambam writes that there is no doubt that the return of prophecy is the precursor to moshiach.

I have copied a few lines from the Rambam – not all, for it is very lengthy – in order to gain some understanding of his position. One can look there and read the rest.

Let us first look into the source for the Rambam’s statement that moshiach will be greater than all the prophets except for Moshe Rabbeinu. From the verses of Tanach it would appear that moshiach will be greater than all the prophets. However, the Rambam must have reasoned that it is impossible for him to reach the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, since the Torah says, “And there never arose another prophet in Israel like Moshe” (Devarim 34:10).

However, the Midrash Tanchuma on Parshas Toldos expounds the verse, “Behold, my servant will be wise; he will be high, exalted and greatly elevated” (Yishaya 55:13). “This teaches that he will be higher than Avraham, more exalted than Moshe, and higher than the angels,” says the Tanchuma.

The Rambam would resolve this by saying that in one aspect moshiach will indeed be greater than Moshe: he will have the power to judge by smell (“not by his eyesight will he judge”), as he writes there in Igeres Teiman. This ability of moshiach is mentioned in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 93b). Moshe Rabbeinu did not have this ability, so we can understand the Tanchuma’s statement “he will be more exalted than Moshe” to refer to this ability, not to his level of prophecy, which would contradict the verse, “There never arose another prophet like Moshe.”

However, the holy Zohar (Pinchas 246a and Raya Mehemna Teitzei 280a, end of the page) states that moshiach will be Moshe Rabbeinu himself. And so it seems from other Midrashim (Midrash Rabbah Devarim 9:9). (Although it is also stated that he will be Dovid (Yechezkel 37:24, Hoshea 3:5), the Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh in Parshas Vayechi (Bereishis 49:11) reconciles this by saying that moshiach will have some of each of the souls of Dovid and Moshe.) According to this, we could explain the Tanchuma statement “he will be more exalted than Moshe” to refer to prophecy as well. For if moshiach will be Moshe himself, saying that he will reach a higher level of prophecy at that time does not contradict the verse, “There never arose another prophet like Moshe.” The Rambam, who says that moshiach will not reach the level of Moshe, did not have access to the Zohar.

In any case, the Rambam does say that in one aspect – judging by smell – moshiach will be greater than Moshe. Now, we have to understand: how did the Rambam know that Moshe Rabbeinu did not have this ability? Doesn’t the holy Zohar (Balak 186) tell the story of a child who had this ability? It says that the child knew that Rabbi Yitzchok and Rabbi Yehuda had not said Kriyas Shma that day. [These Taanaim were visiting a town and staying at a certain widow’s home. When her son came home from school, he said, “I cannot stand next to you because you did not say Kriyas Shma today.” They said, “Yes, it’s true, because we were occupied with a different mitzvah and thus we were exempt from saying Kriyas Shma.”] One of them asked the boy, “My son, how did you know?” He replied, “From the smell of your garments, when I drew near to you.” The Nitzotzei Oros, a commentary on the Zohar, quotes the Midrash on the Book of Rus, which says that Adam, the first man, had this ability as well. He also quotes Rabbi Chaim Vital, who writes in the Shivchei HaAri (a biography of Rabbi Yitzchok Luria, who was known as the Arizal) that the Arizal was able to discern facts from the smell of a person’s clothing, like the child mentioned in the Zohar. The Yismach Moshe, in his responsa Heishiv Moshe (Orach Chaim 2), writes, “Certainly any quality that we find in any great person in history, Moshe Rabbeinu had as well.” (This means, of course, except for moshiach regarding whom Scripture (Yishaya 55:13) testifies that he will be greater than Moshe.) All the other abilities that were achieved by great individuals other than moshiach, Moshe had too.

Therefore, although the Rambam did not see the Zohar, we must still ask how he knew that Moshe did not have the ability to judge by smell.

We would have to answer that there is a range of levels of this ability to discern spiritual matters through the smell. It is similar to prophecy, where we know that there is a range of levels, and all the other prophets did not reach the level of Moshe Rabbeinu in prophecy. Here too, only moshiach will actually be able to rule on monetary cases between two people based on smell alone, without seeing or hearing any facts, as Scripture says, “Not by his eyesight will he judge, and not by what his ears hear will he rebuke.” No one else has ever achieved that. Although there have been great individuals who could discern much information with their sense of smell, they never reached the point where they could rule on monetary cases between two people, or force one person to pay the other, through smell alone.

