Daf Yomi Kiddushin 72
The students of the holy Baal Shem Tov had just sat down for dinner when he let out a deep sigh.
“What’s the matter, Rebbe?” they asked him.
“The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Rabbi Haim Ibn Attar just passed away,” replied the Besht.
“Rebbe, are you a prophet? He lived in Jerusalem! How could you possibly know that here in Russia?”
Explained the Baal Shem Tov, “In every generation there is a special individual who is spiritually imbued with the esoteric kavanos (meanings) of the ritual handwashing before the meal. Up until now, the Ohr HaChaim was that individual. Just now, when I washed my hands, I was suddenly Divinely inspired. At that moment, I realized that Rabbi Haim must have passed on to the World of Truth.
When Rabbi Akiva died, Rebbe was born. When Rebbe died, Rav Yehuda was born. When Rav Yehuda died, Rava was born. When Rava died, Rav Ashi was born, which teaches you that a righteous person does not leave this world until another righteous person is created like him.
As the verse in Koheles states, “The sun rises and the sun sets.” Before Eli’s sun set, Shmuel the Ramathite’s sun rose.
How often do we hear the refrain, ‘We don’t have leaders anymore’? People always look back nostalgically at yesteryear and long for a bygone era when everything was so perfect and rosy. But of course that’s not true. Things were never perfect. It’s just easier to look backwards than forwards. Our Gemara demonstrates that, in his abundant mercy, the Almighty has provided us with never-ending leadership. Even before the sun has set, another has already risen!
Our Sages teach that there’s a Moshiach in every generation. If the generation is worthy, Moshiach will reveal himself to that generation. If not, a new Moshiach is born to the next generation. Does that mean that when the first Moshiach dies, another then comes into the world? But how could Moshiach be a baby?
If you look closely at the words of the Gemara, it doesn’t state that ‘a righteous person does not leave this world until another righteous person is born.’ No, it says, ‘until another righteous person is created.’ Just like in the story of the Ohr HaChaim and the Besht, when the former passed on, the latter then became the holiest man of the generation. At that moment, he wasn’t born; he was created.
Rabbi Motty Berger offers an analogy concerning the world’s number one cardiologist who dies. The next day, a reporter asks his editor: Who is the world’s foremost cardiologist? The editor responds that he just died. But that wasn’t the question. Now that he died, whoever was previously the number two in the world, has automatically become the number one. In other words, when one generation’s Moshiach passes, another immediately takes his place.
Why do people lament the dearth of leadership in ‘our’ generation? Because it is much easier to pretend that all the leaders are gone. With no leadership, you can do whatever you want to do. When the cat’s away, the mice play. A true individual recognizes that leadership never dies; the baton is simply passed to the next leader. Sometimes that baton-passing is clear; other times, we must make the effort to seek out the new leaders of the next generation. Either way, the Gemara assures us that the sun never sets before it rises again.