Now More Than Ever
It is fair to ask why the present generation should be able to merit the Messianic redemption when this was withheld from our predecessors. It would seem rather presumptuous on our part when those before us were ever so much greater and more pious than we are: “If the earlier generations were like angels, we are but like plain humans; if they were like humans, we are like donkeys..!”123
In fact, however, this is not really a problem. For one thing, there is an obvious progression of time which of itself brings us closer to Moshiach and continuously enhances the inherent potential for redemption, in spite of our inferiority.124
Secondly, the very deterioration of our times and conditions, making it so much more difficult to achieve spiritual perfection, lends that much more value and merit to even our slightest virtues, for “one thing in distress is better than a hundred in ease.”125 Greatness does not depend simply on the quantitative achievements of man, but is relative to the time and conditions of the generation: “a very small act in this generation is equal to many great mitzvot in others; for in these generations evil is extremely overpowering, to no end, unlike aforetimes!”126
Moreover, evil in itself has no reality. It is merely a state of concealment and hiding of the good.127 Goodness and virtue, on the other hand, are realities with the quality of permanence. They do not fade away.128 All the mitzvot and good deeds of the past, our own and those of our predecessors, therefore, remain intact. Thus there is an ever-growing accumulative merit accruing to our credit. Our present generation compounds not only its own goodness and merits but also those of all earlier generations.129 In the words of an ancient proverb,130 we are “like a midget standing on the shoulders of a giant”: though the midget is much smaller than the giant, by virtue of standing on his shoulders, he can see much further. That is why it is specifically now — more than ever before — that we shall merit the coming of Moshiach.
“Therefore we put our hope to You, G‑d, our G‑d, that we may speedily see the splendor of Your might.. to perfect the world through the sovereignty of the Almighty. Then all mankind will invoke Your Name .. and accept upon themselves the yoke of Your Kingship.. On that day G‑d shall be One and His Name One.”131
123. Yerushalmi, Shekalim 5:1; Shabbat 112b. See also Eruvin 53a; Yoma 9b; and Zohar III:2a.
124. See Petach Einayim on Sanhedrin 98a.
125. Avot deR. Nathan 3:6. Cf. Shir Rabba 8:10.
126. R. Chaim Vital, Sha’ar Hagilgulim, ch. 38, see there at length. Cf. Hilchot Teshuvah 3:2.
127. See Netzach Yisrael, ch. 31. Cf. Moreh Nevuchim III:10-12. Tzava’at Harivash, ch. 130, and the notes there.
128. Cf. Sha’ar Hagilgulim, ch. 3-4.
129. Cf. Yerushalmi, Ta’anit 1:1, and Midrash Tehilim 106:9 (cited above, note 122), that zechut avot (merit of the ancestors) is one of the five things by virtue of which Israel shall be redeemed.
130. Cited in author’s foreword of Shibalei Haleket, see there.
131. Aleinu-Prayer. — It would seem that there remains a problem with regards to the obligation to await, anticipate or look forward with eagerness to the imminent coming of Moshiach, and of persistent prayer or demand for the Messianic redemption. This obligation is clearly premised on personal feelings, on sensing the intrinsic need and benefits of the redemption, notwithstanding the fact that feelings cannot be legislated. How, then, can there be such an obligation, let alone the principle that “everything is bound up with kivuy”?
The same question, however, applies no less to other religious duties that involve human sentiments, especially the fundamental mitzvot of loving and fearing G‑d. The answer in that context, therefore, applies equally to the one about Moshiach: “What is the way that will lead to the love of [G‑d] and the fear of Him? When a person contemplates His great and wondrous works and creatures and perceives from them His wisdom which is beyond comparison and limit, he will immediately love Him, praise Him, glorify Him, and long with an exceeding longing to know His great Name.. When pondering these very subjects, he will recoil in fear and dread, realizing that he is but a small creature, lowly and obscure, with slight and slender intelligence, standing in the presence of Him who is perfect in knowledge..” (Rambam, Hilchot Yessodei Hatorah 2:2; see there also 4:12; Hilchot Teshuvah 10:6; and note especially his Sefer Hamitzvot, Positive Precepts, no. 3.)
So, too, with regards to Moshiach and the redemption: pondering that this is a fundamental doctrine of the Divine Torah, studying and understanding the meaning of the laws and concepts of Moshiach, redemption, the Messianic era and all that is related to these (see especially Hilchot Melachim ch. 11-12, and the sources cited above), must of itself evoke the appropriate appreciation and longing for these.
In the same context, one is to consider also Rambam’s ruling that man can train himself to acquire proper dispositions by frequent repetition of actions consistent with these, “and thus these dispositions will become a fixed part of his soul.” (Hilchot De’ot 1:7; see his Shemonah Perakim, ch. 4. Cf. Zohar III:92b, and also ibid. 34b and 119a.) Diligent study of the halachot and ideas relating to Moshiach will thus result in the proper dispositions and sentiments, even if at first they are not sensed on a natural level. (See the essay, “Serve G‑d With Joy,” in my Chassidic Dimensions, especially p. 145f., and the sources cited there.) This, in turn, shall no doubt result immediately in the Divine response of redeeming Israel and the full realization of all the prophecies about the Messianic era.