Are these the "good old days'?

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, | updated: 23:15

Judaism Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh
צילום: Gal Einai

Were the generations in the ‘good old days’ better than today? Or are these the good old days?

As the previous year has passed and the new year is beginning, it is appropriate to take stock of our situation as a society. Where did we stand in the previous year? Are we progressing? Or retreating?

Many reminisce about ‘the good old days’, when things seemed to be spiritually much better than they are today. From generation to generation, we experience spiritual descent. After all, who are we as compared to previous generations? The Jewish Talmudic Sages said of a relatively small difference in generations, “If the first generations were like angels, then we are like humans. If the first generations were like humans, then we are like donkeys.” Now, after so many more generations have gone by, what can we say about ourselves?  

The Kabbalists teach that all the generations are like one large person. The first generations are likened to his head, while we, in the last generations, are likened to the outer part of his feet, “the heels of Mashiach”. Darkness intensifies, and it is easy to despair, G-d forbid.

The Torah portion that ‘hides’ between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is Vayelech. In this Torah portion, Moses passes the scepter of leadership of the Nation of Israel on to Joshua. Moses, 120 years old, passes on to the next world (“And Moses went”) and Joshua takes his place. That is also a generational descent! Moses was “the man of G-d”, no prophet like him has ever risen. He took the Jewish People out of Egypt and brought us the Torah. His face shone like the sun. Joshua, with all due respect, was not like that. “The face of Moses was like the face of the sun and the face of Joshua was like the face of the moon”. A mere imitation?

Nonetheless, Moses leaves the stage, making room for Joshua. It is he who will complete Moses’ mission and bring the Nation of Israel into the Promised Land. As such, the descent is actually progress. We may nostalgically reminisce about the great figures of the past, saying, “What can we possibly do compared to them?” Thus, G-d and Moses strengthen Joshua and the Nation of Israel: “Be strong and courageous, do not fear”. Your time has come.

In truth, parallel to the generational descent, there is an internal process of ascent. On one hand, we daily become more distant from the giving of the Torah, from the Holy Temple and from the great souls of the prophets, Talmudic Sages and all the great tzaddikim of the previous generations.

But there is an internal light, more concealed, that intensifies with each passing generation. For example, there are hidden layers of the Torah that are being revealed specifically over the last generations. Ultimately, we are progressing toward the redemption. We are the closest anybody has ever been to the arrival of Mashiach. True, we are like dwarves compared to previous generations, but when the dwarves stand on the shoulders of the giants, they can see the goal – the redemption.

On a deeper level, these are not two parallel processes of external descent and internal ascent. It is G-d Who has sent us to all these lowly places. It is He who has brought us to a constant generational descent, because He wants His light to reach those dark nooks and crannies. It is no ‘great feat’ to bring the redemption in a generation that is completely righteous. The twist in this plot is that the redemption comes for people like us. Despite all of our weaknesses and shortcomings, “G-d desired to make for Himself a dwelling place in the lower realms”. That is why He sends us down to such a low place – so that the redemption will sprout from there!

Our new year, 5779 is the most fitting year of all those years that preceded it to bring us to the true, complete redemption. Gmar chatimah tovah l’shanah tovah umetukah! May you be inscribed for a good and sweet year!