“And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in the last days…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until he comes to Shilo and the homage of the peoples be his” (Genesis 49:1-11).
“Until he comes to Shilo.” Commentators disagreed about what this Shilo is. Rashi and Chazal in Midrash Rabbah interpret it as “the Messiah King, for the kingdom is his.” (As was their way, they played with words and shilo was changed to shelo–his.) That is, the kingship will not depart from Judah until the Messiah arrives.
If so, according to their interpretation, Jacob erred in his prophecy, for the scepter (kingship) has already departed from Judah while the Messiah has not yet come. Ramban noticed this question and wrote, “It does not mean that the scepter will never depart, for it is written ‘G-d will lead you and your king…’ and here, they and their king are in exile… But this means that the scepter will never depart from Judah unto one of his brothers.” (That is, until the Messiah arrives, if there is a king he will only be from the tribe of Judah and not from another tribe.)
In his explanation of our Father Jacob’s words, Ramban went and with the wave of a hand negated the verse, “And if you say in your heart, ‘how shall we know this thing which G-d has not said, while the prophet said it in the name of G-d?’ If the matter shall not happen and shall not be, it is something which was not said by G-d.” As Rambam wrote, in his introduction to the Mishnah commentary, “And when the prophet is worthy of prophecy…and if he lies about it, or one thing, even a small thing, does not come to pass, then we shall know that he is a false prophet.” Jacob said that the scepter shall not depart from Judah, and kingship had certainly departed from Judah.
To what can the Ramban’s explanation be compared? To a prophet who predicts rain will fall three days hence, and on the third day G-d removes the sun from its covering. Instead of concluding that the prophet is false, we will use the Ramban’s method and say that the prophet meant that if it were to be a wintry day then rain and not snow and hail would fall, but now, as it is a summery day, there is no contradiction in his prophecy. And understand this well.
But Rashbam has a different interpretation. “Until Judah comes to Shilo (the city) – speaks of Rechavam the son of Shlomo who renewed the kingdom in Shilo” (and even though Rechavam renewed the kingdom in Shechem, Rashbam wrote that Shechem is close to Shilo). And further Rashbam wrote that, “This simple meaning is an answer to heretics, that it is not written about anything but the city of Shilo” (we do not know to which heretics he refers), “and not ‘his’ as the Hebracists (Rashi and Chazal), and not a messenger, as the Christians have it.” Know that Rashi, on II Chronicles 10:15, interpreted as did the Rashbam, his grandson, and not as did Chazal (it is possible that Rashi is upholding the words of his grandson the Rashbam as we cited in Parshat Vayeshev), “He took from him 10 tribes and gave them to Yerovam, and this is what is meant by ‘the scepter shall not depart from Judah’ – his kingdom did not diminish until he came to Shilo, the answer is until Judah came to Shilo, to crown there Rechavam…and there the kingdom was divided and he lost reign over the ten tribes.”
See this wonder, the prophecy of Jacob for later days is interpreted as something and as its opposite: According the Ramban, “the scepter shall not depart from Judah” means the kingship will not pass to another tribe. According to Rashi and the Rashbam’s interpretation “shall not depart” is until Rechavam comes, and then the kingship does pass on to another tribe…
This is what we must demand of the prophet before he begins to prophesize, that his language be spoken clearly so we know what he means and can check if he is a true prophet whose prophecy comes about or, G-d forbid, a false prophet.
And this testing must be done for all our prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. First we must see if their words are clear and then check if all their words came about. You, who seek truth, arise and examine and see strange things.
And since we have come to the issue of the Messiah, there is something to be said about it. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 98a does not seem to relate to our holy Messiah with proper respect; they even ask what the Messiah is named. “In the study hall of Rav Shila they say his name is Shilo, as is said, ‘until he comes to Shilo.’ In the study hall of Rav Yannai they say Yanon is his name…In the study hall of Rav Channanyah they say Channayah is his name.” And Rashi wrote that each one interpreted based on his own name.
Each sticks his own name onto the Messiah and the name of the Messiah is so turned, in the eyes of the Amoraim, into parable and absurdity.
If this is not enough, according to Rabbi Hillel there isn’t any Messiah for Israel, for they already used him up in the days of Chizkiyahu. Rashi explained “that Chizkiyahu was the Messiah and about him were all the prophecies said.” (For the prophets did not speak clearly and one can not definitely know about which period they prophesized.)
And from Rav Hillel’s stance Rabbi Yosef Albo, in Sefer HaIkarim, article one chapter one, deduced, “Without a doubt, Rabbi Hillel did not believe at all in the coming of the Messiah and even so was not counted among the apostates, as the coming of the Messiah is not an essential belief in the Mosaic Torah.” This is an amazing thing. If there is no Messiah there is no Redemption and no Resurrection of the Dead, and if so, why do we labor?
In Tractate Avodah Zara 9b, “Rabi Chanina said, four hundred years after the destruction of the Temple, if a man tells you, ‘take a field worth a thousand dinar for a single dinar,’ don’t take it.” Rashi explains that it is the time of the Redemption and you will gathered to His holy mountain, to your father’s portion, and why should you lose the dinar…!
More than 1900 years have passed and there is no time of Redemption and the Messiah has not come. Well said Shmuel the son of Nachmani, quoting R’ Yochanan, (Sanhedrin 97b) ‘Let the spirit of those calculating the end be blown out, for they would say: for the end had come, and he [the Messiah] had not, he will not come again’. ” They have already calculated every possible end and nothing has come, nothing has happened.
Words of True Knowledge