Defining the problem: What comes after the Messiah, son of Joseph?
In the Jewish tradition, especially in the Kabbalah, the idea of redemption is divided into two stages: Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah the son of Joseph) and Mashiach ben David (Messiah the son of David). The Vilna Gaon was one of earlier thinkers that developed the concepts associated with Mashiach ben Yosef (henceforth: MBY), to be followed, about a century ago, by Rabbi Kook who equated political Zionism with MBY. This identification was made from an analysis of the goals and character of Zionism, which are “normalization of the Jewish nation and creating a safe haven for the Jewish people”.
These values led the Zionist movement for a century, during which the state of Israel was established. But today it is clear that the original energy that propelled Zionist movement has run out. Security considerations and a desire to be normal – these are not enough to lead any country, let alone Israel. Therefore, the MBY era is rapidly approaching its end.
According to the common conception, MBY is replaced by Mashiach ben David, but he (or it, if considered as an era and not a specific individual) is currently not in sight. How can we understand our era? What position does it occupy in the redemption process?
In this article we propose an amendment to the common conception of the process of redemption that identifies two stages, Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. From an in-depth reading of the books of Prophets in the Bible there, in fact, appear to be *three* stages of redemption, affiliated with the three kings (king = Messiah in the Biblical use) who reigned over the entire nation of Israel – Saul, David and Solomon.
Our goal is to analyze the nature of these Messiahs, comparing them to different stages of the development of Israeli society today. Doing so will allow us to better understand our role in the current messianic process of redemption.
Saul (MBY) – Political security and the normality of the nation
Each one of the three biblical Messiahs has his own answer to the question “what is the purpose of the Jewish state?” or alternatively, his ‘royal agenda’. The royal agenda of any king has, of course, an impact on the conduct of the Kingdom and its connection to the Temple.
The agenda of the kingdom of Saul is defined by the Israelites request to Samuel: “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). Saul’s primary goal is to develop as a normal nation and to provide security and quiet with the surrounding nations.
Throughout the entirety of Saul’s reign we see references neither to the Temple nor to the Tabernacle. We would expect, for instance, the return of the Ark of the Covenant, which was captured during the final days of the Judge Eli, if only for the sake of national pride, but when the agenda is to maintain peace and security – there is no need to do so, it does not advance the interests of the kingdom.
David – a national and spiritual revival
When David hears Goliath mocking and blaspheming the God of Israel he is furious. His nationalistic sentiments are roused due to the desecration caused by the fact that nobody was willing to fight the war of God against the Philistines. This is no longer just an issue of security; security-based military action is not enough here. A national spirit is needed.
David sees the national history of Israel as a dialogue with God. Thus, the desecration of Israel is an offense to God Himself.
David’s agenda is essentially different from that of Saul. When David ascends the throne, he immediately thinks about the Ark of the Covenant, harbored not in its natural place. He likewise doesn’t feel comfortable with the fact that God has no abode, seeing it as disrespectful to God and by extension to His nation. Although David cannot build the temple, he embodies the yearning for it.
In Samuel (2 7:12) God, through His prophet Nathan, tells David that he will not build the temple, but his son will build it instead, offering no explanation. But, in Chronicles (1 22:8), in the words of David to Solomon his son, he interprets the reason for this prevention because of the blood he has shed. We will presently offer an alternative explanation.
Solomon (Mashiach ben David) – the universal message of the law of Moses
After the stage of the national revival, the agenda of the reign of Solomon is again different: spreading the faith among the nations of the world as they are. For the success of this endeavor, and in order to connect to other kingdoms, Solomon marries hundreds of women from among these nations.
The Temple that he builds becomes a center for spreading the light of God to the nations. In his prayer upon the completion of the construction of the Temple of Solomon asks: “Then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (I Kings 8:43)
Notably, the agenda of the Temple contributes to the achievement of the previous agendas.
Solomon’s kingdom marks a goal, short though its days were. The world was not ready during Solomon’s time to accept God’s word, but today it is a process that is occurring in all of Israel and in the future will spread throughout the entire world.
Three Kings – and their relationships
We can summarize in the following table the three stages of the kingdom of Israel:
|Agenda||Relationship to Temple|
Each stage in the process of redemption was preceded by a preparatory activity during the previous stage. For example, during the reign of Saul, David was already preparing the ground for his future kingdom’s agenda. And David’s yearning for the Temple, and the land and wealth he left, form the basis and preparation for the third stage of the complete redemption.
The transition from the first to the second stage is accompanied by a revolution and/or crisis. This, as a result of the vast difference between a policy motivated by security issues and the perception of the state as national spiritual revival and as a relationship with God. The crisis between Saul and David evolves into an outright war.
Between the second and third stages we do not find such a conflict, but nevertheless there is a change of direction. There is no open clash between the kingdom of David and the kingdom of Solomon, but even so, David himself did not work enough to pass the throne to Solomon, he was pushed to do so under the pressure of Nathan the prophet, who drives the development and evolution of the Kingdom.
The correlation between the three Kings and the current redemption process
The Vilna Gaon has already stated that the stages of the kingdom during the first Temple era correspond to today’s process of redemption. Hence the biblical kingdoms of Saul, David and Solomon belong not only to the past but are prototypes of the overall redemption process. Therefore we should seek and identify them in 21st century Zionism.
As stated at the outset, Herzl’s Zionism was identified by Rav Kook as MBY – Saul, and now it is time for his successor David. David’s agenda, Israel’s national-spiritual rebirth is implemented by the Gush Emunim settlement movement.
