The Or Hachaim is telling us that in the generation before the ultimate tikun olam, rectification of all sin and the arrival of Moshiach, we will face the strongest tests and challenges of impurity the world has ever seen. It will be a society consumed by the impurities of the 50th gate. In the final epic battle with the koach hatumah, Klal Yisrael will be come up against spiritual challenges like never before. And after winning these last battles and withstanding the temptations, the redemption will finally arrive.
The Ruzhiner Rebbe, z”tl, is quoted as saying over two centuries ago that in the generation before Moshiach one will have to climb the bare walls to remain a Jew who fears Heaven. We seem to be living in such times. In order to remain a good Jew, we have to climb the walls and separate ourselves as much as we can from general society.
So, these are our challenges. Severe challenges. Is it any wonder then that our generation is not on par spiritually with other generations?
However, we should never beat ourselves up when we experience spiritual downfalls. Rather, the following should be our approach toward failing spiritually.
Shlomo Hamelech tells us (Mishlei 24:16): “Ki sheva yipol tzaddik v’kam – A righteous person falls seven times but he gets up.”
Rav Yitzchok Hutner (in his book of collected letters, no. 128) received a letter from a student who was in a spiritual slump. In Rav Hutner’s reply he explained this verse. It is not a statement of the greatness of a person who is already a tzaddik—that he has the courage to rise up so many times repeatedly even after failures. Rather, it is telling us that by design, a tzaddik is someone who becomes righteous by never giving up, by experiencing the process of falling over and over again but eventually rising to the top. Rav Hutner writes emphatically:
“…A failing many of us suffer from is that when we consider the aspects of perfection of our sages, we focus on the ultimate level of their attainments….while omitting mention of the inner struggles that had previously raged within them. A listener would get the impression that these individuals came out of the hand of their Creator in full-blown form. Everyone is awed at the purity of speech of the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, considering it a miraculous phenomenon. But who knows of the battles, struggles and obstacles, the slumps and regressions that the Chofetz Chaim encountered in his war with the yetzer hara?”
Allow me to quote from some meaningful lyrics sung by popular contemporary singer and composer, R’ Eytan Katz:
If you have transgressed, Don’t get yourself depressed, Just get up from the floor, That’s what Hashem requests.
The Midrash (Tanna D’Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 1:2) lists certain attributes of Hashem Yisbarach. One of those listed is that Hashem is sameach b’chelko-satisfied with His lot.
The Vilna Gaon explained that this refers to Klal Yisrael. No matter what level we are on, even in generations when we feel spiritually low, He is happy with us. Why? Because we still exist, because we are still observing His Torah, despite all the myriads of challenges and tests with which we are faced. Says the Vilna Gaon, perhaps a particular generation is not as spiritually great as a previous generation if measured by amounts. But we must factor in the level of resistance that a generation needs to traverse.
As we constantly work on ourselves and our ruchniyus, we must gain encouragement by understanding that even if we’re not as great as we may have hoped to be, we’re also not nearly as bad as we think we are and there is much within us to build upon.
We must never fall into the mistake of Shaul, of being “small in our own eyes” which leads to more and more smallness. We have to feel good about who we are in order to achieve anything.
And these are some of the happenings in this week’s haftorah.