1) "GAVLAN" AND THE PEOPLE OF "GEVUL"
QUESTIONS: The Gemara cites a Beraisa that teaches that before Mashi'ach comes, "the Galil will be destroyed, Gavlan will become desolate, and the people of the Gevul will wander from city to city with no respite."
The "Galil" apparently refers to the northern part of Eretz Yisrael. Rashi writes that "Gavlan" is the name of a place. The people of "Gevul" refer either to the people living within the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael, or the members of the Sanhedrin in the Lishkas ha'Gazis.
(a) Where is Gavlan?
(b) How does Gevul refer to the Sanhedrin in the Lishkas ha'Gazis?
(a) TOSFOS in Avodah Zarah (59a) writes that there are two places called "Gavla." One Gavla is the region of Har Se'ir, east of the Yam ha'Melach. The Targum Yonasan translates Har Se'ir as "Tura d'Gavla." The MAHARSHA points out that the verse in Tehilim (83:8) refers to this area by the name of "Geval" when it mentions Geval together with Amon and Amalek.
The second Gavla is in Eretz Yisrael. This is evident from the Gemara in Kesuvos (112a) which describes the gargantuan proportions of the fruit of Gavla as an example of the outstanding qualities of the fruit of Eretz Yisrael.
RAV YAKOV EMDEN points out that there is a third place by the name of Gavla in the north, near Har ha'Levanon, as mentioned in Yehoshua (13:5), Melachim I (5:32) and Yechezkel (27:9). That Gavla was not captured by Yehoshua and did not become a full-fledged part of Eretz Yisrael.
(b) The YAD RAMAH has a different Girsa in the text of the Gemara. Instead of saying that "Gavla" will become desolate and that the people of "Gevul" will go wandering, the Gemara says that "Gevil" (with a Vav) will become desolate, and that the people of "Gevil" will go wandering. "Gevil" refers to the Sefer Torah, which is written on parchment, "Gevil." He explains that the Gemara means that the Torah will become desolate because no one will be learning Torah. The people of the "Gevil" are those who write Sifrei Torah, who will wander from place to place looking for someone, but finding no one, for whom to write a Sefer Torah.
It seems that Rashi also has the Girsa of "Gevil." "Gevil" is synonymous with the word "Gazis" (see Bava Basra 2a), and thus Rashi understands that "Gevil" refers to the Sanhedrin that convened in the Lishkas ha'Gazis of the Beis ha'Mikdash. (It seems that a printing error was made in the emendations of the VILNA GA'ON here, #2. His change should read "Gevil.")
2) THE 2,000 YEARS OF TORAH
QUESTION: The Gemara divides the 6,000 years of the world into three parts. The first 2,000 years are "Tohu," the following 2,000 are "Torah," and the final 2,000 are "Yemos ha'Mashi'ach."
Why does the Gemara say that there are only 2,000 years of Torah? Certainly the years of Torah will continue even in Yemos ha'Mashi'ach!
ANSWER: RASHI (DH u'Shnei Alafim) explains that the Gemara limits the years of Torah to 2,000 merely in order to parallel the other historical eras.
The VILNA GA'ON (Likutim, end of Safra d'Tzeni'usa) explains that after the 2,000 years of Torah, if the Mashi'ach does not come, then the world returns to "Tohu" and the secrets of the Torah are kept hidden again from the world. During the following 2,000 years, we must work to uncover the secrets of the Torah in order to bring Mashi'ach.
The Vilna Ga'on's intention seems to be that at the end of the 2,000 years of Torah, there is a tremendous revelation of Torah she'Ba'al Peh to a degree unsurpassed since the time the Torah was given. This point in time concurred with the time of Rebbi Akiva, who lived approximately 120 years after the Churban. The Gemara in Menachos (29b) describes how Hash-m showed Moshe Rabeinu an image of Rebbi Akiva teaching Torah, and Moshe Rabeinu did not understand what Rebbi Akiva was teaching because of the depth of Rebbi Akiva's knowledge of Torah she'Ba'al Peh. The Gemara says that Rebbi Akiva was able to derive Halachos from every part of every letter in the Torah.
The Gemara in Bava Basra (8a) teaches that through learning Mishnah (Torah she'Ba'al Peh) in times of Galus, the Jewish people will merit the Ge'ulah. Perhaps this is why Rebbi Akiva wholeheartedly supported Bar Kochba's revolt and declared him to be Mashi'ach (see RAMBAM, Hilchos Melachim 11:3). However, Rebbi Akiva's students failed to properly learn the teachings of their mentor, and 24,000 students died in a plague (Yevamos 62b). As a result, Bar Kochba's revolt also failed. The Gemara in Yevamos describes the state of the world -- after the death of Rebbi Akiva's students -- as "desolate" ("Shamem"), until Rebbi Akiva found five new students to whom he imparted his teachings. These students were Rebbi Meir, Rebbi Nechemyah, Rebbi Yehudah, Rebbi Shimon, and Rebbi Yosi (as mentioned in the Gemara in Yevamos (see Insights there), and in the Gemara in Sanhedrin 86a). They rejuvenated the study of Torah she'Ba'al Peh.
