Perhaps the source for what we say in the Yigdal poem after Tefillah that “Lo Kam BeYisrael KeMoshe Od” “There will never be a Jewish prophet as a great as Moshe ever again” originated in Parashat BeHaalotecha. In a demonstration of immense love for Mitzvot, a few men who missed their initial opportunity to bring the Korban Pesach came to Moshe and beg him not to exclude them from participating in this precious Mitzvah. Upon hearing their complaint, Moshe simply states that he will ask Hashem the Halachah and return to them. Chazal are prompted to exclaim, “How great is this human being, who came to such a high level that he can speak to Hashem at will.” In fact, Rambam (Yesodai HaTorah 7:7) comments that only Moshe Rabbeinu, and no other Navi, had the merit of Aspaklariah HaMeirah, an extremely lucid prophecy. Chazal relate to us (Terumah 16a), that when Moshe Rabbeinu’s death was imminent, he asked Yehoshua if he had questions regarding any Halachot. Yehoshua was taken aback, and said,
“Would I, Yehoshua, who is described as ‘Lo Yamish MiToch HaOhel,’ ‘He never left the learning of Moshe’s tent’ have any doubts? Of course not. You [Moshe] taught me everything!” Upon Moshe’s passing, the Gemera relates that Yehoshua forgot 300 Halachot, and 700 Sefeikot, cases of doubt, were created. Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, in his Emet LeYaakov, wonders what was so bad about Yehoshua’s actions, as, after all, did he not know everything.
Rav Yaakov develops that although Moshe may have taught Yehoshua much, a principle was left out. The first Mishnah in Pirkei Avot traces the Shalshelet HaMesorah, the genealogy of the Torah tradition, and states that “Moshe Kibeil Torah MeiHar Sinai UeMesarah LeYehoshua,” “Moshe received the Torah at Har Sinai and subsequently endowed it to Yehoshua.” The Mishnah teaches that during every step of the process of handing down the Torah, Torah knowledge diminishes. The Gemara echoes this statement in Mesechet Shabbat (112b) by stating, “If the earlier generations were like angels, the next is like normal humans, and if they were like normal humans, then we are like donkeys.” Yehoshua failed to grasp that the Torah in his generation would be different than that of Moshe, his predecessor and teacher, and that the Torah wouldn’t come from Har Sinai in a state of lucidity, but rather will be laden with Sefeikot and missing Halachot.
This concept is apparent throughout Talmud Torah, Torah study. For instance, upon first learning Gemara, the student is told that an Amora, a sage of the post-Mishnaic era, cannot disagree with a Mishnah or Beraita, Tannaitic teachings, because a Mishanh or Beraita are one step above an Amorah.
There is a famous story about Rav Yaakov. He was once on a plane, and his grandchildren were showering him with respect and heeding his every need. A non-Jewish onlooker, puzzled by this show of such respect, asked what was going on Reb Yaakov sagely answered that while he believed in Darwin and the progressive evolution of man, we believe in Har Sinai, and that every previous generation is one step closer to Har Sinai than the following one, and therefore, the later generations must revere the earlier ones.
There is something to be said about the principle of respecting our elders as a hallmark of Judaism. For instance, in Eretz Yisrael, there is a sign on public busses that reads “MiPenei Seivah Takum,” “Stand up for an elder,” (VaYikra 19:32) with obvious implications. While this may seem somewhat strange for the gentile, as Jews it is a part of our lives. Let us take pride in that and fulfill it to best of our abilities.