The following is the first part of a translation I am posting. It is a short composition that I found in the complete writings of the Chofetz Chaim. It is entitled צפית לישועה - Longing for Redemption. It is quite an interesting little piece, and he addresses some of the issues we have dealt with here, but of course with the great depth of a Gadol Hador. I hope you enjoy.
In our times, we see that in many places our religion has been greatly weakened, to the point where children, from a young age, are disconnected from the study of Hashem's Torah, an event which did not occur in previous times. When we look into this well, the reasons for this involve a number of different matters. The main reason is a weakening in the fundamental beliefs of Judaism - the belief in an Eternal World to come, ultimate reward and punishment, in the advent of Moshiach, and the ultimate goals and roles of the Jewish people as described in the Torah. These very matters are what has given the Jewish people the fortitude to undergo many difficulties throughout the generations, and to stand up for their faith unstintingly, both for themselves and their children. It would have been greater for a father to watch his son be slaughtered in front of his very eyes for the sake of Hashem, rather than watch his child be raised in a world of affluence that veered away from the true path of Torah and Mitzvos.
In our times, the Satan has succeeded, through the aid of his many minions, in weakening the roots of faith from within the people of Israel, whether it is in regards to the concept of reward and punishment, or the words of the prophets describing our lofty goals. When they see the difficulties they must endure each day, they can not help but think that Hashem has hidden Himself from us completely. This causes them to give up hope of ever seeing the redemption, and they do not wait for the Heavenly Kingdom at all. Each person thus develops rationalizations that he must support his family, whether it will be in a permitted or forbidden manner.
Beyond this, we find that even straight and good people, when they see the spiritual degeneration of others who have thrown off the obligations of the Torah, and who have made light of stringent matters (for example the desecration of Shabbos, about which the Torah says "those who desecrate it will die" and family purity, which the Torah equates with all forbidden relations), the hearts of these faithful people fall within them and they give up hope. They say to themselves, "How can we hold out our hope in such a generation that Hashem will have mercy, despite the way His people desecrate His Torah in such a horrible way?" As a result of this, their hope is completely weakened, and they do not believe they can even try to help anyone else from falling into the deep pit of spiritual destruction.
Therefore, I felt an obligation upon myself to give the proper perspective on this matter, which is truly the opposite of what one might have thought. The truth is that in our times, there is actually more reason to believe that the redemption is close, and therefore more reason to hope for an imminent salvation. This is despite the impression one would get from reading the Torah's description of the state of the Jewish people immediately prior to the redemption. In Parshas Nitzavim, where it describes this condition, the Torah says that the redemption will occur when we will "all return to Hashem to listen to His voice according to all the commandment that He commanded, with all our heart and all of our souls - we and our children." Then Hashem will "return our captivity, etc." The way things look today, our generation would not seem to fulfill this condition at all. This could give one cause to give up hope, as we wrote before, but the resolution to this difficulty will be given shortly.
In truth, this very question can be posed in regards to numerous statements of chazal themselves, that were given over in the Mishna and Gemara in regards to the signs of the times before the redemption. These descriptions do not paint a positive picture at all, as we find at the end of the Mishnayos of Sotah and Sanhedrin (97). There it states that in the steps leading to Moshiach (עקבתא דמשיחא), brazenness will abound, etc., and there will be no room for rebuke. The young will embarrass their elders, elders will stand [in respect] before children, a son will curse his father, a daughter will rise up against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man's enemies will be the members of his own household, etc. The list there continues; The wisdom of the sages will be rejected, those who fear sin will be viewed with disgust, the Truth will be hidden. In Sanhedrin it states that this means that the truth will 'line up and leave,' in other words, the Truth will be emptied from the world to a greater extent with each passing day. It says there further that [Moshiach] Ben Dovid will not come... until there are many who will inform on others; as well as many other similar ideas, some of which are based on verses in the Torah and prophets. We see that all of these have been fulfilled in our generation (and also all the concepts in regards to extreme poverty have also occurred).
All this would seem to be very difficult to understand in light of the fact that the Torah itself seems to say that the Jewish people will look completely different in the age before the advent of Moshiach. At that time, the Torah says we will return to Hashem, as it states explicitly, "And it will be when these things come upon you... the blessing and curse, and you will return to Hashem your God, and you will listen to His voice etc. Then Hashem will return your captives etc." These verses represent the promise of Hashem that it will indeed be so, as the Ramban explains.
