The Messianic Era: Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David - Introduction
In our last issue, we began to speak about the concept that in reality, there are two Messianic figures which are described in the written and oral traditions of Judaism: for the forerunner and harbinger of the final deliverer, the Messiah from the house of David, is the Mashiach ben Yosef... the Messiah from the house of Joseph. Belief in the appearance of the Mashiach ben Yosef is derived from Scripture and tradition, just as Mashiach ben David, who is descended from Judah. But what is the relationship between these two Messiahs, and how do they complement each other? Why is one Messiah not enough? What are the differences between them, and the similarities they share?
In the last Restoration, we mentioned the war which is prophesied to take place around Jerusalem - the war of Gog and Magog. There is a tradition, supported by Scripture, that in the end of time - when good and evil have their ultimate confrontation - that the enemies of Israel will only fall to a descendant of Joseph. So it is Mashiach ben Yosef who will lead Israel to victory in the final war for G-ds honor, the war of Gog and Magog. This is the true meaning of the verse, The house of Jacob will be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble. They will set them ablaze, and consume them; there will be no survivor of the house of Esau, for G-d has spoken (Ovadiah 1:18).
Ephraims envy will depart and Judahs adversaries will be cut off. Ephraim will not envy Judah, and Judah will not harass Ephraim (Isaiah 11:13)
The verse we see above was declared by the prophet Isaiah concerning the special relationship between the two Messiahs - the initial Messiah, ben Yosef, and the final Messiah, Mashiach ben David.
The simple meaning of this verse is that each figure has a specific role to play, and each one will perform his task without jealousy. This is also one meaning of the verse, Son of man, take a stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and the children of Israel, his companions. Then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel, his companions. Join them together into one stick, so that they are one in your hand (Ez. 37:16-17).
According to tradition, this initial Messiah will lead the fight against the hostile forces of Gog and Magog, and he will be killed in battle. He will be mourned by all Israel, as it is written: They shall look to Me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his firstborn son (Zech. 12:10).
Of course, there is so much depth to the holy Torah, the word of G-d, that there are many interpretations to Biblical verses on ever-increasing levels of depths, and all are essentially correct, though varying interpretations may disagree. This is one of the fascinating points of the Oral Tradition which explore the Torahs depth - there are so many differing opinions and insights into the Scripture, yet they all work in harmony. As the rabbis put it, These and these are the words of the living G-d.
In this light we would mention that there is also another tradition, well-known to many of our readers, that these two verses also apply not only to the two personalities of the Joseph and Davidic Messiahs, but also to the reconciliation of Judah and Joseph/Ephraim on a national level as well... for it is widely held that the ten lost tribes (collectively known as Ephraim, and Israel as opposed to Judah) who were exiled prior to the destruction of the First Temple were not really lost at all, but assimilated amongst the nations to such an extent that they totally lost their identity as Jews. There is overwhelming evidence throughout the Scriptures which substantiates this beyond any doubt, and it is particularly clear throughout the book of Hosea (Ephraim, he has mingled himself amongst the peoples... - 5:8). One of the major themes of every prophet of Israel is the fact that eventually, G-d will help these people to regain their identity, cleanse themselves from the twin sins of pride and idolatry, and reconcile with Judah, thus effectively re-uniting Ezekials two sticks and becoming one again with the Jewish people. ...and I will sift the House of Israel among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet not the least grain shall fall upon the earth - Amos 9:9.