Jacob’s Blessing to Judah
Before Jacob passed away he gathered his twelve sons and blessed them individually. Jacob’s blessing to Judah included the following prophecy: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants, until Shiloh shall arrive and his will be an assemblage of nations.”
What or who is Shiloh? Rashi explains that Shiloh is a reference to Moshiach. Indeed, the Talmud states that one of the names ascribed to Moshiach is Shiloh.
What is the meaning of the word Shiloh and how does it relate to Moshiach?
The Midrash explains that Shiloh is actually a composite of two words, shi and loh, which means “a gift to him,” a reference to Moshiach, to whom all nations will bring gifts.
The deeper meaning of gifts is that all the sparks of holiness that were embedded in different parts of the world wil all be collected and bring infinite illumination.
It is interesting that the numerical value (Gematria) of the words “yavo shilo –Shiloh shall arrive” is 358, equal to the word Moshiach.
Shiloh, the city
However, Shiloh is also the name of a city in Israel where a Holy Temple (a provisional structure built with stone walls but covered with the cloth and leather covering of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary in the desert) was built and stood for 369 years before the permanent Bais Hamikdash was built by King Solomon.
This association of Messianic leadership with the city of Shiloh is problematic. Why would we conflate Moshiach with a city whose significance was secondary to Jerusalem? After all, Jerusalem was the site of the two Holy Temples and will be the site of the third Temple to be built by Moshiach. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Moshiach’s name be associated with Jerusalem rather with Shiloh?
Achiyah the Shilonite
One may suggest that the name Shiloh is connected with a prophet, who was arguably Shiloh’s most illustrious resident known as Achiyah the Shilonite. Achiyah was the prophet who prophesied the compromising of the leadership of Judah. Achiyah predicted and presided on ten of the twelve tribes breaking away from the King and kingdom of Judah and forming their own rival country under the leadership of Jeroboam from the tribe of Ephraim.
Indeed, some commentators explain the foregoing verse “The scepter shall not depart from Judah nor a scholar from among his descendants, until Shiloh shall arrive…”. This verse predicts that there will always be a leader from Judah until Achiyah of Shiloh will cause Judah’s exclusive leadership to be broken.
However, it also may be suggested contrarily that Achiyah will also bring about te reunification of the Land of Israel under the exclusive leadership of Moshiach, a scion of Judah. Precisely because Achiyah was responsible for the diminution of Judah as the exclusive leader and the concomitant split of the Land of Israel into two rival countries, it stands to reason that he too is the prophet that will also rectify that breach. Achiyah’s role is to reverse that breach by being the spiritual force that will bring Moshiach, who will once more be the sole leader for the Jewish people as is stated in last week’s Haftorah (the selection from the prophets that is appended to the weekly Torah reading).
This premise that Achiyah of Shiloh is based on three premises.
First, according to the Talmud, as recorded by Maimonides, Achiyah enjoyed extraordinary longevity. He was one of the Jews who left Egypt during the Exodus, hundreds of years later was a member of King David’s court and was the mentor of Elijah the prophet. Elijah the prophet is the one who will announce and usher in the coming of Moshiach. Hence, Achiyah, as the mentor of Elijah, is connected with the coming of Moshiach.
Second, according to the Midrash Achiyah is one of a select group of people who never physically died. This too is a Messianic dynamic, for it is Moshiach that will usher in the age of eternal life.
Third, according to a Chassidic tradition, the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, reported that Achiyah was his mentor for ten years. Aciyah imparted to him the greatest secrets of the Torah.
The Ba’al Shem Tov wrote in a letter that his soul entered into the spiritual domain of Moshiach. The Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach when he would come. Moshiach’s response was that he will come when the Baal Shem Tov’s fountains of wisdom will spread throughout the world. Since the Ba’al Shem Tov received his knowledge form Achiyah from Shiloh it stands to reason that he is the impetus for the coming of Moshiach, who will be the exclusive leader of a unified nation.
Based on the above, it is no wonder that the words, Achiyah Hashiloni is equivalent numerically to the words Moshiach ben Dovid, Moshiach the scion of David!