The belief in an ultimate redeemer, referred to as Moshiach (Messiah), is a central tenet of Jewish faith. But, almost all of the details about the coming of Moshiach and the Messianic age that will follow are shrouded in mystery. Except for some basic concepts, the study of Moshiach related topics is the realm of advanced scholars and kabbalists (mystics).

One interesting aspect of the discussion of Moshiach is that, according to many opinions, there will actually be two successive redeemers. The primary Moshiach is known as Moshiach ben David, a direct descendant of the greatest king of Israel. His predecessor, however, will be someone referred to as Moshiach ben Joseph.

The Talmud mentioned the idea of Moshiach ben Joseph when discussing the seemingly obscure verse concerning the vision of the Prophet Zechariah: “Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen” (Zechariah 2:3).  The sages ask, “Who are these ‘four craftsmen’? Rabbi Hana ben Bizna, citing Rabbi Simeon Chisda, replied: “The Moshiach ben David, Moshiach ben Joseph, Elijah [the Prophet] and the Righteous Priest” (Talmud Sukkah 52b).

The idea that there is a redeemer who descends from both of Jacob’s wives, Rachel and Leah, is interesting in that it mirrors the royal history of the Jewish people. The first king of Israel, Saul, was from the Tribe of Benjamin (Rachel’s son). The second king of Israel, David, from whom the royal line then descended, was from the Tribe of Judah (Leah’s son).

There are no definitive answers recorded for the exact role of Moshiach ben Joseph. Some scholars have determined that he will be a general in a terrible war, and some say that his tragic death will bring about the revelation of Moshiach ben David. For now, it is enough for the Jewish people to simply believe in the coming of Moshiach.

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