What do mankinds greatest and worst generations have to do with one another?
“The Fountain of Youth” … why has mankind been searching for it from time immemorial?
And HaShem said: “My Spirit shall not keep on judging man forever, for he is nothing but flesh. His days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
— Bereshis 6:3
I will be slow to anger for 120 years. If they do not repent I will bring the Flood upon them.
— Rashi ibid
Where is Moshe alluded to in the Torah? — In the verse: “For he is nothing but flesh” [the gimatriya-numerical value; of the Hebrew words משה –“Moshe” and בשגם – “For (he) is nothing but” are equivalent. Moshe lived exactly 120 years]
— Chulin 139BR
Go [My prophet] and call into the ears of Jerusalem, declaring: HaShem says as follows: For you[r sake] I will remember the affection of your youth, the love of your nuptials; how you followed Me into the wilderness, into an uncultivated land.
— Yirmiyahu 2:2
Remember, HaShem, Your compassion and Your loving-kindnesses; for they began before time. Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions …
— Tehillim 25:6,7
Who Satiates your old age with good; so that your youth will be renewed like the eagle.
— Tehillim 103:5
Youth is an uncanny time in our lives. While imprisoned within it we want nothing more than to escape it. Once we have escaped it we spend the balance of our lives yearning wistfully and futilely to return to it. By turns we long for the carefree times, irresponsibility, limitless possibilities, direction-changing impressions, dependence
on-others, physical attractiveness, good health, idealism and the simplicity of time when we were young. From ancient and 16th century legends of Ponce de León searching for the Fountain of Youth to the contemporary multibillion dollar cosmetics and cosmetic surgery industries; vast swaths of mankind have never ceased looking for ways and means of recapturing youth.
Most of all we long for the sheer vitality, power and strength that marks our early lives. When we were young we had the speed, strength, stamina, mental acuity, inquisitiveness, reckless courage and optimism to accomplish great and meaningful things. Many used their youthful, robust powers for good. However, lacking the skill and wisdom of age and experience; youth is also characterized by catastrophic mistakes, crimes and misdemeanors. Accelerating at youthful takeoff velocity, the young often take forks in life’s road that make U-turns impossible. The lion’s share of crimes is committed by the young. Maturity and old-age are marked not only by longing for the restoration of youthful energy, but by remorse and regret over youthful indiscretions and catastrophic misdeeds.
Rav Tzadok, the Kohen of Lublin, teaches that this is not merely true of individuals but for mankind as a whole. In its youth mankind was capable of great virtue and good — chessed neurim-the lovingkindness of youth; and of incredible transgression and evil — chatas neurim-the sins of youth.
Applied to all of humanity on the macro level, these twin aspects of youth were embodied by two generations: the Dor haMabul-the Generation of the Flood; and the Dor haMidbar-the Generation of the Desert Wilderness. On a superficial level it would appear that these two generations were antithetical to one another. One is identified with a world composed entirely of water while the other is linked to a region that is completely dehydrated. Members of the Dor haMabul are archetypes of an evil so absolute, of humanity so debased and corrupted that they forfeited their very right to exist and came within a hairsbreadth of the permanent, entropic destruction of the world and the extinction of mankind. While the people of the Dor haMidbar AKA the Dor Deah-the “knowing” generation; represent virtue worthy of Divine Revelation at Sinai and 40 years of uninterrupted miracles. Receiving the Torah is mankind’s raison d’être and, for one brief shining moment, that eminent generation even regained the ultimate grandeur of mankind; immortality.
Citing the Zohar (Pinchas 216A) the Lubliner Kohen pierces the superficial dissonance to reveal that, in fact, the Dor haMidbar and the Dor haMabul were complementary manifestations of juvenile humankind. The souls of those who perished in the mabul-Great Deluge; while uncontrollably pursue their lusts, transmigrated and lived again to immaturely and recklessly throw their lives away running after G-d into the perilous wilderness. By establishing equivalence between the very name of the Dor haMidbars leader and the Divine death-sentence for the Dor haMabul, our sages revealed that even the soul of Moshe himself was present at the time of the mabul.
Elsewhere the Lubliner Kohen shares a teaching of the mystical tradition that of the Dor haMabul is associated with Torah shebikesav-the written Torah; and that, had they repented properly, they would have been the generation to receive the Torah from Heaven.
In Torah eschatology the collective restoration of youth is neither myth nor impossible dream. These souls will transmigrate once more to form the population of Dor shel Moshiach-the generation of the Messiah. The yeeud-Divine promise; of tischadesh kanesher neuraychee– your youth will be renewed like the eagle; will be the blessing applied to all of humanity on the macro level. Such that after its dotage mankind’s last generation will be the one in which all the G-d-love, power and passion of youth is regained while all the sin and evil of immaturity is repaired and atoned for.