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This article says: “In Hasidic thought, the closeness of later generations to the light of the coming Messiah is emphasised.”

It provides one concrete example (from Midrash Pinchas).

Can anyone provide any other examples of texts which suggest that later generations may be superior in knowledge/ wisdom/ spirituality to earlier ones, by dint of being closer to the coming of the Messiah?

Many thanks.

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  • I mean this ain’t like a concrete example but just think about it- think about how many hundreds, maybe thousands, of commentaries have been written on our holy books, be it tanach or Gemara or midrash. So many chiddushim over the past hundreds of years, and every year more and more comes out. So maybe our individual intellectual capacity (to know lots of stuff) has decreased over the dorot, but I think overall the Torah knowledge and secrets have increased and do increase every year Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 19:41
  • @curiousYid Of course - that’s the ‘dwarves on the shoulders of giants’ argument described in the article. And a good one too. But not the one I’m interested in here.
    – Zarka
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 19:42
  • I basically agree with the dawrves on the shoulders of giants metaphor. But on the other hand the proliferation of books doesn't necessarily make us smarter. It is also harder to distill truth, master everything, draw your own conclusions from sources, etc. I do sometimes wonder if the bar to being a talmid chacham or gadol is higher nowadays than it used to be. Anyway, see Eccl. 12:12.
    – Avraham
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 20:14
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    @RabbiKaii Learn the Ma’amar of the Rebbe that begins with the words: להבין ענין תחיית המתים in volume 3 of Sefer HaMaamarim HaMelukat. Look at the discussion of the 3000 allegories of Shlomo HaMelech chapter and what follows carefully. It’s all there. Remember, according to the Rebbe, we are living in the Days of Moshiach already for 20 years…Keitz HaYamin is near the beginning of that time period. Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:51
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    Increase in acts of kindness…youtu.be/WWs4Ywqeiu8 Commented May 18, 2023 at 11:58

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The midrash in Rosh Hashanah 25b teaches that we need to listen to the authorities of our generation even if authorities of other generations were superior. It gives as examples that Jerubaal (Gideon) is like Moses in his generation and Yiftach is like Samuel in his generation. I always thought it was interesting that it presents Yiftach as an example of an inferior leader even though he was chronologically earlier than Samuel--so that's at least one specific example where we see that the leaders of one era were superior to the leaders of another.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson also writes about this quite a bit. Towards the end of volume 1 of sefer emunat eitekha has a discussion of the calendar as a mashal for Jewish history. He says that as we get farther away from the "source" of torah (both in terms of time, knowledge, and--interestingly--geographical proximity to Israel) we get closer to the redemption. And in discussing the last days of Pesach (beginning of volume 3) he talks about how the later generations are more "ikar" than prior generations because they rely more on emunah.

Finally, you also see this concept among mekubalim that over the course of history things become more and more revealed--thus chasidim teach a distilled form of kabbalah to the masses in a way that would have been unthinkable, say, 600 years ago. The introduction to the main volume of Siftei Chein brings extensive discussion of why it's important for everyone to learn kabbalah nowadays.

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The Lubavitcher Rebbe (לקוטי שיחות יה) explains why pnimiyus haTorah, the mystical dimension of the Torah, was revealed in the last generation in which the "footsteps of Moshiach" can be heard. The Rebbe gives two reasons (cited here):

(a) Since the darkness of exile is thickening, an ever more brilliant light is required to pierce it. For this reason the “soul of the Torah”5 was revealed, for this is what awakens and uncovers the “hidden point of the soul,”. In the Aramaic original, סתים דנשמתא. i.e., those faculties of the soul that are most deeply concealed.

(b) Since we are now at the very end of the exile, we have been given a foretaste of the Torah’s secrets which will be fully revealed only in time to come. This foretaste serves as a preparation for the Days of Mashiach, the main point of which is a knowledge of G‑d. As Rambam writes,6 “The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d..., and the Jews...will attain an under­standing of their Creator....”