Furthermore, the Gemara (Yoma 75a) tells us explicitly that Moshe used a different spiritual method to discern facts when ruling on disputes.

Just as a prophet could reveal to the Jews facts that were hidden in the holes and the cracks, so too the manna used to reveal to the Jews facts that were hidden in the holes and the cracks. For example, if two people came before Moshe with a dispute, one claiming, “You stole my slave,” and the other claiming, “You sold him to me” – Moshe would tell them, “Come back in the morning and I will decide.” In the morning, if the slave’s portion of manna was found next to the house of his first master, it becomes clear that the second one stole him. If his portion was found next to the house of his second master, it becomes clear that he purchased the slave legally. Similarly, if a husband and wife came before Moshe with a dispute, the husband claiming, “She was unfaithful to me,” and the wife claiming, “He was unfaithful to me,” [Rashi explains that according to the husband’s claim, he must divorce her and he need not pay her the kesubah, while according to the wife’s claim, there is no obligation to divorce, but she is entitled to demand a divorce with payment of the kesubah; this is in contrast to a wife who requests a divorce without grounds, in which case even if the husband grants it, he need not pay the kesubah since the divorce is on her initiative) Moshe would tell them, “Come back in the morning and I will decide.” In the morning, if her portion of manna was found next to the husband’s house, [it becomes clear that she was really faithful to him, and he is not obligated to divorce. If it fell next to her father’s house, it shows that she was unfaithful and he must divorce her. (This is the Bach’s version of the text.)]

So we see that Moshe Rabbeinu could not simply tell who was in the right from their smell; he had to resort to the test of where the manna would fall the next morning.

Similarly, Yisro said to Moshe regarding the adjudication of civil cases, “You will surely tire out” (Shemos 18:18). [Why would Moshe tire if he were ruling based on smell?] And Moshe said, “Whatever case is too hard for you, bring it to me and I will hear it.” We see that he at least needed to hear it. Regarding the king moshiach, on the other hand, Scripture states that he will require neither seeing nor hearing; rather he will rule on every case based on smell alone.

Now, we cannot write lengthy dissertations on subjects of which we have no understanding whatsoever. But in any case, it must be that the Rambam understood it this way [that Moshe did not have this ability that moshiach will have, to rule based on smell] based on the Scriptural verses and the words of Chazal.

One might ask: how can we use supernatural methods such as prophecy, manna and smell to judge monetary cases? Isn’t there a principle that “the Torah is not in heaven” (Bava Metzia 59b)? The Maharam ben Chaviv has already resolved this question by saying that only when it comes to deciding the halacha do we say that the Torah is not in heaven, but when it comes to questions of fact, such as determining whose claim is true and whose is false, one can rely on supernatural abilities like these, provided that they are reliable.

However, we have to analyze something else here: at first glance, these words of the Rambam in Igeres Teiman would seem to contradict what he writes in Sefer Hayad, Hilchos Melachim 11:3:

Let it not enter your mind that the messianic king will have to perform signs and wonders, changing the nature of the world, or resurrecting the dead and the like. It is not so. The proof is that Rabbi Akiva was one of the great sages of the Mishnah, and he was a close follower of King Ben Koziva, proclaiming him as the messianic king. He and all the sages of his time thought that he was the messianic king, until he was killed because of sins. Once he was killed, they realized that he was not. But the sages did not ask him for a sign or a wonder. The fundamental principle is that the laws and ordinances of this Torah are forever and ever, and we can neither add to them nor subtract from them. 

And if a king arises from the house of David, studying Torah and following the commandments like his father David, in accordance with the written and oral Torah, and he compels all of Israel to follow it and reinforce its weak points, and he fights the wars of Hashem, then he is presumed to be moshiach. If he succeeds…

Clearly, the Rambam gives only one sign by which to identify the messianic king: that he will compel all of Israel to fulfill the holy Torah and reinforce its weak points. Aside from that, he does not need to perform any sign or wonder, as he proves from Ben Koziva. In Igeres Teiman, on the other hand, the Rambam writes at length about the many qualities that the messianic king will possess and the amazing wonders that he will perform, and states that one who does not have all of these qualities is certainly not moshiach. This seems to be a contradiction. And one cannot say that the Rambam changed his mind, since, as I have already mentioned (Siman 31), in letters that he wrote in his old age, after he wrote the Sefer Hayad, he affirmed everything that he wrote in the Igeres Teiman.


Vayoel Moshe