After their long and bitter exile in Egypt, the people of Israel were faced with yet another challenge before they could enter and settle the Land of Canaan: for forty years they traversed the Sinai Desert, overcoming the last hurdles in their path to the realization of their role of a holy people in a holy land.
More than four hundred years ago, master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (the “Holy Ari”) told his disciples that the last generation of our current galut (exile)—the generation which will merit to welcome the final and ultimate Redeemer—will be the reincarnation of that very same generation who journeyed through the desert. Moses described that generation’s ordeal as a trek “through the huge and awesome desert… [a place of] thirst without water.” 1 Examining our own spiritually arid environment, we find that description evocative of the very challenges which face us today as we stand on the threshold of Redemption.
A Quantum World
The first problem with our “desert” of today is that it is “great and awesome.” Like all adjectives, the words “great” and “awesome” describe a state of mind rather than an objective reality. It is true that the earth’s untamed wilderness covers more of its surface than do its cultivated areas, but square mileage need not be the ultimate measure of greatness. He who places quality above quantity and views function as more significant than form is not intimidated by the extent of a thing’s physical proportions. From such a person’s perspective, those areas of the earth where man has succeeded in harnessing the resources of his environment and directing them to serve a higher end are the truly “great and awesome” parts of our world. These pockets of refined and realized potential, though but a small fraction of the overall land mass, are far more “substantial” than the undeveloped wilderness.
In contemplating the spiritual terrain of our world, one can also make the mistake of being daunted by quantitative superiority. “If our mission in life is to bring goodness and harmony to our world,” argues the galut-minded individual, “it appears that hardly anything at all has been achieved in our 3000-year effort. For each individual who lives righteously, there exist many who don’t; for every good deed that is done, many selfish and destructive acts are committed. In our world, the negative far outweighs the positive.”
It is not the desert itself which we must overcome as much as our own sense of its “greatness” and “awesomeness.” We must learn to look at content rather than numbers, to recognize that a thimbleful of light will banish a roomful of darkness. We must learn to see the desert for what it truly is: large, but not at all great; a challenge, but certainly no cause for awe.
A Questing Age
A second characteristic of the closing years of galut is that it is a time of “thirst without water.” Ours is a generation which thirsts for the truth, thirsts for meaning and purpose in life. But the water to quench this thirst, the knowledge to sate these questing souls, is elusive to them, sealed behind barriers of ignorance and alienation.
But the thirst is there, awaiting satisfaction. A generation is prepared to drink, if only they would be provided with the water they know not where to seek.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Shabbat Eikev 5717 (1957) 2
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber