The Kotzker Rebbe would talk about two prototypes: a person who loves truth and one who hates falsehood. One might think that these two would always agree, for since falsehood is the opposite of truth, wouldn’t the two scenarios be synonymous? Actually, however, the two always differ. For in every mortal act, no matter how good, there is a grain of falsehood. And in every mortal act, no matter how evil, there is a grain of truth. The hater of falsehood always looks for the grain of falsehood and focuses his attention on it. The lover of truth, by contrast, always seeks the grain of truth and highlights it.

How would those who love truth and those who hate falsehood view our generation? Both would use extreme terms, for we are unique; there is a fundamental difference between the Divine Service of our generation and the generations that preceded it.

Let’s put the issue in personal terms. I remember once attending a farbrengen where one of the elder chassidim was speaking. He was comparing, and not very favorably, the present generation of yeshivah bachurim to those who had studied in his time. “Then,” he explained, “the bachurim lived with the concept of dirah bitachtonim;1 we studied it, we davened with it; it was part of every element of our lives. Now that’s all lacking.”

One of the younger members of the chassidic community differed with him. He didn’t deny the truth of what his elder colleague was saying. “But look at the positive side,” he suggested. “See the extent of commitment and bittul exhibited by today’s generation.”

His elder colleague would have no part of his argument. And the younger man would not allow a wholesale condemnation of his own generation. And so it was a quite a lively get-together.

Six months later, the elder chassid decided to move from one neighborhood to another. He wrote the Rebbe asking for what he thought would be a routine blessing. In his answer, the Rebbe surprisingly raised objections to the move and suggested that the chassid continue in his present setting. For whatever reasons, the elder man didn’t listen and made the move anyway.

Several months afterwards, his younger colleague also sent a question to the Rebbe. He was considering how to chart his future and was debating several commercial opportunities. He outlined the advantages and disadvantages of all the choices available and asked the Rebbe what he should do. The Rebbe advised him to forego all the different opportunities and choose a career in Jewish education instead. Without thinking twice, the younger man followed the Rebbe’s advice.

The message the story underscores is the contrast between intellect and understanding on one side, and kabbalas ol, unquestioning commitment, on the other. To put the subject in a conceptual framework: Our Sages referred to the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard with the name: ikvesa diMeshicha, literally “the heels of Mashiach.”2

Our Sages refer3 to the heel as “the Angel of Death in man,” i.e., it is less sensitive than any other limb in the human body. The organs that are most sensitive are located in the head. Similarly, in the middle portion of our bodies, there are also areas of sensitivity. In the legs, and more particularly, in the heels, sensitivity is lacking.

Nevertheless, there is an advantage to the heel. If you want to go into a tub of very hot or very cold water, it is your heel that you will insert first. On the surface, this is possible because of the heel’s lack of sensitivity — because it is not as sensitive, it can be placed in first; a limb or organ which is more sensitive, by contrast, will protest more. Chassidus looks at the heel’s ability to respond in a positive light, explaining that because of its physical insensitivity, the heel is more responsive to the soul’s desires. The limbs and organs that are more sensitive are less responsive to what the soul wants — to borrow an expression “the head gets in the way of the heart.” A heel has an active bond with the soul that causes it to heed the soul’s will eagerly and without hesitation.

The human body is used as an analogy for the Jewish people,4 the diverse organs and limbs of the body reflecting the distinct qualities possessed by different individuals. There are intellectuals who can be compared to heads and emotional people who can be compared to hearts. And there are hands, feet, and also heels. Within each generation, there are such divisions. Similarly, we can apply the analogy to different phases in our people’s spiritual history. In this context, our generation who live in ikvesa diMeshicha is compared to the heels.

When we speak of the connection between these different types of souls and their G‑dly core, the “actual part of G‑d5 which is present in every one of us, there are also differences. The “head” souls perceive more, the “heart” souls feel more. But the “heel” souls do more.

And what’s more, their doing more reflects a deeper commitment. The “head” souls do because they understand, the “heart” souls do because they feel, and the “heel” souls do because their inner G‑dly core desires, and they respond, without hesitation.

On one hand, the commitment of the “head” and the “heart” souls surpasses that of the “heel” souls, for their conscious connection is greater. On the other hand, the unquestioning commitment displayed by the “heel” souls reveals an essential connection to their G‑dly core that the more refined souls are not sensitive to.

Moreover, the strength of the “heel” souls stems from an infinitely higher source. The strength of the “head” and the “heart” is limited, depending on mortal thoughts and feelings. The strength of the “heel,” by contrast, is the essential G‑dly core of the soul, an unlimited potential that cannot be confined at all.

To return to the participants in the farbrengen mentioned above: the elder chassid may have understood more, but he let his own understanding control his conduct. When it came to following the Rebbe at the expense of his understanding, he came up short. His younger colleague did not profess to as great an inner intellectual and emotional chassidic experience, but he was willing to sacrifice his personal aspirations for the Rebbe’s goals.

On the verse,6 “And the man Moshe was more humble than all men on the face of the earth,” Chassidus explains7 that Moshe’s humility resulted from his contemplation of the Divine Service of “earthy men.” This refers to the generation that will precede Mashiach’s coming. They will be more involved with material things than the generations who preceded them, and when compared to the “generation of knowledge” that Moshe led, they could surely be considered as “heels.”

Why then did they inspire Moshe to humility? Because he saw their mesirus nefesh, their unquestioning commitment to Yiddishkeit despite the challenges they face. He understood that this commitment was unsurpassed in the annals of Jewish history; indeed, when focusing on this point of commitment, Moshe himself felt inferior.

In the Rebbe’s first maamar — together with the mission statement to bring Mashiach — he also focuses on these two paradoxical dimensions of our generation. On one hand, he emphasizes that we are the seventh generation and “all sevenths are cherished.” Nevertheless, he stresses that the cherished nature of the seventh generation is “not on account of [its] choice, desire, or spiritual service, but because [it] is the seventh. This is something that [it] is born into.” Indeed, when comparing Moshe, the leader of the seventh generation, to the spiritual greats who preceded him, he is warned:8 “Do not stand in the place of the great.”

What is the crux of the paradox? When one looks at Jewish history as proceeding from Mount Sinai, the pattern reflects progressive descent. As our Sages said,9 “If we compare the former generations to angels, then we are like men. If we compare them to men, then we are like donkeys.” From the perspective of revealed G‑dly light, every successive generation is lower. And it is with well-deserved humility that we look back to our predecessors.

But that’s only part of the story. Why look backward when we can look forward? Mashiach’s coming is imminent. And every generation that is closer to Mashiach comes closer to the unbounded commitment that will precipitate his coming.

To explain by analogy: What do you see when you look at this page? Words, letters, and paragraphs. No one will answer: “I see ink on paper.” Why? Because the ink has been given shape and form, we focus on that shape and form — and the meaning it conveys — rather than the fundamental fact that ink has been printed on a page.

Similarly, in the analogue, when people’s focus is directed more towards intellect and emotion, the essence is further from them. Not that it is not there. Since it is essence, it is present everywhere, but they don’t perceive it. It’s like a person standing with his back to a friend. He can’t see him because he’s not facing him.

Previous generations were more knowledgeable in Torah and had a more developed emotional bond with G‑d. Our generation, by contrast, lacks such sensitivity to intellect and emotion. And yet this lack allows for a consciousness of the essential light that will characterize the Era of the Redemption.

It is a hollow person who celebrates his inadequacy. A serious individual does his best to correct it. On the other hand, as the Rebbe Rashab once said, just as we should know our weaknesses, we must also know our strengths. And our strength will not be expressed by trying to recreate the past, but by focusing on the future and summoning up the inner spiritual energies we possess which will catapult us into that Era of the Redemption.

Putting the focus beyond intellectual or emotional development does not preclude the need for laborious effort; preparing for the Redemption also requires work. Once Reb Peretz Chein was leading a farbrengen. One of the participants uttered a fervent wish that Mashiach would come at once. Reb Peretz reacted: “And what would you do then? Just imagine what would happen if Mashiach would come now! Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to stand before him? Together with your wish for Mashiach’s coming, shouldn’t you add a wish that you succeed in preparing yourself?”

This is not a popular message. The Alter Rebbe concluded one of his pastoral letters10 with a wish that his followers hold fast to the qualities of humility and selflessness “with the attribute of truth.” The Rebbe Maharash commented that if he had not added the words “with truth,” he would have had another fifty thousand chassidim. But the Alter Rebbe did add that phrase, and the direction to seek truth and face matters with truth has become part of the legacy of Lubavitch.

The emphasis on truth and the need to prepare for Mashiach provoke a question: How does a person who has limited intellectual and emotional resources summon up the inner commitment to desire Mashiach and devote himself to that goal? The inner strength and commitment of kabbalas ol is an essential quality, present within every individual. But how do we bring it to the surface? Particularly, when our ordinary thinking processes are directed to day-to-day practicalities, who or what will rouse us to manifest these inner potentials?

* * *

Once a chassid from Eretz Yisrael asked the Rebbe for a blessing for a relative whose Jewish observance was beginning to wane. The Rebbe asked the chassid his relative’s age. Now that was not an ordinary question. Noting the look of surprise on the chassid’s face, the Rebbe explained: “I wanted to see if he was old enough to have seen the Previous Rebbe during his visit to Eretz Yisrael.”

The chassid replied that he was certain that his relative had seen the Previous Rebbe at that time. “If so,” the Rebbe told him, “you have nothing to worry about. Your relative may have several periods of indecision and perhaps a lapse or two during his life, but if the Rebbe looked at him, the Rebbe’s look will have an effect.”

On another occasion, a shliach told the Rebbe that he felt overcome by his many responsibilities; that he had too much to do and not enough soul to do it with.

The Rebbe told him: “At the beginning of the day, before davening, in the middle of davening, or afterwards, picture the [Previous] Rebbe. Make a mental image of his face and gaze at it. This way, things will go easier.”

* * *

What is the inner dynamic that lies at the heart of both stories? The potential of a Rebbe — and the actual result of the Rebbe’sefforts — is to bring the inner core of a person to the surface.

Similar concepts apply with regard to Mashiach. For more than fifty years, the Rebbe has been working to make the desire for Mashiach a conscious factor in the lives of people throughout the world. He has endeavored to make Mashiach’s coming the driving force in our lives, inspiring us to grow as individuals and relate to others with this goal in mind. And to go back to the above analogy of feet and heels, this enables us to place our feet firmly on the ground and proceed forward.

The Rebbe has sparked — and continues to spark — us with vitality, communicating the energy and vigor to regard the Redemption not as an abstract goal, but as a practical and imminent reality. Strengthening our commitment to that goal makes that reality ever more imminent.