For most people, the concept of “Mashiach” relates to “Mashiach Ben David”. In contrast, while most people may have heard of “Mashiach Ben Yosef”, they know little about his role and importance. There is probably no more appropriate time than during the Torah portions dealing with Yosef to delve into the concept of Mashiach Ben Yosef. Indeed, it is interesting to note that Yosef is the central figure in four Torah portions (VaYeshev through VaYichi), which is more than any of the three forefathers, and certainly more than his “counterpart” Yehuda, the father of David’s kingdom. There is a reason for this.
In this short article, we will touch upon the concept of “Mashiach BenYosef” basing ourselves upon the Gaon from Vilna (GR”A) in his book “Kol HaTor”, and on the writings of Rabbi Meir Kahane, HY”D, in his book “Ohr HaRaayon”. First of all, it must be known that in each generation, there is a person who has the potential to be Mashiach Ben Yosef. This creates free choice for every generation to bring Mashiach, and when the Almighty decides to, He actualizes this potential and unleashes the role of Mashiach (on one or both of them) in a particular generation.
Mashiach Ben Yosef is the one who starts the redemption. He is the central figure in the process preceding the final and complete redemption in which a king from David’s house is eventually anointed – and this is “Mashiach Ben David”. Mashiach Ben Yosef fights the wars of Hashem against the gentile enemies of Israel, and since it is he who STARTS the redemption, he is also called “Mashiach HaAtchalta” – the Mashiach who begins the redemption. He is responsible for the physical, material redemption which precedes the spiritual one. The physical redemption is the ingathering of the exiles, the conquering of the Land of Israel and wars against the gentile (and for this reason he is also coined by many midrashim as the “Mashuach Milchama” – the anointed for war). In contrast, Mashiach Ben David is responsible for the spiritual side of the redemption which comes afterwards.
It is well-known that Mashiach Ben Yosef is killed. But actually, this does not have to happen. For if the redemption comes the way of “Achishena” (swiftly and with glory) – that is, the Jewish People do “tsheuva” – then Mashiach Ben Yosef triumphs in battle. On the other hand, if the redemption comes “BiEta” (slowly, at it’s fixed time) – then one of the results of such a scenario is that he falls in the midst of a difficult and bitter battle, where great suffering and needless tragedy take place.
One of the things that is emphasized about Mashiach Ben Yosef is something that is said about Yosef himself: “And Yosef recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him”. While the potential Mashiach Ben Yosef of every generation brings the people the truth and presents before them the conditions for the redemption, the people deny and disrespect him. But because of his “Ahavat Yisroel”, he is willing to suffer. It is the people’s refusal to recognize the truth which brings upon them the needless wars and tragedies. For if the Jewish People had only accepted and understood Mashiach Ben Yosef’s message, he would bring the redemption swiftly, in the way of “Achishena”, with glory and without needless suffering.
But in the scenario of “BiEta”, only a handful understand, identify, and go with Mashiach Ben Yosef. And while the people continue to deny him, he continues his mission in any case, provoking the goyim and sanctifying the Name of G-d, and eventually falling, as stated above. It must be pointed out here that the major obstacle for Mashiach Ben Yosef is not the gentiles, but rather the destroyers from within. They are called the “Erev Rav” (mixed multitude). According to the Gaon from Vilna, the major battle of Mashiach Ben Yosef is against the “Erev Rav”, who prevents the Holy People from recognizing the truth which would bring the redemption swiftly, “HaGiulat Achishena”.
In conclusion, it must be remembered that what is written here is a general overview of the redemption process. But how things will actually turn out – depends only on us, just as it depends on us concerning whether or not Mashiach Ben Yosef will be killed. This is a heavy responsibility – to recognize the truth and to understand the conditions for redemption, despite the fact that the “Erev Rav” is trying to destroy and ban it. May G-d give us the strength to hold our own and fulfill the mitzvot of Kiddush Hashem, so that we may bring the redemption swiftly. Amen.