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There is knowledge and knowledge. Aliyat hadorot is the mystics' answer to the Talmudic doctrine of Yeridat HaDorot – the decline of the generations. The Ba'al Shem Tov is quoted as saying flatly: Our period enjoys superiority over those that preceded it. [Cited in Marcus’ Ha-Chassidut, pp 14-15] To avoid a contradiction, they say that for Nigleh (Revealed knowledge) the generations are indeed declining, but for Nistar (Concealed knowledge) they are improving.

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The Gemara (Sanhedrin 97a) says that just like a week has six days of work, and there are six years of work in the Shemitah cycle, and we rest on the seventh, so too the world will function for six thousand years - every millennium corresponding to another day of the week - and in the seventh millennium, the world (as it is now) will cease, and be renewed

Based on this, Chassidus explains, that just like by Shabbos (and Shemitah), the closer we get to it, the more we relevant it becomes - beginning from Wednesday, then Thursday, Then Friday, then after Chatzos, then Plag Haminchah, then Twilight etc. (and the same goes for Shemitah), so too when it comes to Moshiach - the Gemara says that the first two Millenniums were that of desolation (without Torah), then came two millenniums of Torah, and the last two millenniums - which already began - belong to the era of Moshiach

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  • What is the source of this Chassidic teaching please?
    – Zarka
    Commented Apr 17, 2023 at 13:03
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Here is my answer, based on many shiurim and ma'amarim from Chabad, who explain it. I've pieced it together over a lot of sources and shiurim, so it might be a slightly flawed or incomplete answer, and I also don't have anything particular to share as a source.

There are two skills we need to develop to fulfil Hashem's plan of Oneness (becoming One with Him and each-other); the ability to fight darkness, and the ability to appreciate and increase light.

The former is simple enough (although certainly not easy). One can achieve this with fasting (King David), or suffering (Mitzraim, galus), or an amazing event of emuna (Har Sinai). All of these things produce in us this uncanny ability to be able to deny the self. This is what it means to fight darkness - I can get myself out of the way and do a mitzva properly...

Our ancestors, the "mighty ones", were at the pinnacle of strength in fighting darkness due to all that they went through, as well as their own internal strengths and efforts. This is something, however, that erodes over time as we get more distant from these events and people (although Hashem's plan must succeed, so we go through a lot of suffering to keep us "topped up" with this strength). This is Yeridat Hadorot.

However, the other ability is much more subtle and can't be "injected" into us or "conquered" through great strength. The ability to appreciate light, life, goodness, value in others and Hashem takes thousands of years of study, sincerity, effort and working on ourselves. I'm a bit unclear on what we can say regarding specific ancestors and tzaddikim of the past, but in general, the human condition started off with very little of this ability. We used to keep slaves and do all sorts of things that people nowadays find highly distasteful and bizarre - we can't relate to it. This is because by following Hashem's Torah and being diligent and hard work over many centuries and millenia, we have brought this Godly ability to appreciate goodness into the world, into the human condition, and we now appreciate the supreme ineffable value and important of the "someone". We abolished slavery recently as a good example of that. We hear of stories of e.g. how the Taj Mahal, once built saw all its builders hands cut off because "no building should ever be built like this again" as not "deep" and "cool" but horrific, disgusting and nonsensical.

This is Aliyat Hadorot.

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  • You realize that human trafficking and concentration/stratification of global wealth are at all time highs? The rich and privileged concentrated in the hands of the very few? That is not in the past. It is now. Commented May 18, 2023 at 10:58
  • @YaacovDeane thanks for your feedback. Given this is not a discussion site, and this is a point that requires much discussion, I will just say I strongly hold that the world is much better than it has ever been in the ways that are relevant to my point, while I do agree it's not perfect and there are other factors. People reading will relate or not and we will leave it at that.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 11:41
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    One of the points in the Ma’amar is that both extremes will be present. The Rebbe said it seems that it will be possible to transition from one state to the other instantaneously or maybe even be in both at the same time. At that point the Rebbe says עדיין צריך עיון. It relates to the physical world in terms of quantum reality and string theory. We are living it… Commented May 18, 2023 at 12:04
  • @YaacovDeane certainly, and thanks for providing us with a source to follow up on: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/134338/aliyat-ha-dorot/…
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 12:39

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