Monday, February 18, 2008

[Super]Natural Messianic Age – Mima Nafshach?*

– due to R’ Moshe Sokol’s shiur after davening, Tetzaveh, 5768, Moshiach according to the Rambam.

Gemara Shabbat 63a

For Samuel said, This world differs from the Messianic era only in respect to servitude of the exiled, for it is said, For the poor shall never cease out of the land.6 This supports R. Hiyya b. Abba,7 who said, All the prophets prophesied only for the Messianic age, but as for the world to come, the eye hath not seen, O Lord, beside thee [what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him].8

6) Deut. XV, 11. This implies that poverty will continue in the Messianic era. Hence the prophets' tidings of a new state of affairs cannot refer to the Messianic era, which will be the same as the present, save in this matter.

7) Sc. the Baraitha which states that weapons of war will cease to exist in the Messianic age.

8) Isa. LXIV, 3. — The conception of the future world is rather vague in the Talmud. In general, it is the opposite of [H], this world. In Ber, I, 5, 'this world' is opposed to the days of the Messiah, and this in turn is differentiated here from the future world. The following quotation from G. Moore, 'Judaism' (Vol. 2, p. 389) is apposite: 'Any attempt to systematize the Jewish notions of the hereafter imposes upon them an order and consistency which does not exist in them'.

The Gemara sets up an opposition between Shmuel’s naturalistic vision of the Messianic Age (political independence) and R’ Yochanan’s supernaturalistic vision (lions lying down with lambs, other changes to the natural order). However, note the following passages in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah:

First, in Hilchot Teshuvah chapter 7, after laying out his idea of the World to Come as a purely intellectual space, where the intellects of the dead reach their place solely by the set of correct ideas about God they managed to obtain in their lifetimes, contrasts this idea with the prophecies of the Messianic Era:

the first Sages have already made it known that it is beyond one's capabilities to comprehend the goodness of the World To Come at all, and that one cannot know its greatness, beauty and very essence, but it only the Holy One, Blessed Be He, who can understand it. All the goodnesses which the Prophets prophecised to Israel are only physical pleasures from which they will benefit in the days of the Messiah and when monarchy has been returned to Israel. The goodness of the World To Come, however, has no limit or size, and was not discussed by the Prophets so as not [even] to hint that it might have a limit.

Second, in Hilchot Melachim, laws of Kings chapter 12:1

1. One should not entertain the notion that in the Era of Mashiach any element of the natural order will be nullified, or that there will be any innovation in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern.

What’s going on here? The Rambam always follows the Gemara, yet here, where the Gemara set up an opposition between Shmuel’s naturalistic messianic era, and R’ Yochanan’s supernaturalistic idea, the Rambam quotes one thing in one place, and the opposite idea in another place!

Are we to reconcile the two visions, take the supernatural ideas as metaphors for political and naturalistic ideas, such as the lion and the lamb meaning no more war? Some later commentators have gone there, but R’ Sokol (and I) don’t think that’s really what the Rambam was getting at.

He thinks that the Rambam was following a common Talmudic construct, where a whole Baraita is quoted with two opposing views, just to bring in one of the views. So too here. The Rambam as the prime Aristotelians rationalist, holds similar non-spiritual ideas about the Messianic era and the World to Come. The miracles of R’ Yochanan are just brought in as an aside to be discarded. He quoted the whole passage there simply to justify his purely intellectual view of the World to Come, by disassociating the World to Come idea from the Messianic Era idea, even if that passage attributes supernatural results to the Messianic age. His whole purpose was to demonstrate that Chazal differentiated between the two. On the contrary, while discussing the age of the Messiah itself, he brings Shmuel’s perspective, because it matches his own.

So, even if the Gemara sets them up as opposing one another in terms of the Messianic age, they are used for different purposes by Rambam, hence they are not used in a contradictory way.


*Note: mima nafshach is an Aramaic expression meaning you can’t have it both ways.

No comments: