Epistle to Yemen/XV
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|Iggeret Teiman, translated by Boaz Cohen, notes by Abraham S. Halkin|
Indeed one of our keen minds in the province of Andalusia, calculated by means of astrology the date of the final redemption and predicted the coming of the Messiah in a particular year. Every one of our distinguished scholars made little of his declaration, discounted what he did and censured him sharply for it. But grim fate dealt with him more sternly than we could have. For at the very time when the Messiah was supposed to arrive, a rebel leader appeared in Maghreb who issued an order of conversion as you are well aware. The event proved to be a great debacle for the partisans of this prognosticator. Indeed the hardships experienced by our people in the diaspora are responsible for these extravagances, for a drowning man catches at a straw.
Therefore, my co-religionists, "be strong and let your heart take courage, all you that wait for the Lord." (Psalms 31:25). Strengthen one another, affirm your faith in the Expected One, may he speedily appear in your midst. "Strengthen ye the weak hands and make firm the tottering knees." (Isaiah 35:3). Remember! Isaiah, the herald of Israel's redemption predicted that the prolongation of the adversities of exile will impel many of our people to believe that God has relinquished and abandoned us (far be it from Him), as we read "But Zion said: 'the Lord hath forsaken me, And the Lord hath forgotten me'." (49:14). But he was given the Divine assurance that such is not the case, to quote the following, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, these may forget, yet I will not forget thee." (49:15). In truth, this Divine promise had already been divulged by the First Prophet, who declared: "For the Lord thy God is a merciful God. He will not fail thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he swore unto them." (Deuteronomy 4:31). "Then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion on thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee." (Deuteronomy 30:3).
It is, my co-religionists, one of the fundamental articles of the faith of Israel, that the future redeemer of our people will spring only from the stock of Solomon son of David.14 He will gather our nation, assemble our exiles, redeem us from our degradation, propagate the true religion, and exterminate his opponents as is clearly stated in Scripture "I see him but not now, I behold him but not nigh, there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out of Israel. And shall smite through the corners of Moab, and break down all the sons of Seth. And Edom shall be a possession, Seir also, even his enemies, shall be a possession, while Israel doeth valiantly." (Numbers 24:17-18). He will be sent by God at a time of great catastrophe and dire misfortune for Israel as was predicted in the verse "There will be none remaining, shut up or left at large" (Deuteronomy 32:36). And when he appears, he will fulfill the promises made in his behalf. A later prophet too was alluding to the Messianic tribulations when he declared "But who can endure the day of his coming" (Malachi 3:2). This is the proper understanding of this article of faith.
From the prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah and the statement of our sages it is clear that the advent of the Messiah will take place some time subsequent to the universal expansion of the Roman empire and Arabic rule, which is an actuality today. This fact is true beyond question or doubt. Daniel in the latter part of his vision alludes to the Kingdom of the Arabs, to the rise of Mohammed and then to the arrival of the Messiah. Similarly Isaiah intimated that the coming of the Messiah will occur after the rise of the Madman, in the verse "A man riding on an ass, a man riding on a camel, and two men riding on horses." (21:7). Now "the man riding on an ass" is a symbolical reference to the Messiah as is evident from another verse which describes him as "lowly and riding on an ass" (Zechariah 9:9). He will follow the "man riding on the camel" that is, the Arabic kingdom. The statement "two men riding on horses" refers to both empires, the Roman and the Arabian. A similar interpretation of Daniel's vision concerning the image and the beasts is correct beyond doubt. They are conclusions derived from the plain meaning of the text.
The precise date of the messianic advent cannot be known. But I am in possession of an extraordinary tradition which I received from my father, who in turn received it from his father, going back to our early ancestors who were exiled from Jerusalem, and who were mentioned by the prophet in the verse, "And the exiles of Jerusalem that are in Spain" (Obadiah 20). According to this tradition there is a covert indication in the prediction of Balaam to the future restoration of prophecy in Israel. Incidentally it may be stated that there are other verses in the Torah which contain cryptic allusions in addition to their simple meaning. For example, the word "r'du" in the remark of Jacob to his sons, "r'du Shamah," "Get you down thither" (Genesis 42:2), has the numerical value of 210, and contains a hint to the length of Israel's stay in
14Cf. Ha-Mizrah, vol. I, Cracow 1903, p. 542.