Unhappily an astute reader pointed out a flaw in my evaluation of the letter written by a Lubavitcher repudiating the belief in the Rebbe as a possible Moshiach. Here is the excerpt from that letter that points out that flaw:
"...Will the Rebbe be Moshiach in actuality? As Chassidim, we have a right to hope that it will be so (I once heard that this was the terminology the Rebbe himself concluded with when he orally explained to someone the issue of v’hu yigolaynu; “meg zich a chosid azo vintshun un geloiben (a Chosid may permit himself to wish and believe that it will be so”) ‘V’anaan ma ne’eneh a’basray.’ But remember all of this remains a hope and ‘chasidishe hergesh,’ as explained above, no more and no less. By no more I mean that it can never rise to the level of a belief. A belief is a certainty and an absolute while a hope is wish....".
When I originally read this, I chalked it up to some sort of mystical tribute to the greatness of the Rebbe. They consider him so great that in some sort of mystical sense he is worthy of being Moshiach but in reality he cannot be since he died. But in my haste and fervent hope that this might be a turning point I glossed over the following very key portion of that excerpt:
Will the Rebbe be Moshiach in actuality? As Chassidim, we have a right to hope that it will be so.
So even though the Rebbe cannot be Moshiach – he can. The door is left open a crack.
And that is unacceptable. The fact that key elements of the Meshichist arguments are clearly and forcefully rejected by this letter writer, somehow a path is left open for them to believe that the Rebbe will somehow be resurrected and then become the Messiah. It will happen because as a living person he will then be able to fulfill the requirements of the Rambam.
I am not going to address the technical feasibility of such a wild speculation. The point is that this very claim undermines the entire premise of the letter. Sure he isn’t Moshiach now… but perhaps he will be. Perhaps after resurrection he will fulfill the requirements!
To the best of my knowledge this is a view that has never been espoused by any legitimate segment of Orthodox Jewry whether Chasidic or not. To use Techias HaMeisim – resurrection - as an ‘out’ is almost as bad as using those sources that he clearly shows to have been rejected by the Rambam!
So instead of being a turning point in the whole Moshiach controversy he merely clarifies in which way it is permitted to be believed. All he ends up doing is repudiating the avowed Meshichists. One can however hear him making a speech to other Lubavitchers ending with the following phrase: “May the Rebbe come back and lead us out of this bitter Galus.” I have in fact heard that very phrase spoken in a non Meshichist Lubavitch venue by a speaker without a word of protest!
Additionally it an lead to all kinds of misinterpretations.
Saying that Chabad Chasidus allows for such a belief as a matter of belief but not as a matter of Halacha is a virtually meaningless distinction. The entire letter then becomes a mere technicality. It’s OK to be believe he will be - as long as we don’t Paskin L’Halacha that he is. But after resurrection…? Who knows? …we certainly hope so!
So as far as this letter goes, yes it refutes the avowed Meshichists in Lubavitch. But it also reinforces my view that virtually all of Lubavitch believes that their now dead Rebbe could in fact become Moshiach after he is resurrected.
You cannot say that the Rebbe was not Moshiach according to the ruling of the Rambam and yet believe that he will be resurrected and fulfill the Rambam’s terms. That is as much a perversion of the Rambam as those he refuted.
When the Rambam said that if he dies it is certain that he was not Moshiach, he meant forever - even if he is resurrected. It is clear that only someone from the living will be Moshiach, not someone resurrected from the dead. Such a Chiddush - a novel belief -would certainly have been addressed by the Rambam as a possibly if it was a legitimate approach. And it was not.
So we are back to square one!