Parashas Pikudei: Our Role in Bringing Yemos ha’Moshiach
Parashas Pikudei is the final parashah of Sefer Shemos, and the final installment in the series of parshiyos about the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Whenever I teach my students about the Mishkan and its keilim (vessels), I make liberal use of the resources provided by The Temple Institute (Machon haMikdash) in Yerushalayim. The goals of the Institute are clearly stated on its website :
The major focus of the Institute is its efforts towards the beginning of the actual rebuilding of the Holy Temple. Towards this end, the Institute has begun to restore and construct the sacred vessels for the service of the Holy Temple … They are made according to the exact specifications of the Bible, and have been constructed from the original source materials, such as gold, copper, silver and wood. These are authentic, accurate vessels, not merely replicas or models. All of these items are fit and ready for use in the service of the Holy Temple.When my students hear this, they inevitably ask: “Are they allowed to build the keilim of the Beis ha’Mikdash? Don’t they have to wait for Moshiach?” That is the question I would like to address in this week’s dvar Torah. 
- The “Passive Recipient” Attitude: Most Orthodox Jews affirm belief in the prophetic promise of Yemos ha’Moshiach and hope for his arrival. However, in their heart of hearts, they feel that his arrival is entirely in Hashem’s hands, and Hashem will bring Moshiach whenever He so desires. We can only wait and pray.
- The “Active Recipient” Attitude: Others see us as having a more active role in bringing Moshiach. We can hasten his arrival by learning Torah, observing mitzvos, and doing teshuvah, and we can delay his arrival by failing to do these things. Hashem will bring Moshiach if, and when, we do our part.
However, neither of these two popular attitudes adequately reflects the Rambam’s view on this topic. Rambam is clear in his answer to the question, “How will we know when Moshiach arrives?” He writes :
If a king arises from the House of David, learned in Torah and involved in mitzvos like David, his ancestor, in accordance with the Written and Oral Torah, and he compels all of Israel to follow [Torah] and strengthen the breaches [in its observance], and he fights the wars of Hashem – then he is a candidate for Moshiach. If he does these things and succeeds, and he defeats the surrounding nations, and builds the Beis ha’Mikdash in its place, and gathers in the exiles of Israel – then he is definitely Moshiach. And if he does not succeed to this extent, or he is killed – then it is evident that he is not the Moshiach which the Torah promised, but is like all of the other kings of the House of David who were perfected and worthy who died.Rambam’s view of Yemos ha’Moshiach may also be characterized as an “active” one, but in a radically different sense than the “Active Recipient” manner described above. In short, Rambam sees Yemos ha’Moshiach as the culmination of a successful political revolution, and he views Moshiach as the person who makes that revolution happen. We will refer to Rambam’s view the “Active Participant” model of Yemos ha’Moshiach.
According to the popular conception, Moshiach is a mysterious, pre-selected figure of destiny waiting backstage for Hashem to give him the signal, whereupon he will swoop in, miraculously redeem us from galus, and establish a Utopian “heaven on earth” where we will all live happily ever after. Rambam, on the other hand, sees Moshiach as the free-acting catalyst of a halachically scripted political project who will use his wisdom to achieve the objectives necessary for ending the galus, reinstating Malchus Yisrael (the Jewish Kingship), and establishing a peaceful Torah society in which all of humanity is free to pursue knowledge of Hashem – all without the aid of miracles.
It is for this reason that the Rambam frames the halachos of “moshiach candidate,” “failed moshiach,” and “definite moshiach.” The position of moshiach candidate is theoretically open to any descendant of the House of David who satisfies the halachic criteria and accomplishes the aforementioned preliminary goals. If a Moshiach candidate is successful in these tasks, then he is Moshiach – by definition – and the ensuing time period will be Yemos ha’Moshiach. According to Rambam, moshiach isn’t “revealed.” He is made by what he does.
It is a mitzvas aseh (positive commandment) to build a house for Hashem, ready for the offering of korbanos (sacrifices) within, to which we [make pilgrimage to] celebrate [the festivals] three times each year, as it is stated, “And you shall make Me a Mikdash (Sanctuary)” (Shemos 25:8).According to the Rambam, building a Mikdash – which includes the structure and all of its keilim – is a mitzvah which we are responsible for fulfilling, like any other. Just as we wouldn’t wait for Hashem to miraculously produce matzos so that we can fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah on Pesach, so too, we shouldn't wait for Hashem to miraculously facilitate our fulfillment of the mitzvah of building the final Beis ha’Mikdash.
Through the years, the more I studied the more I began to understand that we had only ourselves and our own inaction to hold accountable: G-d does not intend for us to wait for a day of miracles. We are expected to act. We must accomplish that with which we have been charged: to do all in our power to prepare for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, and the renewal of the divine service.I have undergone a similar shift in my perspective over the years. The more Torah I learn, the more I realize the extent to which Hashem expects us to take charge of our own lives, and to shape our own destiny – as individuals and as a nation. The shechinah only rested on the Mishkan after Bnei Yisrael built it.