RAV YITZCHAK ISAAC CHAVER (in a manuscript quoted by Rav Moshe Shapiro shlit'a) finds an allusion to these five Talmidim in a verse in Parshas Balak. When Bil'am sought to curse the Jewish people, he took Balak to "Rosh ha'Pe'or that overlooks the plains of the Yeshimon" (Bamidbar 23:28). Rashi explains that Bil'am brought Balak to that place because it was there that the Jewish people were destined to be punished for their sin at Pe'or (Bamidbar 25:3). Rav Yitzchak Isaac Chaver explains that the word "Yeshimon" alludes to another time at which the Jewish people would suffer -- the time at which the Talmidim of Rebbi Akiva died. At that time, the only ones who would survive to perpetuate the Torah in the world would be the five Talmidim whose names form the abbreviation, "Yeshimon" -- Rebbi *Y*ehudah, Rebbi *Sh*imon, Rebbi *Y*osi, Rebbi *M*eir, and Rebbi *N*echemyah. ("Yeshimon" is spelled with two Yuds and no Vav. The word "Yeshimon" itself is related to the word, "Shamem," "desolate," which the Gemara here uses to describe the desolate state of the world until these Talmidim learned Torah from Rebbi Akiva.)
The word "Yeshimon" appears again in Parshas Ha'azinu (Devarim 32:10), where the Torah says that Hash-m built up the Jewish people from "nothingness, wailing, desolation" -- "Tohu Yelel Yeshimon." This verse clearly associates "Yeshimon" with "Tohu," which alludes to what the Vilna Ga'on says: when the Torah of the Ge'ulah does not accomplish its goal, the world returns to "Tohu" and desolation.
The mission of the Jewish people during the 2,000 years after the time of Rebbi Akiva, after Rebbi Akiva restored Torah she'Ba'al Peh through his five new students, is to reveal all of the secrets of Torah she'Ba'al Peh and bring the Jewish people back to the level at which they may merit the Ge'ulah. This is accomplished through learning the Mishnah and Midrashim that Rebbi Akiva and his students redacted. The greatest of the Talmidim of Rebbi Akiva was Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, who proclaimed that his teachings were "the best of the best" of Rebbi Akiva's teachings. He also compiled the Zohar, teaching the secrets of the Torah that he received from his teacher, in which he states in a number of places that through learning the Zohar the Ge'ulah will be hastened. (Based on the words of RAV MOSHE SHAPIRO shlit'a.)
3) CALCULATIONS OF THE YEAR OF THE ARRIVAL OF MASHI'ACH
OPINIONS: The Gemara presents a number of predictions as to when Mashi'ach will come. In Sefer Daniel (chapter 12), at least four descriptions are given with regard to when the Ge'ulah will occur. The Mal'ach Gavriel tells Daniel that the Galus will end, "l'Mo'ed Mo'adim va'Chatzi" (Daniel 12:7; this means literally "a time, times and a half," and it is also mentioned earlier in Daniel (7:25) in its Aramaic version, "Ad Idan v'Idanin u'Felag Idan").
When Daniel asks for further explanation, he is told that from the time the Korban Tamid is stopped (that is, from the time of the Churban of the Beis ha'Mikdash) 1,290 years will pass until the Ge'ulah (12:11). The Mal'ach then adds (12:12), "Happy is the one who waits and reaches 1,335 years" (because that is when the Ge'ulah will occur).
Earlier in Daniel (8:14), it says that the Galus will last "until evening and morning, 2,300."
The Rishonim suggest a number of ways to interpret these verses and to predict the time of the arrival of Mashi'ach based on these verses.
Generally, the predicted times are within a hundred years of the time that the prediction was made. The reason for this is probably because of what the RAMBAM writes in IGERES TEIMAN. The Rambam explains that it is unproductive to calculate when the Mashi'ach will come (as the Gemara says, "Tipach Atzman Shel Mechashvei Keitzin"), since, if Mashi'ach does not come at that time, the calculation will only cause disappointment, and if he does come at that time, such a calculation is unnecessary. Why, then, do some Rishonim (including the Rambam himself) predict when the Mashi'ach will come? The Rambam writes that there have been times when the Jewish nation was suffering terribly and needed a boost of morale so that they would continue to serve Hash-m with devotion. For that reason, the Gedolim found allusions in the verses for the imminent arrival of the Ge'ulah.
(a) RASHI here explains that the time referred to by the verse (12:7) that describes "l'Mo'ed Mo'adim va'Chatzi" ("a time, times and a half") are the four hundred years designated for the length of Galus Mitzrayim. "A time, times and a half" means three and a half multiplied by that number, which comes to 1,400. The YAD RAMAH explains that the Ge'ulah is expected to come this number of years after the Churban of the first Beis ha'Mikdash. This would be the year 978 C.E.
