We’ve Made Progress

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Today, how can it be that we are on a higher level than the Desert Generation, which merited numerous miracles and was led by Moshe? It’s true that now, as well, in our Land, we are facing crises regarding the Torah and Eretz Yisrael, but they are nothing compared to the sins of the Golden Calf, the spies and other severe sins.
Answer: Indeed, our sages said that our own redemption will be greater, so much so that Ben Zoma declared that in the Messianic era, the Exodus will no longer be mentioned (Berachot 12b). As it says: “Behold, the days will come – says Hashem – when they shall no more say, ‘As Hashem lives, that brought up the Nation of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As Hashem lives, that brought up and that led the seed of the House of Israel out of the north country and all the countries where I had driven them.’ They shall dwell in their own land” (Yirmiyahu 23:7-8). In fact, the present ingathering of the exiles is more remarkable than the Egyptian Exodus. Then, the entire Nation left Egypt together for Jerusalem. Now, the entire Jewish People have left all the countries of the world and returned to Eretz Yisrael, as though acting in synch. Moreover, in Egypt we had Moshe. Now, there is no Moshe. Now we are sheep without a shepherd. This has a disadvantage, but also an advantage. The advantage is that we are sheep who have done amazing things without a shepherd. The entire rebuilding of the Land, the entire return to Zion, the entire establishment of the Jewish State, all of Israel’s wars, the entire return to the Torah to Israel, we accomplished as sheep without a shepherd.
The shepherd will certainly come along, but not to solve problems that the sheep can solve alone. See Rashi at the beginning of Tehillim, Chapter 70, which employs the parable of a king who gets angry, destroys his sheep-pen, exiles the shepherd and banishes the flocks. Afterwards the king calms down, rebuilds the sheep-pen and brings back the flocks. The shepherd asks, “And what about me?” The king answers that he remembers him. Thus, the shepherd is brought back last.
When we left Egypt, we were like sheep entirely dependent on a shepherd. Hence, when the shepherd was absent, we committed the sin of the Golden Calf. On many other occasions, we were entirely dependent on the shepherd, like a boy who is dependent on his father and mother. Therefore, we sinned many times.
Now we know how to function without a shepherd, and we accomplish much. Even when we sin, it’s far from the level of sin that there was then.
All the same, our Sages say, “It is not that the Egyptian Exodus will be uprooted [from our awareness], but that our ultimate removal from the exile will be central and the Exodus from Egypt will be secondary” (Berachot ibid.). Here, however, Maharal carried out a Copernican revolution or paradigm shift in the introduction to his book “Netzach Yisrael”. There he explained that the relationship between the Egyptian Exodus and our ultimate liberation from the nations’ yoke is like the relationship between cause and effect. The cause is minor compared to the effect, and yet at the same time, the kernel of the effect is hidden within the cause. It’s like an apple seed buried in the earth. It’s insignificant compared to a large apple tree, but the potential of a tree is hidden within. Everything we are doing now with such great talent was hidden within us when we left Egypt, just as all of the adult’s talents are stored away in him when he is a child.
Similarly, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook asked his father, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, what stage we are at in the Redemption – the start, the middle or the end? His father responded that it depends on whether he was talking about the practical reality or the spiritual potential. In terms of the practical reality, the situation was very weak still. It was only the start of Redemption. Yet the spiritual awakening that was occurring possessed the power to usher the supreme Redemption to completion.
We should not boast about all the wonderful things we are doing now in our country, and look at eye level, or down our noses, at the Desert Generation. The Desert Generation was us, and everything we are doing now was already stored away in them. It just needed thousands of years of processing.
How fortunate we are to have been so privileged!