Moshiach's Feast - a Chassidic Passover custom
Why was it specifically the Baal Shem Tov who initiated this custom?
The entire mission of the Baal Shem Tov is bound up with the revelation of Moshiach, for two reasons:
(a) It was in response to the Baal Shem Tov's question, "Master, when are you coming?" that Moshiach replied, "When the wellsprings [of your teachings] will be disseminated outward."
(b) One of the basic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov is that one should serve G-d with the body, refining and purifying it so that it will become a fit receptacle for the light of the soul, and not crush it through fasts and self- mortification.
This mode of divine service foreshadows the forthcoming Redemption, when the most sublime levels of Divinity will be revealed specifically in this physical world, in the spirit of the verse, "For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d...."
As the darkness of the exile grows denser, a more intense revelation of light and holiness enables us to overpower it, and as we draw nearer to the forthcoming Redemption, a foretaste of its delights is revealed to us.
Why was Passover chosen for this feast, and why specifically its last day?
(a) As is well known, the concept of redemption came into being with the Exodus from Egypt, and it was then too that a conduit was opened for the coming of the future Redemption. Since the same downward flow of Divine energy is aroused afresh every Pesach as it was at the time of the Exodus, it is obvious that every Pesach the radiance of Moshiach is aroused and revealed afresh. And since every such flow of Divine light illuminates most intensely at its conclusion, it is self-evident that the radiance of the light of Moshiach is revealed most intensely on the Last Day of Pesach, and, more specifically, as that day draws to its close.
(b) This revelation foreshadowing the future Redemption takes place specifically on the Last Day of Pesach, because this day is a Yom-Tov Sheni shel Galuyot, one of the days which only in the Diaspora is appended to each of the pilgrim festivals.
The essence of each of these days is that in the Diaspora and in the time of exile, the Jewish people capture 24 mundane weekday hours, and transform them into a day of Yom-Tov and holiness. In our case, more specifically, this means transforming them into a festival of freedom and redemption. And this process of transformation is the essence of the forthcoming Redemption - converting the very exile itself into redemption, so that G-dliness is revealed even at the very lowest levels of creation.
What is the point of eating an actual physical meal that relates to the subject of Moshiach?
This festive meal causes the image and the feeling of the future Redemption to penetrate not only all the faculties of a man's soul, including his capacity for action, but his physical body as well - by means of the physical food that becomes part of his very flesh and blood.
Understanding this enables us to distinguish between "the revelation of the radiance of Moshiach" (a) through partaking of seudas Moshiach and (b) through reading this day's haftorah, which speaks of the future Redemption. For the reading influences one's faculties of thought and speech alone, whereas the meal involves the physical body.
Partaking of this festive meal is intended to draw down the radiance of Moshiach into every aspect of one's daily life throughout the year. This simply means - as an anticipatory echo of how the world will appear after the Redemption - that holiness should permeate all of a man's activities, including his physical activities, to the point that he is prepared to sacrifice the innermost core of his soul.
Does the Torah offer any hint or support to the concept that on the Last Day of Pesach the radiance of Moshiach is openly revealed?
The haftorah that is read on this day is the passage from Isaiah that begins "This very day he will halt at Nov," because the downfall of Sancheriv (Sennacherib) which is here predicted took place on the first night of Pesach.
It will be noted, however, that the downfall [of this Assyrian invader] took place on the first night of Pesach, not on the Last Day.
Likewise problematic is the fact that only the opening verses speak of this subject, while the bulk of the haftorah speaks of Moshiach.
It would therefore appear that this haftorah is connected with the Last Day of Pesach (partly) because this day is connected with Moshiach.
Indeed, even the opening verses - which foretell the downfall of Sancheriv and the victory of King Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah) - are connected with Moshiach, for as the Sages teach, "The Holy One, blessed be He, had desired to make Chizkiyahu the Moshiach."
Is there a connection between the number 4 and the future Redemption?
(a) Our Sages teach that "the world resembles a portico whose northern side is not enclosed." It is Israel's task to enclose the fourth side, too, and thereby bring completeness to the world. In this context the number four thus indicates the perfection which the world will attain in the time of the future Redemption.
(b) In its prophecy of the Redemption, the haftorah of this day promises that G-d "will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed people of Judah from the four corners of the earth."
Assembled from the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe