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The Footsteps Of Moshiach Chapter 8
By Rabbi Zushe Kohn

There are those who ask, “How can it be that our generation — the lowest of all in terms of spiritual caliber — will be the one to experience the Messianic Redemption?

This can be understood by first clarifying an excerpt from a Mishna (also mentioned in the Passover Hagada): “Rebbi Elazar ben Azarya said, ‘I am k’ven shivim shana, yet still I did not merit that [the law should follow my ruling] that the Exodus of Egypt be recited at night...’”

At first glance the words k’ven shivim shana seem to mean “approximately seventy years old.” Accordingly, Rebbi Elazar ben Azarya is saying that although he has spent much time pondering this law (in addition to the fact he has the wisdom of an elderly man), he nevertheless has not merited to have his ruling accepted by the Sages.

The Talmud, however, tells us that actually Rebbi Elazar was not even close to the age of seventy when he made the above statement; he was, rather, a mere eighteen years old. What Rebbi Elazar really meant when he said that he is “k’ven shivim shana” was in reference to his appearance, which was then — at the young age of eighteen — like that of a seventy-year-old man’s.

To explain: After Rabban Gamliel stepped down from the position of Nasi, the Sages requested of Rebbi Elazar that he should assume the role. The eighteen-year-old sage responded that he would consult with his family. Upon discussing the matter with his wife, the latter pointed out that a Nasi ought to have an elderly appearance. That very day, a miracle occurred and eighteen strands in Rebbi Elazar’s beard turned white.

It was to his new appearance that Rebbi Elazar was referring when he said “I am k’ven shivim shana.” These words are thus to be translated as “I am as a seventy year old man [in appearance].”

In light of our Sages’ explanation — that Rebbi Elazar himself was only eighteen years, yet his appearance was like that of a seventy year old — the question arises: Why was Rebbi Elazar surprised by the fact that his ruling had not been accepted by the Sages? — after all, he was only eighteen years old! The fact that he had an elderly appearance is hardly a good enough reason to have had his rulings accepted by the Sages!?

The answer is that just as all physical entities are in actuality expressions of spiritual truths, so too Rebbi Elazar’s seventy-year-old appearance was an expression of his “spiritual age.” For Rebbi Elazar was more than just an eighteen-year-old sage. He was in fact a reincarnation of the prophet Shmuel, who had lived for fifty-two years. In Rabbi Elazar, the spiritual accomplishments of his previous fifty-two years (as Shmuel HaNavi) were fully operative, making him the equivalent of a seventy-year-old sage.

Now we can understand Rebbi Elazar’s statement, “I am k’ven shivim shana yet still I did not merit [that the law should follow my ruling].” Rebbi Elazar was expressing his surprise at the fact that although his spiritual greatness was the likes of a seventy-year-old sage, his ruling had nevertheless not been accepted by the Sages.

* * *

Just as Rebbi Elazar was successful in manifesting within himself the spiritual qualities of his previous lifetime, so can we. For most people alive today — and the same is true of those who lived in the past few generations — have already lived in this world previously; most of us are reincarnations of people who lived in the past. We must, therefore, know that through sufficient effort we can make the positive accomplishments of our previous incarnations surface in our present life. 

Based on this we can explain how it is possible that our spiritually low generation should be the one to experience the very lofty Messianic Redemption. For although in and of themselves our souls are very small, nevertheless they contain within them the accumulated good of all our previous incarnations. And, as we said, this good can be brought to the surface in our times. For this reason, spiritual aspirations are more easily accomplished by us than by those of any previous generation.

To illustrate the latter point: While people of past generations sweated to achieve the status of beinoni (one whose conduct is in line with the Torah, but whose essential nature remains imperfect), we of the present generation can achieve the status of tzaddik (one whose very core is pure and righteous). While tzaddikim of the past worked tirelessly to make a handful of baalei teshuva (those who are inspired to return to the way of Torah and mitzvos), we of the present generation can make scores of them with just a little effort. And while our predecessors would have been dazzled to death by the G-dly revelations of the Messianic Era, we of the present era can absorb them with ease.

We are midgets but we stand on the shoulders of giants; from a practical viewpoint then, we are even higher than the giants. 

(See Likkutei Sichos, Volume 1, pg. 246-247)



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