The Suffering of Moshiach ben Dovid


In this article I am going to explain clearly something that is not known by most Jews. By many it is misunderstood. And the missionaries love to distort it. This involves the Jewish belief, stated in the Talmud and other early and later works, that Moshiach ben Dovid does suffer/is suffering. This teaching IS NOT the same thing as the teaching about Moshiach ben Yosef[1] and his death. The earliest source of this is in the Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin[2]:



“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked Elijah, “‘when will the Messiah come?'

He (Elijah) answered 'Go ask him'.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked 'Where does he sit?'

'By the gates of Rome'

'How will I recognize him?'

'He sits with the poor who suffer sicknesses. They take off all their bandages at once, while he takes off one at a time so that should it be time for him to come he will not be held back'

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi went to him and said 'Peace to you my master and teacher'

The Messiah responded 'Peace to you, son of Levi'

'When will the master come?'


Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi went back to Elijah.

Elijah asked him, 'What did he say?'

'Peace to you, son of Levi'.

'That means that he has assured both you and your father that you will have a place in the world to come'

'He lied to me. He said he would come today and he did not!'

'This is what he said, "Today if you will listen to My (G-d’s) voice[3]"' "


To understand this we must remember one point from Jewish theology. That is that the souls have an independent existence that precedes that of the person[4]; this includes the soul of the Messiah that exists even before his body does. Here is what Rashi says on the above passage:


By the Gates: It appears to my teacher that it doesn’t mean the actual gates of the city but Gan Eden (heaven)….[5]


We see this concept very clearly laid out in a famous teaching in the work of Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, the Holy Or HaChaim. In Deuteronomy 15:7, the verse says, “If there will be with you a poor man from among your brothers…” The Or HaChaim there explains it as a Remez for some concepts dealing with the Messiah. Here is what he says:


“And in the method of Remez, it is to be a remez to us, in order to inspire us greatly with regards to one person, that special person among the people for whom we are anxiously waiting for the time when he will come. This is The King of Israel, our Moshiach who is a poor man. He has already been compared to a poor person as it says ‘A poor man riding on a donkey.[6]’And the remez is that because of us he is made poor.

And it says, ‘with you’. This means because of you. Our sins have caused the lengthening of the time until the ‘end’.

Also the word ‘with you’ is a remez that the poor man is with us. He strongly desires for the time to come when he can redeem us from exile. You should go and learn this from what our Rabbis have taught with regards to the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. When the King Moshiach saw him he asked him how the Jewish people were doing in the world. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi answered him that they were sitting and waiting for him to come. When he heard this the pious one started to cry greatly because of his great desire to come and redeem them from exile.”


From these two sources, one based on the Talmud and the other Kabbalah, we see that the soul of Messiah suffers because he wants to come into this world and he is waiting to enter the world. This relates to the end of the exile, which comes when all will repent bringing an end to the Messiah's suffering.


We see the suffering of the soul of Moshiach ben Dovid in the Zohar where it says:


"After that they (i.e. these souls) journey and look upon those who are pained and sick and who have suffered for the Unity of their Master. They then return and tell this to the Messiah. When they tell to the Messiah about the suffering of Israel in exile and of the wicked ones who are among them who do not try to know their Master, he raises his voice and weeps because of the wicked ones among them, as it says. “He was pained because of our rebellion and oppressed because if our sins.”  Then the souls return to their place.


“In Gan Eden (heaven) there is one hall; it is called the 'hall of the sick' (ill).  When the Messiah goes into this hall, he calls all the sicknesses, all the pains, and all the sufferings of Israel that they should come upon him. If he wouldn't take them off Israel and put them on himself no man would be able to bear the sufferings of Israel, as it say 'our sicknesses he bore'. And just like that is Rabbi Eluzer in the Land.  Because there is no measure to the sufferings that come upon a man every day, and they all came to the world when the Torah was given.  When Israel was in the Holy Land those services and the sacrifices that they did took up from them all the sicknesses and sufferings of the world.  Now Messiah takes them from the world, until a man leaves the world and receives his punishments. As it says 'if his sins are more he is taken to Gehennim (hell) to the lowest of the levels and he receives there many punishments because of the greatness of the 'filth' that is on his soul.  Then they light the fire greater to burn this 'filth'."[7]


