Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham Ben David

Scrutiny of the Generation


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Elul 5757
In this drasha we will discuss the unique viewpoint of Rav Kook zt"l. Our sages of blessed memory taught us that in the generation preceding the Messiah, the generation in which Ben David arrives, there will be great physical and moral distress. The Gemarah in Sanhedrin page 97 tells of this situation "Rabbi Yochanan says that the generation in which Ben David arrives the wise sages will decrease in number, their eyes will diminish from the great gloom and lamenting, and much turmoil and many harsh decrees will prevail until the first will occur and the second will come hastily..." Rabbi Yehuda adds that "The meeting house will be a brothel and the Galil will be destroyed... and the wisdom of the scribes will be repugnant, and the fearful of Hashem will be disdained, and the faces of the generation will resemble that of a dog, and truth will disappear."

Rabbi Nahuri says that the generation in which Ben David arrives the youth will embarrass the elders, the elders will stand before the youth, and the daughter will rise threateningly, and the daughter-in-law will rise in her anger, and the face of the generation will resemble that of a dog, and the son will not be embarrassed in front of his father. Rabbi Nechmia says the generation in which Ben David arrives insolence will multiply, the vineyard will bear fruit that will be expensive, and the wine will be expensive, the kingdom will turn into apostasy and there will no rebuke. This description corresponds to Rabbi Yitzhak’s prediction that Ben David will not come until the kingdom has become apostasy. Rabba asks in which verse does the purity change? We learn in the Gemarah that Hashem will judge his people... and it will seem that there is no help and that he has forsaken us, and Ben David won’t come until people have given up hope from the salvation, as if there is no one to support and help Am Israel.

These ideas need to be explained. How could it be that at the time preceding the Messiah, when Ben David arrives, Am Israel will be on such a low level spiritually and physically? Logic dictates the opposite. It would seem that once Am Israel repents and renounces their sins, which are the reason for the Diaspora, then they will merit the salvation. Why did our sages indicate that spiritual crisis and physical troubles will accompany the coming of the Messiah? The Maharal addresses this question by explaining that this is the way of the world. Before the birth of a new existence the old existence needs to be nullified, and the greater the new existence the greater will be the destruction of the old. In other words, in order to build a new house one needs to dismember the old unstable house. One can apply this rule to the spiritual realm as well. The new deeper spiritual reality, with all its positive attributes and advantages, will take root only after the negation of the previous one. The future redemption will reveal a new tremendous light of Torah, that will be heralded by a deep spiritual abyss.

Rav Kook adds another dimension to these words of the Maharal. There is a difference between the existence of the physical to that of the spiritual. Rav Kook states that the physical existence of the world since the destruction of the Temple is spiraling down so that the present is more cursed than the past. Not so in the spiritual world in which everyday is more blessed than the previous one. The source of this idea comes from the Zohar, tikun 60, which states that "A person may be physically and outwardly sound but his soul may be one of a sinner. And so the opposite- one’s outward appearance may be unfit but his soul pure." The Zohar continues by saying that "It is better to have a good inside and a bad outward appearance, as we see the Messiah riding on a donkey". The Zohar indicates to us the generation that ushers in the Messiah is lacking on the outside, whereas on the inside it is pure. Rav Kook explains that (Egerot Reah number 555) this principle applies to that generation. They are the donkey of the Messiah, as it states that the Messiah will ride the donkey. The intention being that athough the donkey has no signs of any external purity, unlike the pig or the camel which have at least one, its impurity is it’s distinguishing characteristic. Despite its externally impure state, the donkey is internally pure and holy for it is the animal designated to carry the Messiah. Thus Am Israel is situated in the period of the heel of the Messiah, despite the heavy darkness."

In the writings of the Ari tz"l in Shar Hagilgulim (after the introduction 38), the student of the Ari Rav Chaim Vital relates "once I asked my teacher (Ari tz"l) how can you say that my soul is so lofty and I cannot even reach the ankles of the sages of the previous generations?" The Ari tz"l answered by saying "that you should know that the greatness of the soul is not only dependent upon one’s deeds rather upon the period and generation to which he is in. A small deed in this generation weighs like a few great deeds in earlier generations because one is able to overcome his stronger outer shell (klipa) of this generation than before. If I happened to live in the previous generations, I would rank as one of the righteous among our sages. Just as Noach was pure in his generation, if he had lived during a righteous generation he would have been an even greater Tzaddik. I need not be sorry for my present state because without doubt my soul has greatness that ranks with the sages of the Mishnah and the Gemarah.

The Ari tz"l explains in Shaar Mitzvoth on parsha Raeh the idea of the exodus of Egypt that every exile serves to correct the sins and repair the souls of Am Israel. The first exile mended the head and each successive exile mends different parts of the body until we reach the last exile which will mend the heels of the feet. The feet represent the basic physical nature of mankind, and the holy spiritual aspect is difficult to see. One can say that the world is always mending and growing more pure and spiritual and only the physical seems to be disintegrated.

Rav Kook’s ideas are based upon the more mystical and internal aspects of the Torah. The Rav continues in his Egerot about Rav Yosef saying that he should only merit to sit in the shadow of the excrement of the Messiah’s donkey. "This is the way that Rav Yosef would look upon internal nature of the world, he would attach greatness where there exists greatness even to the point where he would seemingly lower himself to sit in the shadow of the excrement of donkey of the Messiah. In striving for internal greatness, Rav Yosef would say about his mother "Rise in respect for the divine presence which is coming", and about himself he would say"As long as I exist modesty still exists in the world." These statements on the surface seem to indicate a haughtiness, G-d forbid. But one should keep in mind the source of these comments, Rav Yosef, who was filled with holiness and true modesty like the prophets that preceded him and his students that followed him. Thus was the character of Moshe Rabbinu, who in order to draw others that had gone astray closer to Torah he would at times even sacrifice his closeness to Divine holiness (as in exile). The Zohar states that the followers of Moshe were greater than those of Avraham, though his character trait was one of mercy, charity (chesed). This can be seen when Avraham begged Hashem not to destroy Sedom and Amora he did so on condition that there were ten righteous people. Moshe never had conditions when requesting Hashem’s mercy for Am Yisrael.

Rav Kook illuminates and helps us understand our generation, the generation of the arrival of the Messiah Ben David. This is the generation in which Am Yisrael’s internal nature is pure and good unlike the external appearances. The value of one good deed in this generation is one of awesome power, and thoughts or intentions toward repentance has great significance. This is the generation of repentance from love. One that truly repents in this fashion will turn evil deeds to merits. It is hard to believe that this is the situation. However, we already have shown that there is a basis to this idea. This is the generation that is revealing itself as a nation amongst nations of the world in its country. Thus the act of one individual is no longer a single act that stands by itself, rather it becomes attached to the whole of Am Israel, and it grows with the greatness of the whole.

These are the words of Rav Kook in his book Yeriach Eitanim (page 59) "The ones that understand the secret mystical nature of the world, need to announce to the world that the downfall of the world is only superficial, that the internal is growing stronger, and the souls of this generation are great, also through the insolence there exists greatness and holiness, as it states in Isiah 59(19) "When affliction comes like a flood which the wind of the Lord drives forth". The repentance of this period is exalted repentance, a repentance that causes evil deeds to become merits. Sin can no longer harm as it has in previous first generations because this generation is blessed with a pure nature and abundant mercy that exists in the world today.

This should be our perspective when we view this generation and its repentance. Hashem should redeem us from all the troubles and turmoil that exist with a full redemption speedily in our days.
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