The Yad Ramah adds that, alternatively, one may multiply the actual time span which the Jewish people spent in Mitzrayim (210) by three and a half, which comes to a total of 735 years, and count that number of years after the Churban of the *second* Beis ha'Mikdash. This would be the year 803 C.E. As Rashi points out in the end of his comment, these times have already passed, although they would have been relevant during the times of the Tana'im and Amora'im who discussed these times.
(b) RAV SA'ADYAH GA'ON (Emunah v'De'os, chapter 8) suggests that the number of 1,335 years is supposed to be counted from the building of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. (The number 1,290 was revealed to Daniel 45 years later). He writes that this number corresponds exactly to "l'Mo'ed Mo'adim va'Chatzi" ("a time, times and a half"), if one assumes that "Mo'ed Mo'adim" refers to the time span during which the Jewish nation was independent and governed itself. This refers to the 480 years from Yetzi'as Mitzrayim until the building of the first Beis ha'Mikdash, plus the 410 years that the Beis ha'Mikdash stood. That amount, 990 years, is the "Mo'ed Mo'adim." One must add to that another half of that number (445), which gives a total of 1,335 years. This would be the year 983 C.E.
(c) The RAMBAM in IGERES TEIMAN does not relate to the times to which Daniel alludes, but he instead cites a tradition that was passed down in his family for many generations from the time of the Churban of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. According to his tradition, Bil'am alluded to the date of the Ge'ulah in his prophecy when he said, "ka'Es Ye'amer l'Ya'akov ul'Yisrael Mah Pa'al Kel" -- "As now it will be said to Yakov and to Yisrael that which Hash-m has done" (Bamidbar 23:23). Bil'am meant that when the same number of years passes from that day as has passed from the creation of the world, then prophecy will return to the Jewish people, and the prophet will tell the Jews the word of Hash-m. Bil'am's prophecy took place 38 years after Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, which occurred in the year 2448. The year of Bil'am's prophecy, then, was 2486. Adding 2,486 years to that date would make the year of the Ge'ulah come out to 4972, or 1212 C.E.
(d) The RAMBAN in his famous debate against an apostate in the presence of the king of Aragon (paragraph 61, Chavel edition) explains that the 1,290 years that Daniel mentions begins from the time of the Churban of the second Beis ha'Mikdash. After that number of years has passed, the Mashi'ach will come. After another 45 years, or 1,335 years after the Churban, will be the Kibutz Galuyos, the ingathering of the exiles, when all of the Jews will return to Eretz Yisrael. This would be the year 1358 C.E. (which was 95 years from the date of the debate, as the Ramban writes).
(e) The MALBIM (end of Daniel) suggests that the 1,290 years begin from the time of Atalyah, at which time the Beis ha'Mikdash was defiled and the offering of the Korban Tamid ceased. The end of Atalyah's reign was the year 3,061, and it is likely that the Tamid was stopped in the year 3,060. This would mean that the year of the Ge'ulah would be 4,350, which would be the year 590 C.E. The Malbim writes that the Romans actually permitted the Jews to rebuild the Beis ha'Mikdash at that time (as recorded in the SEDER HA'DOROS). However, there were great earthquakes and other signs from Hash-m that the time had not yet come. From that time on, the Jewish people must wait for the Ge'ulah because it could come anytime during the next 1,335 years. This means that the final year for the Ge'ulah would be 1925 C.E.
However, the Malbim arrives at two other dates based on the verse that mentions "l'Mo'ed Mo'adim va'Chatzi" (12:7), and the verse that mentions the number 2,300 (8:14). The years he arrives at are 1913 and 1928, respectively. He suggests that the Ge'ulah will begin in 1913, which is when the seven years of the Shemitah cycle will begin, as the Gemara describes, and seven years of the war of Gog u'Magog. The building of the Beis ha'Mikdash will begin three years before the final Ge'ulah of 1928, which is why this verse gives a date of 1925 (which he says was 60 years from the time that he was writing this calculation).
(It is interesting to note that the VILNA GA'ON, in his commentary to Safra d'Tzeni'usa, presents veiled hints to the year of the coming of Mashi'ach. RAV MOSHE AHARON STERN zt'l related that this tradition was passed down to the Vilna Ga'on's student, Rav Chaim of Volozhen, who passed it to Rav Zundel Salant, who passed it to his student Rav Yisrael Salanter, who passed it to Rav Naftali Amsterdam, who moved to Yerushalayim towards the end of his life. At one point, Rav Naftali accidentally revealed the date and immediately made those around him promise that they would never reveal the date to anyone else. Rav Moshe Aharon Stern knew one person who heard the date from Rav Naftali, and once he and his friends pleaded with him to reveal the date. After much pleading, the man finally said, "I will not tell you the date. But I will tell you that these children that you see over there -- they will merit to be soldiers in the army of Mashi'ach!" Those children were already forty years old at the time that Rav Moshe Aharon related this incident, which was around the year 5747.)