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Parshah Halacha – Parshat VaYechi
The Eighteen Names of Moshiach
And What We Learn From Them
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In the Torah portion of Vayechi we read how Yaakov blessed his children before he passed away. When blessing Yehudah, he said, “The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah, nor the teacher of the law from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him will be a gathering of peoples.” Indeed, the dynasty of King David, who was from the tribe of Yehudah, lasted from the 11thcentury BCE until the destruction of the First Bait HaMikdash. Subsequently, the political leaders of the Jewish community in Babylonia and many of the Rabbinic leaders of the Jewish community in Israel were descendants of the Davidic dynasty and of the tribe of Yehudah.
Exilarchs and Nesi’im
The Jerusalem Talmud says that the exilarchs (political leaders of the Jewish community of Babylonia) were paternal descendants of the tribe of Yehudah whereas the family of Hillel, who occupied the position of Nasi (heads of the Sanhedrin) in the land of Israel from the 1st century BCE to the 4thcentury CE, were maternal descendants. Thus, the latter were not actually members of the tribe of Yehudah but were from the tribe of Binyamin.For this reason Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, author of the Mishnah (2nd century CE), said that if Rav Huna, who was the exilarch in Babylonia, were to visit Israel, he would have to seat Rav Huna higher than himself out of respect for his superior lineage.Based on this, the Talmud explains the above verse to be referring to these two groups of leaders who were Judean descendants.
“The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah” is referring to the exilarchs who had power to punish people (the word “scepter” – usually carried by a king who had corporal powers – alludes to this). These leaders were from the tribe of Yehudah (“from Yehudah”).
“The teacher of the law from between his feet” is referring to the Nesi’im who were teachers of the law but didn’t have power to execute punishment.The words “from between his feet” indicates that they would be descendants of Yehudah but not members of his tribe. In addition, the words “from between his feet” refer to the fact that the teachers of the law in those days would sit on stools while the student would sit in front of them on the ground. Thus the verse is referring to the fact that the teachers would achieve the depth of their understanding through the help of their students who would sit at their feet.
Even in Exile
During the period of exile, the leadership powers of the descendants of Yehudah were far inferior to those possessed by the Davidic kings. Nevertheless, their leadership is significant as it means that, even in times that are less than idyllic, Yehudah still leads us (to some extent, see below) to the extent that is possible. This the verse, “The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah… until Shilo (Moshiach) comes,” alludes to the time of the exile which precedes the arrival of Moshiach. In addition, the words “will not depart” refer to a time when one might have expected the scepter to depart, i.e., the time after the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash.
Why Not Now?
The commentaries question why the leadership of the tribe of Yehudah has not continued (in a revealed way) in the present exile. Several explanations are given:·
No Leadership At All
The verse is not saying that we will always have leaders from Yehudah in every generation. Rather, it is saying that as long as we have powerful leaders, they will come from Yehudah. When Moshiach comes, the blessing will once again be fulfilled.·
The meaning of the verse is that leadership will never completely depart from Yehudah. Rather, even if it temporarily departs from that tribe, it will eventually be restored. Thus, there were many generations prior to King David when the leaders were not of Judean descent.·
The Ha’amek Davar says that in terms of Rabbinic leadership, it is true even today that many of our leaders and teachers are from the tribe of Yehudah.Indeed, he points out, even before the establishment of the Davidic dynasty, many of the leaders of the Sanhedrin were from the tribe of Yehudah.
Shilo = Moshiach
The verse says that the leadership will remain with Yehudah until Shilo comes. Most commentaries explain that this is referring to Moshiach. As to why he is called Shilo, several explanations are given:·
[Kingship] Is HisThe word Shilo should be interpreted as if it said shelo – It is his. This refers to Moshiach as the kingship is (rightfully) his.·
The Siftei Chachamim (based on Rashi) says that Shilo stands for “Shevet lo – the scepter (of leadership) is his.”·
Rashi, based on the Midrash, says that Shilo stands for “Shai lo – a present to him.” This alludes to the king Moshiach whom the nations of the world will shower with gifts.·
The Ba’al HaTurim points out that the words Yavo Shilo יבא שילה (Shilo will come) and Moshiach/ משיח both have the gematriyah (numerical value) of 345.·
The Seforno says that Shilo means “peace in the end.” (The word is similar to both שלום/Shalom /peace and שוליים which means end.)·
Born of Woman
Rabbeinu Bachaye says that the word Shilo is related to Shilya which means a placenta. This is an expression that means “a child” (see Deut. 28:57), denoting that Moshiach will be a child (i.e., a descendant) of Yehudah. The expression “placenta” is used to emphasize that Moshiach will be born of a human mother in a natural way. (As opposed to the warped belief of another religion about their supposed Messiah).
