Halachos regarding Moshiach
What is the process through which Moshiach will be revealed according to the Rambam?
How will the Jewish people recognize who Moshiach is? Will the recognition come as a result of Heavenly revelation or will the Jewish people also have a role in identifying him using Torah guidelines which are “lo bashamayim hee” (not based on Heavenly revelation)?
In the story of the exodus through the first Redeemer, Moshe Rabbeinu, we find that although he was sent by Hashem, that alone was not enough to convince the Jewish people that the time of their Redemption had arrived and that Moshe was the Redeemer. They also needed a sign that was passed down to them from Yaakov and Yosef that the Redeemer would need to use the words “pakod yifkod” (He will surely remember you). And even still Moshe said, “the people will not believe me and will not listen to my voice” (Shmos 4:1), and therefore he was given wonders to perform involving the snake, leprosy, and the plague of blood “in order that they believe that the G-d of their forefathers appeared to you” (Shmos 4:5).
So Moshe the first Redeemer was recognized as such through a combination of signs and wonders and saying “pakod yifkod”. The question is: how will we recognize the final Redeemer and how will we know that the Redemption has truly arrived?
This question is clearly answered by the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim (Laws of Kings 11:4) where he provides signs regarding Moshiach’s ancestry, his role, and Messianic activities. He writes, “If a king will arise from the House of David who diligently contemplates the Torah and observes its mitzvoth as prescribed by the Written Law and the Oral Law as David, his ancestor, will compel all of Israel to walk in (the way of the Torah) and rectify the breaches in its observance, and fight the wars of G-d, we may, with assurance, consider him Moshiach (“B’chezkas Moshiach”, the presumed Redeemer). And if he is successful (in the above activities), and builds the Sanctuary in its place, and gathers the exiles of Israel, behold he is certainly Moshiach” (“Moshiach Vadai”).
Now the Rambam writes in his introduction to the Yad Hachazakah that he is writing a book of halachos (Torah laws); thus the Rambam intends to teach a practical halacha that in the beginning of Moshiach’s revelation, the Jewish people will be able to identify him based on signs that establish him to be B’chezkas Moshiach, followed by a phase which includes the building of the Beis Hamikdash and gathering the exiles, which will prove beyond all doubt that he is Moshiach Vadai. For if this lengthy description was not an integral part of the halachic process of identifying Moshiach, why else would the Rambam provide these identifying signs and describe these two distinct phases in a work devoted exclusively to halacha?
In other words, just as Bnei Yisroel had a tradition instructing them how to recognize the Redeemer, as explained by both Rashi (Shmos 3:18) and in the Midrash quoted by the Ramban (Shmos 3:18) who refers to a “mesores geula” (redemption tradition) that any Redeemer who used a double language of remembrance (ie., “pakod pakodti”) is the true Redeemer, likewise regarding our Redemption we have a halachic mesores geula that Moshiach must be identified by the specific signs that the Rambam delineates.
Furthermore, from the fact that the Rambam is the only halachic authority who writes about the halachos of Moshiach and there is no one who argues with him in these matters, it is a clear psak that if there is a Jew who fulfills the first set of criteria enumerated in Hilchos Melachim, behold we declare that he is B’chezkas Moshiach.
And once he completes the second set of criteria, we declare that he is Moshiach Vadai.