Chazal provided us with numerous signs of the imminent coming of Moshiach. Many of them are open to interpretation, of course, but as we draw ever closer and things start coming together, we can better understand some of these signs.
One of the more commonly referenced signs comes from the last Mishna in Sotah, which states: “Right before Moshiach comes there will be an increase in chutzpah."
I imagine that in every generation for thousands of years, the old-timers and schoolteachers looked at the younger generation and said, “There you go. Moshiach is definitely right around the corner.”
The Mishna is not referring to typical disrespect, but an extraordinary increase. Later in the Mishna we are told that young fools will shame the elders, elders will stand out of respect for small people, sons will disgrace their fathers, daughters will rise up against their mothers, and brides against their mothers-in-law. In general there will be a breakdown in traditional norms of propriety.
While there have certainly been outbreaks of chutzpah throughout the generations – and surely there were other opportune times for Moshiach to come – I don't believe we have ever seen these words fulfilled as they are today. The Mishna is not referring to the chutzpah of a misbehaving child or student; that is entirely ordinary, and is part of the disciplinary process through which most people mature and learn to function in society.
What we have witnessed in our generation is a widespread societal contempt for the wisdom of the elderly and previous generations. All around the world we see college students, teenagers, and even young children preaching to the world about morals, enlightened thought, and proper behavior. Such people, who lack real knowledge and life experience, used to be referred to as pishers, nobodies. Now they are world leaders and social justice warriors. They make a name for themselves denigrating their seniors, and revile the moral boundaries of those who came before them as “primitive”.
Social media has created an entire culture – even an industry – of snarkiness, where seniority and experience are shown no favor. On the contrary, brazen young people relish the opportunity to tear down one of the “old guard” who dares stand up for wisdom and values of an earlier time. It is like an initiation rite into a sorority or gang, to trample on those who came before them.
This is not something we have seen before, certainly not on such a level.
Even in the Jewish community we find that many shuls search specifically for a young rabbi. They want someone “charismatic” who can “connect” to young couples and children. I am all in favor of charisma and being able to relate to all kinds of people. In our generation, however, we often find that youth is not only a search criteria, but even a deal-breaker. I would hire a physically feeble Chafetz Chaim over a vibrant neophyte for any shul, large or small, regardless of the demographic.
The purpose of a Rav is to guide his flock and raise them higher, to connect them to previous generations, not to be their buddy or camp counselor. For that, wisdom and experience are indispensable, even at the expense of being able to join them on the basketball court. Nowadays many congregations prefer a rabbi who will lower himself to their level rather than raising them up to his.
In many secular, self-proclaimed enlightened parts of the world, there is a total loss of respect for seniors. They are viewed as a burden on society, a drain on the economy, worthless relics who should not receive life-saving medical care in the event that they need it. I am not a historian, but this is a relatively new phenomenon, and it has really taken root in much of Europe and North America.
It is one of the many signs that Moshiach is on the way, who, among other things, will redeem us from this abysmal darkness. May it be speedily and may God watch over us during these turbulent times.