There are a number of different approaches that can help us understand this matter (see the gemara there in Sanhedrin 97B and 98), but the simplest understanding, which explains this on the most elemental level, is that really both aspects are true. At the end of time, immediately prior to redemption, there will be two types of people. Both types will help to hasten the redemption, as we will explain.
There will be a portion of the people of Israel who will strengthen themselves to serve Hashem with all of their hearts and all of their souls; both themselves and their children. These are the ones who have perfect faith in the traditions of our people, who serve Hashem in this generation. They do so despite the rampant secularization that has risen to try to stamp out and destroy religious observance through the many books and media that are available, as well as the designs of the Evil Inclination himself which lead one to follow his desires for physical pursuits. All of these forces cause many to disdain their obligations to Heaven and the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvos. At such a time, there are those who remain steadfast to the faith of Israel, who redouble their efforts to keep all the laws of the Torah, without letting themselves become weakened. Likewise, they teach their children to hold onto the Torah of Hashem, not to stray to the right nor to the left from that which it says. Certainly, the level of this group is extremely high, for maintaining this commitment involves tremendous self-sacrifice. Not only must they go against the tide, but they are derided by others, even more than the derision that was experienced by previous generations, for steadfastly clinging to the faith of their forefathers. We can understand their great level in light of the statement that is found in Avos D'rebbe Nosson. There it states that "One [mitzvah performed] with pain is equal to one hundred [mitzvos performed] without pain." Thus, one who serves Hashem in our times is pure and clean, because he receives no honor for his observance. If anything, he is ridiculed by certain types of people.
There are also those that are determined to provide their children with a proper Jewish education. In order to do so, they accept upon themselves to live a life of financial pressure all their lives, eking out a living, much of which is given to pay the tuition of their children. This is all to insure that their children will be given a strong background in the Torah of Hashem. They do not go to far off places where it is easier to make a living, but rather, remain where they are, solely to guarantee that their children will receive a proper education in Torah and fear of Hashem. We can certainly say that this is considered 'returning to Hashem with all one's heart and soul.'
And similarly, there are the young individuals who who hear the call of Hashem, and devote their days and nights to studying the Torah of Hashem. They allow their faces to turn dark from a lack of food, in their quest to be attached to the Torah of Hashem and His mitzvos with all of their efforts and desire. When there are many who would disturb and ridicule them, they strengthen themselves to uphold their covenant of holiness in Torah and service of Hashem, and all their commitment to all that is written in the Torah and prophets. All of this is holy to them, and their exalted level rises up greatly at a time such as this. These young men of Israel withstand the test of difficult times, and despite the difficulty they endure, strengthen themselves to keep the laws of Hashem with all of their ability. They force themselves to live with crusty bread and a bit of water so that nothing improper should enter their mouths. Thus, despite their hunger and thirst, they continue in this way for days and years, without heaven forbid rebelling against Hashem. Rather, they focus on what they lack in Torah and mitzvos, and that which they must strive to improve spiritually. Is this not "returning to Hashem with all of one's heart and all of one's soul?" Their service of Hashem is perfectly complete, and the merit of any one of them alone would bring many others to be judged for good.
Similarly, we see that the holiness of the nation of Israel remains, despite the difficulties that continue to plague us with each passing day. We see this in those who strengthen themselves with all of their souls to keep the laws of the Torah, both they and their children, and they come to pray, weeping and confessing in front of Hashem, all this while declaring Hashem's righteousness. They set times to learn, and despite their poverty and difficult circumstances, continue to have mercy on others and to perform acts of kindness, with all their ingenuity. In regards to all of these people, it is easy to apply the verse, "and it will be when these matters come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I placed before you, and you will return to your heart, etc... and you will hear His voice as all I command you today, you and your children, with all of your heart and with all of your soul." These people who remain steadfast to their faith return to their hearts and know the great gravity of Hashem's service and the Mitzvos that are incumbent upon them, and they sacrifice in order to fulfill the Torah, both they and their children.
To be continued...