Names of Moshiach
The Talmud in Sanhedrin (98b) records various opinions as to the name of Moshiach. The commentaries point out that the students of various sages each suggested that Moshiach will have the same name as that of their teacher. This is because Moshiach has many qualities. The students of each teacher were able to recognize the particular qualities of Moshiach that were embodied by their teacher.In the following five sections, the explanations of each name are from the Maharal while the interpretation as to how we merit Moshiach according to each opinion is from the Ein Eliyahu.
The students of Rabbi Shilo said that Moshiach’s name is Shilo. They based this on the verse quoted above. This name indicates Moshiach’s dominion over all the nations of the world and that they will subjugate themselves willingly to him. In addition, it alludes to the fact that Moshiach will possess all of the positive qualities in the world (shelo means that everything is his). Some say that these students were of the opinion that Moshiach will come only at the appointed time. The word Shilo alludes to this as it can mean “end” (see the paragraph “Peace”).
The students of Rabbi Yannai said that his name is Yinon. They based this on the verse in Tehillim 72:17 which says “Yinon Shemo – his name will be Yinon.” This name means leadership and importance, alluding to Moshiach’s being exalted above all people.Some say that these students were of the opinion that Moshiach will come only in the merit of our forefathers. The name Yinon alludes to this as it refers to the resurrection of the dead. (Yinon means “to awaken.”) It is in the merit of those who will be resurrected that Moshiach will come.
The students of Rabbi Chanina said (based on Jeremiah 16:13) that his name is Chanina. The name Chanina means “grace,” indicating that G-d will be gracious to Moshiach and will grant him his every wish.These students were of the opinion that we will only be redeemed thanks to G-d’s great mercy.
Menachem ben Chizkiya
Some say (based on Lamentations 1:16) his name will be Menachem son of Chizkiya. This name indicates that he will heal and comfort the Jewish people from all their sorrows, thereby strengthening and revitalizing them. (Menachem means “comforter” and Chizkiyah indicates strengthening [as in the word “chazak”].) This opinion holds that Moshiach will come when we repent and do Teshuvah. (This is because Menashe, son of Chizkiya, king of Yehudah, did teshuvah).
The Leper of the House of Rebbi
The sages say that Moshiach is called the leper of the house of Rebbi (i.e., from the family of Rabbi Yehuda the prince). This is based on the verse in Isaiah (53:4) which says that Moshiach will have many afflictions, meaning that Moshiach will absolutely repudiate all physical pleasures.This opinion holds that the Jewish people must suffer in exile in order to merit the arrival of Moshiach. (Certainly, by now, we have suffered enough.)
In the Midrash, there are various other names brought for Moshiach.Here are some of them. (The interpretations of the names are from the Abarbanel.)·
As the verse says, “And this is the name people will call him, ‘G-d is our righteousness.” This indicates that he will be so connected to G-d that he can be called by His name.·
As the verse says, “Behold there is a man, Tzemach is his name.” This indicates that he sprouted from the root of Yishai, father of King David.·
As the verse says, “And light [nehora] dwells with Him.” This indicates that Moshiach will shine with wisdom and inspire us with it. (Nehira is Aramaic for light.)·
David As the verse says, “And He does kindness to His anointed one and to David.” This indicates that Moshiach will be similar to King David in many respects. (See Hilchot Melachim 11:1 and 4.)
The Kol Bo (Siman 118) adds the following names:
Peleh Yo’etz (who give wondrous advice), Moshiach (the anointed one), Keil (the mighty one), Gibor(the strong one), Avi’ad (eternal father/teacher), and Shalom (peace).
In the notes on Talmud Sanhedrin of the sage Rabbi Shachna, it says, “I say his name is Shachna, as in the verse, ‘You shall seek his presence (Leshichno).’”
The Ohr HaChaim (Deut 16:7) writes that Moshiach’s name will be Chaim. Some say this is an acronym for the following names of Moshiach: Chanina, Yinon, G-d’s name, and Menacham.
Yosef and Yitzchak
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that just as the students of each Yeshivah associated Moshiach with their teacher, so, too, can we say that Moshiach’s name is Yosef Yitzchak, the name of the previous Rebbe: Yosef from the verse in Isaiah (11:11), “And it shall come to pass that on that day, the L-rd shall continue (Yosef) to apply His hand a second time to acquire the rest of His people…” and Yitzchak from the verse, “Then our mouths will be filled with laughter (Sechok).”
May we soon experience the arrival of Moshiach and the fulfillment of all of these prophecies!
 Gen. 49:10 Kilayim, 9:3 (80a) Ibid Sanhedrin 5a According to Tosfot D.H. the fact that the exilarch had more power than the Nasi was because they were members of the tribe of Yehudah. But Tosfot also points out that the level of Torah scholarship was higher in Israel than in Babylonia, so the Nesi’im were considered wiser than the exilarchs. Chidushie HaGriz on Chumash (stencil) on the verseThe Pardes Yosef on the verse (based on the Ya’arot Devash) points out that Aharon HaKohein’s wife was Nachson’s sister and was, thus, from the tribe of Yehudah. As such, the Chashmonai dynasty, who were Kohanim, were also descendants of Yehudah. The same was true of Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya, a Kohen, who was installed as the head of the Sanhedrin in the place of Rabban Gamliel (see Brachot 27b). See Sanhedrin 17b that Shimon HaTeimani would sit on the floor in front of the other sages. Ha’amek Davar. See also Seforno on the verse Pirush of Mizrachi on Rashi  Gur Aryeh Ibid Ibid. See also Ramban on the verse Actually, since the exile of the Ten Tribes, most Jews are either from the tribe of Levi, Binyamin or Yehudah. As such, it is no surprise that many Torah leaders are from Yehudah. Perhaps the Ha’amek Davar means that many Torah leaders are descendants from the Davidic dynasty. The Ha’amek Davar points to Shoftim 5:14 and Shmuel II 23:15 as examples of this leadership But see Ibn Ezra and Da’at Zekeinim who say it is referring to the destruction of Mishkan Shilo which is when the Davidic dynasty began. According to them the word יבאmeans the “ending of” as in the expression בא השמש.See also the Rashbam who says it is referring to the fact that the dominion of the Davidic dynasty only lasted until Rechavam son of Solomon. The planned coronation of Rechavam which took place in Shechem (near Shilo) was when the ten tribes (other than Yehudah and Binyamin) rebelled against him and established their own kingdom. See Kings II, chapter 12.Along similar lines, the Chizkuni says that Shilo is referring to Achiyah, the prophet who was from Shilo. He was the one who prophesized about the split of the ten tribes from the Davidic dynasty and anointed Yeravam as their king (see Kings II 11:29).See also Torah Shleimah on the verse (note 157) who cites 11 explanations of the Abarbanel on the word Shilo. Bereishit Rabbah 99 as interpreted by Matnot Kehunah. See also Onkelus and Rashi who may mean the same. See Isaiah 18:7 Maharal in Netzach Yisrael, chapter 41 Ibid and in the notes in the Machon Yerushalayim edition On the Ein Yaakov (on Sanhedrin, ibid) by Rabbi Eliyahu Shik of 18th-century Lyda, Lithuania, based on Devarim Rabbah 2:23 See Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin 10:9 Eicha Rabbah 1:51 These are compiled in the Biurim on the Metivta Shas on Sanhedrin, ibid In Yeshu’ot Meshicho, vol. 2, Ha’iyun HaSheni, chapter 3 Jeremiah 23:6 Zechariah 6:12 Daniel 2:22 Tehillim 18:51 Quoted in Shai LaMorah and in the Biurim of the Metivta Shas Deut 12:5 Segulat Moshe cited in note 15 of the Biurim Sicha of Tazria Metzora, 5751, cited in Sha’arei Ge’ulah, vol. 2, page 64 Tehillim 126:2
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!