Rabbi Avigdor Miller ZT”L,
Q: Why is it necessary that we deteriorate from generation to generation and Hashem goes further and further away from us?
A: There are two general tendencies, two currents in Jewish history and the world’s history. One is, in general, there is a deterioration, in general, because the further we go away from Har Sinai (the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai), the weaker the impression becomes.
A hundred years ago they were closer to Har Sinai, so the impression was stronger. A hundred years ago they were closer to Rabbi Akiva, a hundred years ago they were closer to the Vilna Goan. Chassidic Jews of a hundred years ago still remembered the talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov, and therefore the further we go away from our ancient models, certain it weakens.
That’s a general trend, but an individual trend is different. An individual can work himself to extreme greatness if he wants to; the world is still open for a man to become great. Men and women can become great today like they became great in the days of old. Even in Duluth, even in San Francisco, if a Jewish boy is living there and he decides to choose the ways of Hashem, he can become great. How great? There’s no limit to his greatness! That’s one of the ikrei emunah (fundamentals of our faith): he can become a tzaddik (righteous person) like Moshe Rabbeinu, (Moses). That’s stated in the Rambam; everybody can do it.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy; by no means it’s easy. If you’re next to Moshe Rabbeinu, it’s easier to be a big tzaddik; if you’re far away from him, it’s not easy. But today the opportunity is still open for anybody who wishes to choose the derech of virtue. He can become very great.