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Discussion of Mashiach or Messianic process usually perceived as involving eschatological notions. Yet, this is not at all the case in the worldview of Religious Zionism. In 1904 Rav Kook applied the concept of messianic process to secular Zionist movement. Since then, the whole ideology of Religious Zionism is based on this concept, and messianic process according to Religious Zionism includes involvement into all areas of life of Israeli society, even entirely secular. In other words, the Messianic era is not necessarily eschatology, it is also reflection on contemporary life.
In ancient Israel, the term Mashiach (literally “anointed”) was also applied to both eschatological distant future redemption and to current national history. Tanach uses the term to describe kings Saul, David, Solomon, later Judean kings, and also Persian king Cyrus (I Samuel 24:6, 10, 26:9, 11; II Samuel 19:22, 23:1; Lament. 4:20; Isaiah 45:1).
Rav Kook saw two stages of messianic process, the stage of Mashiach ben Yoseph and stage of Mashiach ben David as periods in development of Nation of Israel. We would like to present an analysis based on the approach of Rav Kook and propose an introduction of an additional intermediate stage in Messianic process, stage between Mashiach ben Yoseph and Mashiach ben David. We believe that it allows us to achieve better understanding of modern history of Israel based on the concept of three-stage Messianic process.
Modern perspective on stages of the messianic process
According to traditional Jewish sources, including the Talmud and Kabbalah, the Redemption will unfold in two distinct phases linked to two messiahs: Mashiach ben Yoseph (Messiah the son of Yoseph, henceforth MBY) and Mashiach ben David (Messiah the son of David, MBD). MBY would do the groundwork and put in place the material conditions for the Redemption. Once this stage is completed, MBY would “die” and become replaced by MBD, whose goal is to bring the process of Geula, Redemption, to fruition.
We base our discussion on Rav Kook’s idea that the non-religious Zionism of Herzl is identified with the concept of Mashiach ben Yoseph, i.e., King Saul of contemporaneity. This equation, which Rav Kook made in 1904 in his famous article on Herzl’s death Misped b’Yerushalaim (“The Lamentation in Jerusalem”, acc. Zechariah 12:11), has since become one of the fundamentals of Religious Zionism and is a premise upon which this article rests. Our article’s goal is to adopt Rav Kook’s well accepted concepts to our day and age.
So long as the time of Mashiach was seen as an event in the distant future, his coming was perceived to be a “moment”, a single point in time with no distinct stages. As the time of the Mashiach approached, the details became more discernable and it became possible to separate the time of Mashiach into two phases, MBY and MBD. The Vilna Gaon defined the concept of MBY as an epoch which brings forth changes in society (Kol ha-Tor, Ch. 1). Later Rav Kook equated MBY with Herzl’s Zionism.
Today, after a hundred years have passed, we are able to see additional details which were not recognized earlier. These new details are the subject of this article. It stands to reason that we can see these new details only because we are standing on the shoulders of giants and due to the fact that as we approach temporally the object under consideration, we are able to visualize it clearer than our predecessors.
Religious Zionists’ reconceptualization of the messianic process
In the modern period, the traditional perceptions of Geula and the two messiahs were reassessed by leading Jewish thinkers, including the founders of Religious Zionism.
In the end of eighteenth century, Rabbi Elijah the Vilna Gaon, depersonalized MBY and defined him not as a person or a leader — but an epoch, a time of change.
In the middle of nineteenth century, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer challenged traditional Talmudic eschatology. In Talmudic times, in order to reduce the desperate violent Jewish resistance to Rome and to prevent the destruction and disappearance of the Jewish nation, the Sages maintained that messianic hopes were not to be realized by the efforts of humans in the historical process but would only come at the “end of times.” Rabbi Kalischer, in his book Drishat Zion (“Quest for Zion”), contended that the messianic era was still part of ongoing human history and that it is the Jewish people who are responsible for bringing the messiah.
Following this trend, in the early twentieth century, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook identifying the Zionist movement as the messianic process and MBY – since his goals, according to the First Zionist Congress in Basel, to normalize the Jewish people (i.e. to make the Jews a sovereign nation like other nations) and to protect them — resonated with the goals for which king Saul was appointed: “That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (I Samuel 8:20).
Where are we now?
These two main goals, the normalization and protection of the Jewish people, have been the guiding principles of today’s State of Israel. They have essentially been accomplished in the modern State of Israel.
Now, new goals need to be set for both Zionism and the Jewish state.
Presently, while MBY’s mission is coming to an end, there are still no signs of MBD in Israel today. Thus, the question arises: If MBD is to follow MBY, where are we now in the messianic process?
According to the Tanach, the Jewish Kingdom went through three phases of development represented by the reigns of three Biblical monarchs; namely, Saul, David, and Solomon. However, in the conception of MBY-MBD, there are only two phases.
Traditionally, the era of MBY is seen as the messianic projection of King Saul’s reign, while the era of MBD is seen as the messianic projection of the reign of King Solomon (literally Ben David – the son of David). The interim reign of King David does not appear in this scheme.
As Maimonides put it, we will only be able to grasp the messianic process fully when we actually experience it firsthand (Laws of Kings and Wars, 12:2). Therefore, at present, while the MBY era is clearly fading out and the MBD era has not yet dawned, we need to revisit and attempt to reevaluate the two-phase scheme of the messianic process.
Hence, we are proposing a new conceptualization of Geula based on the three-phase messianic process with eras corresponding to the three Biblical kings: Saul (MBY), David, and Solomon (MBD).
In order to position our generation within the process of Redemption, we must examine the reigns of kings Saul, David and Solomon and their relationship to the contemporary history of the State of Israel.
The Reign of Saul (MBY): normalization and security of the nation
The reigns of each of the three kings had distinct agendas. Each kingdom had its own raison d’être. They built in different ways their relationships with the prophets and took a different approach to the Temple.
During his reign, King Saul sought security and normalization — unification of the nation and firm settlement on the land of his people by their own request. He focused on fighting wars to secure national sovereignty for the Jewish people.
King Saul had an uneasy relationship with Prophet Samuel. On one hand, to legitimize his power, Saul frequently appeared in front of the people together with Samuel, who publicly endorsed the authority of the king (I Samuel 13:8, 15:30). On the other hand, Saul was reluctant to obey the prophet’s command to destroy the Amalekites.
During his reign, King Saul made no attempt to bring back the Ark of the Covenant, which was kept in Kiriath-Jearim after the Philistines returned it to the Israelites. The story of Saul’s kingdom in the Bible makes no mention of the Tabernacle of the Covenant, showing the lack of a spiritual component in King Saul’s agenda. Its material goals — the normalization and protection of the nation — overshadowed spiritual objectives such as the Temple, which would neither politically normalize nor physically protect the Jewish people.
These goals, specific to the reign of King Saul, also apply to the Zionist movement and modern Israel, where the secular state, endorsed by Jewish religious authorities, shows respect to Judaism, while keeping it at a distance in matters of policymaking.
The Reign of David: spiritual revival of the nation
King David’s attitude toward religious matters differed significantly from King Saul’s ambivalence. King David’s attitude was already manifesting before his duel with Goliath. When confronting the enemy, Saul’s army regarded the Philistines’ verbal insults as an attempt “to defy Israel,” referring to the people and the nation (I Samuel 17:25). David, by contrast, saw these insults as aimed against God. Hence, he asked: “Who is that uncircumcised Philistine that he dares defy the ranks of the living God?” (I Samuel 17:26).
In King David’s view, Israel as a nation is first and foremost the manifestation of Divine Providence. Therefore, in King David’s view, the life of the nation is intrinsically linked to the Heavens and maintained through an ongoing connection with the Divine authority. Thus, during King David’s reign, the religious revival of the people took priority over the material planning. King David paid special attention to the advice and guidance of the prophet Nathan, who often strongly reprimanded the King. David finally restored the Ark of the Covenant to its proper place in Jerusalem. Still, he was anxious that his capital city had no home suitable for the Lord. And though he was eager to build the Temple, King David was never commanded to do so. God conveyed His message to David through Nathan: “When your days are done, and you lie with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own issues, and I will establish his kingship. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish his royal throne forever” (II Samuel, 7:12). The reason why David cannot build the Temple is not explained here. It is clear, though, that it must be some essential difference between David and his successor, as a result of which the building of the Temple will be postponed to the next generation.
The Reign of Solomon (MBD): universal appeal to humanity
The Temple built by King Solomon became powerful means of spreading the Light of God to the peoples. Solomon made this message clear at the dedication of the Temple, when he included in his prayer a plea to God to hear the requests of the foreigner: “If a foreigner who is not of Your people Israel comes from a distant land for the sake of Your name, for they shall hear about Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm — when he comes to pray toward this House, oh, hear in Your heavenly abode and grant all that the foreigner asks You for. Thus, all the peoples of the earth will know Your name and revere You, as does Your people Israel; and they will recognize that Your name is attached to this House that I have built.” (I Kings 8:41-43). King Solomon could now preach his faith to individuals and entire peoples attracted by the magnetic force of the Temple. Such was the case for the Queen of Sheba who, upon hearing about the Temple, paid a visit to King Solomon to learn about his religion.
The main purpose of the Temple was not only to become the center of the national religion, but to represent the Light of God to the peoples of the world. Normalization of the nation under King Saul and spiritual revival under King David prepared the Jewish people for their mission: to spread the faith in one God among the nations of the world. Now, this mission can be realized with the help of the Temple. Therefore, while the Temple barely played a role during the reigns of Kings Saul and David, during the reign of King Solomon the erection of the Temple became imperative.
King David himself tells Solomon that God did not allow him to build the Temple because he “has shed much blood and fought great battles” (I Chronicles 22:8), and the time of Solomon was peaceful. But a state of war is precisely such a situation when spiritual influence on the surrounding nations is impossible, and peaceful relations provide the potential for influence.
King Solomon’s kingdom did not last long, disintegrating shortly after his death. However, King Solomon’s accomplishments helped to map out the historical path of the Jewish people and set their goals for the future.
During King Solomon’s reign, the nations of the world were not yet ready to recognize the word of God, as the Jewish people had not yet attained global recognition.
In the nearly three thousand years that followed the time of King Solomon, spreading King Solomon’s message to the world was almost impossible. But in the past century, the situation has changed for Israel and Humanity, as both entered a new stage of the messianic process.
Having said that, King Solomon had to allow his wives some cultural autonomy (result of this autonomy was even idolatry). They were noble women whose connections helped King Solomon make political contacts and it was therefore impossible to take away completely their cultural freedom. This situation became problematic to such a degree that it is even supposed that this cultural freedom had a negative impact on King Solomon himself. Note that contact is always problematic: any time we want to influence someone we must allow them to make contact with us as an equal with all his/her cultural background and this may be potentially dangerous for us.
Understanding King Solomon as the “universal phase of development of Judaism”, the history of King Solomon’s wives shows us that the process of “incorporating universal values into Judaism” may entail danger. However, the existence of danger does not cancel out the centrality of the process: without it the Jewish People would be unable to fulfill their mission. Thus, King Solomon’s marriages, although potentially spiritually dangerous, were not a whim but a necessity. By analogy, today we understand that the process of spreading universal values might entail the possibility of making mistakes and integrating something into Judaism in a wrong way – but this danger mustn’t be a reason for not being involved in this process. Rather, a clear evaluation of the possible danger is the base for any successful progress.