After all the promises and all the tests, and the centralization of our connection to God in the Temple, the destruction of the Temple and of our sovereignty constituted a major spiritual crisis. It seems likely that many people saw this disaster as evidence that God was a failure, or non-existent. The prophets’ challenge was now not just to get the people to obey the laws, but to get them not to give up on the whole project. At first, the assumption was that this disaster was indeed a punishment, but that it would pass: we had paid the price of our sins, so now God could forgive us and get over His anger, and restore an anointed king of David’s line (anointed one = mashiach = messiah), and the Temple service. As time went on, however, this neat picture never materialized, and we had to find a way to cope with painfully . and indefinitely postponed redemption. And so, as the messiah receded into the future, he loomed larger and larger in terms of his expected role in the world. At the same time, we learned to live (mostly) with a “permanent” tension between present reality and our imagined utopian restoration to the good old days (that were not as good as we imagined them).
This lesson traces the development of the messianic concept, and looks ahead at its impact on later Jewish history. Our relationship to the land of Israel – and the state of Israel – is intimately tied up with this powerful and interesting concept.