The fact that Jewish mysticism came into the open in ever-increasing stages only over the past 500 years, and especially in the last two centuries which followed the advent of the Baal Shem Tov and Chassidism, would seem to raise a problem.

The Talmud has an expression in the form of a rhetorical question: ``Achshur darei - Is the present generation more fit?" After all, the course of time is subject to a continuous deterioration in spiritual status: ``If the earlier generations were like angels, we are but like plain humans; if they were like humans, we are like donkeys...." How, then, is it possible that our later generations should merit a manifestation of Pnimiyut haTorah that was precluded from our much greater predecessors? How is it possible that in our lowly times we are told to study subjects that were kept from our ancestors who exceeded us in both their piety and their scholarship? What should make us more meritorious?

There are, however, two basic answers.

The permission and obligation to study and promulgate Pnimiyut haTorah is an integral part of the evolutionary development of eras that culminates in the Messianic era, independent of the people and their status. Time does not stand still. Thus we are closer to the predetermined time of the Messianic redemption than our predecessors. (Isaiah 60:22 states that the Messianic redemption will be ``in its time," i.e., a prefixed time. That same verse, however, also states ``I shall hasten it," which implies before the appointed time! The Talmud resolves the seeming contradiction: ``If they are worthy, `I shall hasten it;' if they are not worthy, it will be `in its time.' See Sanhedrin 98a. Zohar I:116b.)

We live in the period called ikvot Meshicha, `on the heels of Mashiach,' the period of his imminent coming. (For this term, and its significance, see Talmud Sotah 49b; Or Hachayim on Genesis 49:9, and on Deuteronomy 7:12.) The study of, and involvement with, Pnimiyut haTorah, is related to this, as already stated above, as follows:

As we move ever closer to the light of Mashiach, we already perceive a glimmer of that light. Ever more is revealed and manifested in anticipation of the final goal. The open manifestation of Pnimiyut haTorah, therefore, is an effect of the era itself.

Pnimiyut haTorah is not only an effect of ikvot Meshicha, but also a preparation, a cleansing and elevating process, to ready ourselves, to make us fit and receptive to the Messianic redemption with all the new revelations and manifestations that come with it.

We are indeed not greater or better than our predecessors. They superseded us in every respect. Nonetheless, they did not merit the Messianic redemption. We shall merit it, though not by virtue of being superior. We shall experience it either because the predetermined time of itself coincides with our own, or by virtue of the accumulative merit of all the generations up to our time. In the words of an ancient proverb, we are ``like a little person standing on the shoulders of a giant": though the little person is much smaller than the giant, by virtue of standing on his shoulders he can see much further.