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Response to Critique - Chapter 4 Part 2
Critique

By Gil Student

Critic:
For Moshiach status, just fighting wars is sufficient; completing all of the wars successfully is only needed to be confirmed as Moshiach.

Response:
This is correct, but incomplete. For the status of presumed Moshiach (bechezkas Moshiach) the candidate must fight the “wars of G-d”, including the wars against Amalek. Completing those wars is needed to be confirmed as Moshiach. However, to become presumed Moshiach the candidate must at least begin fighting the “wars of G-d”. It is instructive to note that the Rebbe offers his explanation that the “wars of G-d” include the battles against Amalek as a comment on the criteria of presumed Moshiach, not confirmed Moshiach.

This being the case, three of the four above objections still apply. The fourth (really, the first) is important also. If the Rebbe finished fighting the “wars of G-d” (and the other criteria) then he is confirmed as Moshiach (Moshiach vadai). However, if he began but did not finish the wars then he falls under the clause of “if he did not succeed in all this” and definitely cannot be Moshiach.

Critic:
Lastly, the author is apparently unaware that Maimonides, prior to the section regarding Moshiach, writes that ancient nationalities whose identities are not known and who have assimilated with the populations of the world have lost their legal status. This clearly applies to the nation of Amalek today. While the requirement to destroy that nation remains, there is no active incumbency so long as the nationality, in its ancient form, does not exist.

Response:
This is simply incorrect. I direct the readers to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melochim 5:4-5 and the commentary of Radbaz there. The contrast between the Seven Nations and Amalek is clear, and the explanation offered by R’ Chaim Soloveitchik is cited in the Frankel Rambam’s index of sources.

Critic:
Returning to the clause at hand, Maimonides clearly states that even someone who is victorious in all wars and rebuilds the Temple can still fail before uniting dispersed Jewry. If these 'wars of God' include the destruction of Amalek then that could already be accomplished by a failed Moshiach and the real Moshiach would be forced to become Moshiach without that requirement.

Response:
This could be applied to rebuilding the Temple as well. What if a candidate for Moshiach rebuilds the Temple but does not gather in the dispersed exile? Or if a candidate fulfills all of the criteria but is then killed? Presumably, the Temple will be destroyed, the exiles once again dispersed, and Amalek will reappear due, perhaps, to the discovery that it was never fully eliminated (similar to when the prophet Shmuel destroyed the last remnant of Amalek but the nation later appeared in Haman).

Critic:
The Rebbe either meant Amalek symbolically, referring to any oppressing nation which stands in the way of this tranquillity, or to the fact that legally, if the incumbency were to present itself (however this might be possible), this particular war would be included.

Response:
It seems that the critic was quite challenged by his own question and arrived at answers that are not particularly satisfying.

Critic:
The author's basis that the Rebbe did not fulfill the mission of Moshiach is that Maimonides' writings must be taken in the most literal sense, however, he fails to bring a source for this imposition.

Response:
The lack of a statement by the author that Maimonides’ halachic masterpiece Mishneh Torah must be taken literally surely seems minor. If anything, it appears that the critic is inventing issues with which to criticize the author.

Critic:
Besides, the definition of "literal" is often subjective, and the author is not offering a proven method for arriving at this literal meaning.

Response:
This is correct. However, even though the literal definition of many things can be debated it remains true that there are non-literal definitions that are clearly incorrect. For example, while one may debate whether the statement that someone is walking down the street means that he is walking quickly or at an average pace, with the assistance of a cane or unaided etc., it is clear that the statement does not meant that he is driving a car. There are ranges of possible definitions but even without defining which possibility is correct one can label a definition as wrong. However one defines war, whether there needs to be bloodshed or merely the threat of bloodshed or something else, outreach to estranged Jews is not war.

Critic:
For example, Maimonides writes that before being confirmed Moshiach, "he will build the Temple in its place." In one of his lectures, the Rebbe makes a clever wordplay on the Hebrew which can also be read "in his place" -- in the location of the contending Moshiach. By reading the clause this way, the Rebbe makes a reference to his father-in-law's establishment of a central synagogue which he felt can be compared with the Temple. The author makes no case that this reading should be considered any less literal than his own reading -- that it refers to the place of the actual Holy-Temple.

Response:
The critic is correct that the author never argued against this specific position. While it seems that most readers would accept immediately that this is a non-literal reading, those who lack that sense will find the Rebbe stating that it is non-literal in the footnotes to that very lecture.

Critic:
The author, without producing any reason to doubt that the Rebbe did not fulfill all the requirements for being confirmed Moshiach, cannot possibly claim that his death deprives him of that title.

Response:
Since this is incorrect, and the author did demonstrate that the Rebbe did not fulfill all of the requirements for being the confirmed Moshiach, the author is correct in stating that the Rebbe’s death deprives him of the possibility of attaining that title.

Critic:
The author argues that if the Rebbe never began the mission of the man addressed in Maimonides' first clause then, although he is not disqualified in the second clause by his death, we have no reason to regard him as Moshiach in the first place.

