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Why This Generation MUST Reject Truth

Let us take a faith-based look at our generation, through the prism of the teachings of the Land of Israel's first modern-day chief rabbi, Rav Kook.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Shvat 19 5783
Translated by Hillel Fendel

Let us take a faith-based look at our generation, through the prism of the teachings of the Land of Israel's first modern-day chief rabbi, Rav Kook.

Our Sages taught us that in the generation of the Footsteps of the Mashiah (Ivketa d'meshicha), i.e., when the Mashiah son of David is to come, there will be difficult tribulations of both a spiritual and physical nature. The Talmud depicts the situation as follows:

R. Yocḥanan says: In the generation of the arrival of Mashiah Ben David, Torah scholars decrease, and the eyes of the others fail with sorrow and grief, and troubles increase, and harsh decrees are renewed; before the first one passes, the second one quickly comes…

R. Yehuda says: [At that time] the hall of Sages will become a hall for prostitution, and the Galilee will be destroyed… The wisdom of scholars will diminish, and sin-fearing people will be despised. The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog in its impudence; and the truth will be missing [ne'ederet, based on Isaiah 59,15]; what does that mean? The Sages of the academy of Rav said: It means that truth will become like flocks [adarim] and scatter about.

What is the meant by the continuation of that verse, “He that departs from evil is negated”? The Sages of the academy of R. Shila said it means that whoever distances himself from evil is deemed to be insane… 

R. Nehorai says: [During that generation], youths will humiliate elders, elders will stand before youths, a daughter will rebel against her mother, a bride against her mother-in-law, and the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog, and a son will not be ashamed before his father…

R. Nechemia says: [In that generation] arrogance will proliferate and inflation will be rampant and will corrupt; the vine will produce its fruit, but the wine will be expensive; the entire kingdom will be converted to heresy, and rebuke will not be given or accepted… R. Yitzchak says: The son of David will not come until the entire kingdom is converted to heresy… The Sages taught that he will not come until informers proliferate. Alternatively…, he will not come until they despair from the redemption, as is written: “There is none shut up or left,” as if there were no supporter or helper for the Jewish people.

This seems strange indeed. Would it not be more logical that the People of Israel would be in a high spiritual state upon the Mashiah's arrival, having done repentance for all the sins that kept him from arriving until then?

The Maharal of Prague explains that this is the way of the world: Before a new reality can be formed, there must be a total negation of the previous state – and the greater the new situation, the greater must be the destruction of that which came before. Just like when a new building is to be constructed, the old and decrepit structure standing there must be totally demolished. So too on the spiritual plane: A new and deeper spiritual reality can be formed only after what had been the status quo, even with all its positive points, is voided. The future Redemption will reveal a new light, a new enhancement of Torah - and this is why the previous spiritual crisis is so great. So according to the Maharal.

Rav Kook adds another dimension to this explanation. He says we must distinguish between the external and inner realities. Externally, it is obvious that throughout the centuries of the Exile, every day's curse was greater than the one before it, the Jewish People suffered humiliation after disgrace after mortification, and we were always targeted for pogroms and persecution. But the inner and internal aspects of the world are improving day by day. The source for this approach of Rav Kook is Tikkun 60 of the Tikkunei HaZohar, which speaks of two people: one whose physical state is fine yet his soul is in a state of decay and debt, and one who is physically ill while his soul is clean and uplifted. The Zohar likens our generation of the Footsteps of the Mashiah to one whose inside is high-quality but has a negative outer covering, and Rav Kook explains this in his famous Igeret 555 (equal in numerology to the word takanah¸ rectification):

"The generation of the Footsteps is an exception, for it is as the Tikkunei Zohar says, 'good on the inside, bad on the outside' - the donkey on which the Mashiah is to arrive [unless we are worthy of better – ed.]. The meaning is that it is like a donkey, which has two signs of impurity on the outside, such that it is more blatantly impure than even a pig or camel, which at least has one sign of purity. Still and all, this donkey has some form of holiness, in that its firstborn must be redeemed [alone among all the non-kosher animals], as the Torah states: "Sanctify for Me every firstborn."  This is a great matter. And the same is true for those souls whose treasured Jewish uniqueness is all that is revealed of them during this special period – and for them there is a remedy, even though they have great… and heavy darkness."

The great student of the Arizal wrote [paraphrased]: "I once asked my teacher how could he have told me that I have such a high soul, when we know that in the earlier periods there were pious and righteous men whose ankles I can't even reach? He said that greatness of soul is not dependent on a person's deeds, but rather on the period and the generation. For today, a little mitzvah [fulfillment of a Torah injunction] is equal to some great mitzvot in previous generations, because nowadays the negative forces (k'lipot) are so much stronger compared to the earlier generations. He said if I would have been in those generations, my deeds would have been more wondrous than some of those earlier tzaddikim…"

The Arizal himself explained that every Exile had its job of rectification. The first one, from Egypt, rectified the "head" aspects, and so on down through the organs of the body, until now only the "feet" and "heels" remain to be rectified. The problem is that the feet are the hardest to rectify, as they have strong external aspects, and therefore the "purifying clarification" of holiness is very difficult. That is to say: The world is rising higher on the levels of spirituality and becoming better all the time – while only its externals appear to be deteriorating.

The words of the saintly Rav Kook are well-founded based on the inner-most sources of the Torah. This approach is the way of great and inner souls. Later in the above letter, Rav Kook writes about Rav Yosef, an Amoraic Sage who expressed the desire to live through the Messianic period even under the most revolting conditions: "Rav Yosef's way was to look at the inner aspects… He said that it was not true that humbleness was no longer extant, 'for I am here.' Though this might superficially appear to be arrogance and boastfulness, Heaven forbid, his soul was of such a high stature [that] he said this with all the fullness of sanctity and true humility – akin to the humbleness of the Master of Prophets, Moshe Rabbeinu."

And this is why, Rav Kook continued, it was Moshe Rabbeinu's trait to bring close those who are distant, to the point that he allowed even the erev rav, the "mixed multitude," to join the Israelites on their way out of Egypt and receive the Torah along with them, even though this actually caused a lengthening of the Exile. But ultimately, they too will be uplifted, for surely G-d will fulfill His word to Moshe, as is written in Isaiah: "He fulfills the word of His servant, and the counsel of His emissary He completes" – for the Zohar says that the kindnesses of Moshe were greater even than those of Avraham…

This approach of Rav Kook helps us understand our own generation, that of the Footsteps, the one in which the Son of David is coming. We are good inside, though we do not look as good on the outside. The value of every good deed we do today is tremendously great, and every simple thought of repentance has weighty significance. This is a generation of "repentance from love," in which everyone who truly repents has his purposeful sins turned into genuine merits. (This seems hard to believe, but we have elsewhere shown and proven how this is so.) This is a generation that is returning to its Land and is becoming not only a dispersed people, but the true Nation of Israel. This is why every good deed of an individual is not judged merely on its own, but is rather connected to the fact of our revelation as a nation, and benefits from this greatness.

Rav Kook writes in Yerach HaEitanim: "Men who understand the esoteric depths must inform the world that its deterioration is only external, while inside everything is exalted, that the illumination is great, that the essence of the souls is great, and that even in the insolence there is greatness and holiness, as Isaiah states, 'If trouble comes like a river, God's spirit is wondrous within it.' Repentance at this time is supreme repentance, repentance from love, which causes sins to become merits; sins today do less damage than in the earlier generations, because the world is becoming more founded, and because of the abundance of mercy and grace that shines in it."

It is with this large, expansive view we look at the generation and at repentance. Let us be comforted from all our troubles and may we merit a complete salvation speedily very soon.

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