This has been discussed in my article of the Suffering of the Righteous, but here are the main points as they relate to the suffering of Moshiach ben Dovid:


1.    There is nothing there about a Moshiach ben Dovid dying as Christian theology would demand.

2.    The sufferings from the Messiah are to remove two types of sufferings:

a.    Those for the communal sins, while the individual sins do not disappear but wait for their punishment when he dies.

b.    The suffering of the Holy ones in this world, who suffer for G-d’s sake without sin.

3.    There is no difference between the suffering of the Messiah's soul waiting to enter this world and any other righteous person. Both fulfill similar functions in this respect.


So here we see that the soul of Moshiach ben Dovid is now suffering from his desire to come to the world and redeem Israel from exile and this suffering has the same effect that the suffering of the righteous has.


It is also possible that Moshiach ben Dovid will be as other righteous people, like Rabbi Eluzer, and will undergo voluntary suffering when he comes. But there is no requirement, and should that be the case it certainly is not something unique to him. It also has no relationship to anything Christians claim about a dying/resurrected Messiah, as there is not the least indication that Ben Dovid dies for the atonement of sins.



* * *

There is another possible type of suffering associated with Moshiach ben Dovid[8] which we do not find explicitly stated. However it seems that it is implied by some of the minor Midrashic works.


In Rabbinic literature there are two scenarios of how the Messiah comes, as I discussed in my article on Moshiach ben Yosef. If it should be that Moshiach ben Yosef comes and is killed, that time will be one of wars and serious privations for the Jewish people. These events are openly referred to in the Tenach especially in Ezekiel chapters 38-39 and Zachariah 12-14. We see in a number of the minor Midrashim that they describe in detail these events. In these works there is the following scenario for the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid:


There will be a period of tribulation and wars for Israel. Moshiach ben Yosef will arise and he will fight and defeat the enemy. Following this he will be defeated and this will cause a great depression among the Jewish people. During this time in fulfillment of the verse “…I will bring you in the desert of the nations[9]” many of them shall flee to the desert. After that Elijah and Moshiach ben Dovid will appear to those in the desert and then go and fight the final war to bring the final redemption. After which Ben Dovid resurrects Moshiach ben Yosef.


Obviously during the final battles we can say that Moshiach ben Dovid will go through ‘suffering’. However there is another possibility that appears in the wording of a tshuva of Hai Goan[10] that Moshiach ben Dovid will be in the desert for a time. He indicates that Moshiach ben Dovid joins them in the desert and then they go to fight the war. It may be at this time he shares in the suffering they have for a short period. Certainly there are many allusions to this idea in different Rabbinic works, even if it is not specific. Of course this requires a pretty specific set of conditions and is associated with some specific events.


* * *

We see here that while there is suffering that the Moshiach, or at least his soul, goes through PRIOR to his appearance. This would mean that at this moment his soul is suffering because of a desire to come and fulfill his purpose. There is nothing that can be drawn from this to aid the Christian concept of the messiah who dies for our sins. Where it is associated with the idea of the suffering of the righteous, it applies to the pre-existent soul of the Messiah. And most importantly, he DOES NOT DIE but perseveres and leads the Jewish people out of exile.



© Moshe Shulman 2014

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[1]  See my article on this:

[2]  Sanhedrin 98a

[3]  Psalms 95:7

[4]  It is Jewish belief that the soul enters the body at birth as it states in Shaar HaGigalim Introduction 2.

[5]  The MaRSha also concurs on this.

[6]  Zechariah 9:9

[7]  Zohar III 212a

[8]  As in the previous case, there is suffering only and not death.

[9]  Ezekiel 20:35

[10]  Otzar HaMidrashim, 1956 Eisenstein page 387.