It is clear that the actions of leftist elites against the settlements are a modern expression of Saul’s war against David. Like Saul, who struggles against David when he sees the zeitgeist turn against him, so do the Oslo Accords represent not peace, but rather the elimination of the settlement movement. Saul’s campaign against David is suppressed when he rallies to fight against the Philistines. Nowadays, thwarting the settlement project is often put on hold to repel the violent Palestinians (who chose to be named after the same Philistines, despite the lack of genetic or historical connection).
We are in transitional period between the two kingdoms: Saul is sinking David is rising, the old elite of Herzlian Zionism is slowly but surely being replaced by a new elite of Gush Emunim and their spiritual successors. Thus, we shouldn’t expect the Mashiach son of David (Solomon’s) kingdom in our time, but rather signs of David himself, the national-spiritual revival.
Practical current policy and future strategic preparation
According to the above, what is our plan of action in this transition from Saul to David?
We mentioned above that each step in the evolution of the redemption was preceded by a preparatory phase. When Rabbi Kook declared the Zionist movement as MBY, he called to support it despite its faults. However, Rabbi Kook foresaw that this stage is a limited period, and therefore created the Central Universal Yeshiva (Merkaz haRav) to raise there the next generation of spiritual leadership, who will in due time change the direction of Zionism from a safe haven to a full national revival.
Thus we understand the need to work on two levels. On one hand, practical policy should suit as regards the current stage while, on the other hand, we act to prepare the future stage. In practice, Rabbi Kook supported Saul, and strategically he started growing the future David.
Today, a century later, we diligently support our current policy, King David, the national settlement movement. But it seems we have forgotten our strategic purpose – to grow the future Mashiach, which possesses the universal Jewish perspective.
Today we need to develop the universal approach that sees the State of Israel not only as a spiritual center for Israel but rather a worldwide spiritual center.
The way to achieve this goal is to expand the structure of Judaism to include not only the Halacha (Jewish ritual and interpersonal law), commandments and ethical values, but also much broader general topics such as science, technology, arts, social sciences, the values of the modern democratic state, civil rights, feminism, etc. – issues that concern a modern society.
Of course this is not an automatic adoption of universal values as they are in their current form, but a search for the optimal way to allow the integration of these values in Judaism without betraying its inner essence. The road is not smooth, and many rabbis oppose it, just as most ultra-orthodox rabbis opposed Zionism.
We must act on two levels, as Rabbi Kook did. On the practical level we must strengthen David. On the strategic level we need to build projects in the spirit of Solomon. These processes are already beginning today and are reflected in the division of Religious Zionism into conservative and liberal wings. There is nothing wrong with this. On the contrary, these different approaches enrich us; unity is important only on the practical political level.
Three groups of people in Israel
Rabbi Kook described the nation of Israel as having three different spiritual directions: religious, national and universal. The Rabbi explained that the future of Judaism is the ideal union of all three groups (Shmone Kvatzim, 3, alef).
The three phases of redemption are characterized by the groups that operate them. In the first stage, the operator is Mashiach ben Yosef – the national group. In the second phase, David, the national and religious groups unite. In the third stage, Mashiach ben David unites all three groups – national, religious and universal into one.
Today’s religious group has united with the national one, thus creating modern Religious Zionism. The necessary link between these groups and the universal one has not yet occurred. On the contrary, universal values are mostly propagated by secular cosmopolitan people very distant from religion and nationalism.
Thus the integration of universal values into Judaism is our plan of action for the coming years. This work is relatively easy and the struggle is less ferocious than Saul’s war against David, so that a conservative estimate would put the timetable for this period around 50 years, and not a full century like the previous step.
As Religious Zionism has becomes the de facto leader of Zionism, with its members occupying key positions in the state, the establishment of settlements, the army and so on, these people will be leading the advancement of universal values. How do we achieve this? By moving and regaining these “lost” values of Judaism.
This is the way Judaism can take its place as the universal religion that leads humanity, and turn the state of Israel and Jerusalem into the spiritual center for all inhabitants of the world.
The Yearning for the Temple
Further analysis of the characteristics of the generation requires us to mention a few words regarding the rising longing for the construction of the third Temple. Herzl’s Zionism, like Saul, had no interest in building the temple. When Israel conquered the Temple Mount in the Six Day War, we declared that it is not our place. The ban on Jews to pray there was created as a result of the perception that it is such a sacred place that it is above our spiritual comprehension.
This situation did not last long. Lately, as we hear the footsteps of Mashiach ben David approaching, we see an increase in interest in the Temple Mount. More and more Rabbis are of the opinion that we should ascend the Temple Mount and calls to allow Jews to pray there are spreading. This is the yearning for the Temple expressed during David’s reign. But we must understand that it is not for us to build it. Only universal Judaism – king Solomon, can achieve this.
We must learn the values of the Temple, not only the sacrifices and rituals, but the unique, inherent essence of the Temple, whose main objective is not atonement for sins but rather spreading the word of God to all of humanity. If we understand the Temple in this way, we can build it in the next stage.
Conclusion: A Call to Action
In conclusion, our plan of action consists of the following main points:
- Reviving the universal values within Judaism. Building a Jewish world that answers the demands of a modern society, as well as raising the understanding of the life in the State of Israel as a dialogue between the Jewish people and God.
- Development of the Noahide movement – both for their sake and for the discovery of true Judaism.
- Explaining the importance of the Temple as the spiritual center of the world.