by R. Gil Student
We believe, with complete faith, that Mashiach will come and we wait daily for his arrival. Does that mean that he can come any day? On the one hand, this is all a theoretical exercise. When he comes, he comes. We won’t tell him, “Sorry, it’s the wrong day.” However, the Sages discussed this, which means there is value in learning it.
I. When Can’t He Come?
Two Gemara passages imply that Mashiach cannot come any day but they seem to contradict each other. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a) quotes R. Eliezer as saying that Mashiach will come during the month of Tishrei. R. Yehoshua disagrees and says that Mashiach will come during the month of Nissan. At first glance, it seems that both R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua believe that Mashiach can only come during one month a year but they differ on which month. Even if we are unsure who is correct, that leaves ten months during which Mashiach definitely cannot come.
However, there views actually are more specific. The Gemara continues (ibid., 11b) by bringing prooftexts for each of the views. R. Eliezer bases his view that Mashiach will come in Tishrei on the verse, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that a great shofar shall be blown” (Is. 27:13). He connects that shofar with the shofar of Rosh Hashanah. R. Yehoshua bases his view that Mashiach will come in Nissan from the verse, “It is a night of watching (leil shimurim) for the Lord” (Ex. 12:42). The night of the Exodus is a night that is always special for redemption. It seems that R. Eliezer believes not just that Mashiach will come in Tishrei but on Rosh Hashanah, the day we blow shofar. And R. Yehoshua believes Mashiach will come the first night of Pesach, the leil shimurim.
Those very specific predictions are problematic because of a different passage. The Gemara (Eruvin 43a-b) teaches that if someone vowed to be a nazir on the day that Mashiach comes, he may not drink wine any day because maybe Mashiach came — except for Shabbos and holidays. Eliyahu will come the day before Mashiach and we have a tradition that Eliyahu will not come on the day before Shabbos or a holiday and disrupt people’s preparations. Since Eliyahu will not come on the day before Shabbos or a holiday, and he will come the day before Mashiach comes, therefore Mashiach will not come on Shabbos or a holiday.
II. Two Approaches
Rav Aryeh Leib Gunzberg (18th cen., France; Turei Even, Rosh Hashanah 11b) points out the contradiction. According to the Gemara in Eruvin, Mashiach will not come on a holiday. However, according to the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah, R. Eliezer believes Mashiach will come on Rosh Hashanah and R. Yehoshua believes he will come on Pesach, both of which are holidays. Rav Gunzberg offers two possible resolutions of this apparent contradiction:
1) Maybe someone who vows about the day Mashiach comes refers specifically to the daytime. If we do not merit Mashiach’s arrival due to our repentance and good deeds, he will come at a pre-determined time after the history of exile has run its course, at a special time during the year, either Pesach at night or Rosh Hashanah at night. However, if we earn a shorter exile, then Mashiach will come any day during the daytime but not during the daytime on Shabbos or a holiday.
2) Perhaps R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua do not mean that the pre-determined time of Mashiach’s arrival (if we do not merit it earlier) is specifically on the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. Maybe they mean it will happen during the months in which Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur occur. In that way, Mashiach can come any day of the year except for Shabbos and a holiday if we earn it, otherwise in either Tishrei or Nissan, but not on Shabbos or a holiday. (See also Responsa Chasam Sofer, vol. 6 no. 88; Responsa Kesav Sofer, Orach Chaim, no. 53.)
III. Mashiach Is Not The Redemption
Rav Baruch Frankel-Te’omim (19th cen., Galicia; Glosses to Turei Even, ad loc.) distinguishes between the day of the redemption and the day Mashiach arrives. First Eliyahu will come. The next day, Mashiach will come. There will be a war and then there will be a day of redemption for all Jews around the world. The Gemara in Eruvin is discussing someone who vows to be a nazir when Mashiach comes, which could be any day except for Shabbos and a holiday. R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua in Rosh Hashanah discuss when the final redemption will take place, whether on Pesach (Nissan) or on Rosh Hashanah (Tishrei). They are talking about different events so there is no contradiction.
Rav Ya’akov Ettlinger (19th cen., Germany; Arukh La-Ner, Rosh Ha-Shanah 11b s.v. be-Nissan) follows a similar path by distinguishing between the redemption and Mashiach’s arrival. He notes the order of the blessings in the Shemoneh Esreh (as discussed in Megillah 17b). The blessing for the ingathering of exiles (teka be-shofar) comes before the blessing for Mashiach (es tzemach), implying the redemption will come first. However, Rav Ettlinger quotes a Zohar (Parashas Shemos) which says that Mashiach will come before the ingathering of exiles. He says that apparently we do not know clearly the order of events. Surprisingly, he does not quote Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 12:2) who likewise says that we do not know the order of events.
Interestingly, Rav Ettlinger leaves open the possibility that the redemption will come before Mashiach. That is the view of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer (19th cen., Poland) in his 1862 book, Derishas Tziyon (section 1). Rav Ettlinger argues with Rav Kalischer in his a responsum from the summer of 1862 (Binyan Tziyon, no. 1) but his argument is about the offering of sacrifices before the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt (Derishas Tziyon, section 3). One of Rav Ettlinger’s proofs against Rav Kalischer is from the order of the blessings in Shemoneh Esreh (first rebuilding Jerusalem, then Mashiach comes, then we offer sacrifices). It seems that Rav Ettlinger did not oppose Rav Kalischer’s theology of redemption, only his permission to offer sacrifices before Mashiach arrives.
According to Rav Gunzberg’s first explanation, Mashiach can come on Rosh Hashanah at night (according to R. Eliezer) but not during the daytime. According to his second explanation, Mashiach can never come on Rosh Hashanah. According to Rav Frankel-Te’omim, Mashiach will not come on a Shabbos or a holiday. After Mashiach comes, the redemption will occur on Rosh Hashanah according to R. Eliezer or on Pesach according to R. Yehoshua. And according to Rav Ettlinger, the redemption might precede Mashiach’s arrival and will be on Rosh Hashanah according to R. Eliezer.