Response:
The critic seems to have misunderstood the author’s argument so we will rephrase it more clearly. The author has just shown that the Rebbe did not fulfill any of the criteria for Moshiach. Had he fulfilled some of them but not all then we would conclude, from Maimonides, that the Rebbe is excluded from ever being Moshiach. However, the author is saying that the only way to avoid Mamonides’ statement that someone who begins fulfilling the criteria of Moshiach but does not succeed cannot be Moshiach is to say that the Rebbe never even began the mission of Moshiach. If that is the case, and all of the Rebbe’s activities are totally removed from the sphere of Moshiach, a statement that this writer intuits would greatly offend most Lubavitcher Chasidim, then why would anyone even consider the Rebbe as a possible candidate for the position of Moshiach? Most Lubavitchers, when asked why the Rebbe might be Moshiach, will answer that he has begun if not finished the mission of Moshiach (even if not in those words). However, to avoid the problem of the failed Moshiach one would have to assume that this is not the case. If the Rebbe did not even begin the mission of Moshiach then why are debating this issue? Of course, as the author demonstrates further on in the book, even someone who did not begin the mission of Moshiach cannot be a candidate for Moshiach if he is deceased. However, the author wished to point out the difficulty involved in a Lubavitcher claiming that the Rebbe is not excluded by Maimonides’ words.

Critic:
The first issue, is the author's contention that Maimonides' stating "if he did not succeed in all this" refers to death.

Response:
And here begin the mental gymnastics. The author spared the reader the back-and-forth argumentation involved in demonstrating that someone who dies is considered not succeeding in a task. Some readers will be shocked at the omission while others will be relieved at the skipping of a proof of the apparent. It is the height of the obvious to state that someone who dies has not succeeded in fulfilling the criteria. If not him then who?

The critic suggests an alternative that requires changing the words of Maimonides. Maimonides writes that someone who fails to fulfill the criteria cannot be Moshiach. This does not sit well with those who recognize that the Rebbe did not fulfill the criteria so they re-read the words so that they do not exclude someone, like the Rebbe, who did not fulfill the criteria but only someone whose attempts to fulfill the criteria were undermined. Thus, someone who started building the Temple but then failed to complete it is not excluded unless what he built of the Temple is destroyed. If it merely lies unbuilt for centuries then he just might be Moshiach. This is a distortion of Maimonides’ clear words. This man did not succeed so he is not and cannot be Moshiach! Yet the critic would say that he can be.

The simple point is that it is not death that disqualifies someone it is the non-fulfillment of the criteria. Why doesn’t Maimonides use different language? Are there other alternative readings? Why does Maimonides redundantly refer to someone who was killed if death disqualifies? I answer all these questions in a forthcoming Hebrew work. However, they have already been conclusively dealt with before elsewhere and a popular book such as this is not the place for such a discussion. Suffice it to say that a common-sense reading of Maimonides’ words is, to no surprise, correct.

While I do not wish to belabor this point, I only want to note that this critic’s explanation for why Maimonides compares the failed Moshiach to other Davidic kings is totally separate from the rest of the paragraph and fits in perfectly with the author’s explanation of the text. A failed Moshiach, who began fulfilling the criteria but did not fully succeed, is a Davidic king who did not become Moshiach. He is exactly similar to other Davidic kings.

Critic:
The second issue to bring up regarding this claim (that "if he did not succeed" refers to death), is the very suggestion that what follows -- "he is definitely not the Moshiach promised in the Torah... and G-d only appointed him in order to test the masses" -- is final... Even if the reader will accept the author's dubious contention that "not succeeding" refers to death, this can easily be understood to mean that upon death the presumed Moshiach loses his status and is no longer considered to be Moshiach. The entire event where he attained this status and then lost it was "to test the masses." However, this does not rule out the possibility of that person returning and successfully becoming the confirmed Moshiach in the future -- it only applies to his status in the present.

Response:
Once again, the critic raises a common Meshichist argument that is totally contrary to the Maimonidean text. Maimonides writes that it is known that a failed Moshiach is not the one promised in the Torah. What can be clearer than that? It is known that this man is not the Moshiach promised in the Torah! Maimonides does not state that this man is not currently Moshiach or that he has lost his presumption of being Moshiach. Nor does he say that this is not currently the time for Moshiach. It is known that this man is not the Moshiach promised in the Torah! All but the most stubborn readers know exactly what this means.

Definite Future Moshiach

In this section, the critic implicitly acknowledges that Maimonides’ description in his Iggeres Teiman (Epistle to Yemen) of the arrival of Moshiach excludes the possibility that the Rebbe can be Moshiach. His protests that Maimonides is wrong and his “proofs” from talmudic passages of which Maimonides was certainly aware seem somewhat presumptuous. This writer does not have the courage to state that Maimonides’ words “are not completely representative of the reality”.

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© 2003 Gil Student