After their many years of enslavement in Egypt, our ancestors had difficulty conceiving of any other possible framework of existence. After Moses's promise of Redemption did not immediately materialize, the Jewish people "did not heed Moses because of broken spirits and hard labor." A parallel exists in the present age. Today, after thousands of years in exile, many find the concepts of Mashiach and Redemption foreign.

A deeper look at the concepts of exile and redemption, however, reverses the quandary and raises a question about the very possibility of exile. The soul of each Jew is a spark of G‑d, a limitless potential that reflects G‑d's infinity. Therefore, wherever the Jews are in exile they are accompanied by the Shechinah, G‑d's presence. If this is so, how can G‑d's infinity be enclosed within the restrictions of exile?

We are forced to say that this paradox can exist only because G‑d wills and desires it. Only G‑d has the power to limit the extent of His revelation, and confine Himself and the Jewish people within exile.

Surely, He would not choose this course unless there was a definite purpose and, furthermore, no other way to accomplish this purpose without sending His people into exile.

The nature of this purpose can be understood by analyzing the first exile, the exile in Egypt. In the covenant with Abraham, G‑d told Abraham that his descendants would suffer exile, declaring, "Your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs. They shall serve them (the Egyptians) and they shall be afflicted by them for four hundred years... I will judge the nation that they serve and afterwards, they (the Jews) will come out with great wealth." This decree was fulfilled through the descent of the Jewish people into Egypt.

The decree's concluding phrase, "afterwards they will come out with great wealth," is the key to understanding the purpose of exile. Before the redemption, G‑d commanded Moses, "Speak, please, in the ears of the people, and let them ask (every) man of his fellow, and (every) woman of her fellow, vessels of silver and vessels of gold."

The word "please" implies a request. The Talmud explains that G‑d asked, "Let not that Tzaddik (Abraham) say, ‘the prophecy 'they shall serve them and afflict them' was fulfilled, but the promise 'afterwards they will leave with great wealth' was not kept.’" We see that the acquisition of the wealth of Egypt was an objective desired, not only for the Jews, but also for G‑d.

The purpose accomplished through the acquisition of Egypt's wealth relates to the general mission of the Jewish people in the world and, in particular, the purpose for exile. The G‑dly life-force which sustains the world's existence is concealed within its material substance.

The Jewish people have been assigned the task of revealing that inner G‑dliness by utilizing material objects for a G‑dly purpose. A Chassidic adage explains "G‑d gives the Jewish people material so that they can turn the material into the spiritual." We are blessed with prosperity in order to use our wealth to serve G‑d and thus, make the entire world, a "dwelling" for Him.

At every phase in their history, the Jewish people were given a specific dimension of the world to elevate. Through their service in Egypt, they were able to reveal the G‑dly life-force latent within the land of Egypt. When, after hundreds of years of servitude, this task was completed, they acquired the entire wealth of Egypt.

A similar mission has been given to the Jews in subsequent exiles. The Talmud states that G‑d exiled the Jewish people in order that converts should join them.

Chassidic philosophy explains the word "convert" in an extended context, applying it not only to individuals who accept Judaism, but also to the G‑dly life-force which is hidden within the world's material substance and is revealed through the service of our people. Thus, the Jews have wandered from country to country fulfilling a unique G‑dly mission, revealing the G‑dliness in those lands by utilizing their physical substance in the fulfillment of mitzvot.

In particular, each Jew has been charged with his/her own personal mission, to reveal G‑dliness in his/her own portion of the world. Since this mission is associated with the ultimate purpose of the refinement of the world, our souls cannot be fulfilled until we have completed this task. When a person isolates himself from involvement within the world, even if he devotes himself to a life of study and prayer, he ignores this fundamental G‑dly intent.

What good are the spiritual heights he will attain, if G‑d's will has not been fulfilled? The goal for which a person should strive is not his individual refinement alone, but rather, the refinement of the entire world.

Surely, involvement with worldly matters presents a challenge, creating the possibility for self-indulgence and spiritual decline. Nevertheless, by remaining conscious of the purpose for which G‑d sent us to exile, we can overcome that challenge and achieve both spiritual and material success.

Just as the many years of servitude in Egypt were necessary stages in the process that led to the exodus, similarly the present exile has as its purpose the ultimate Redemption. Since, in the Era of the Redemption, G‑dliness will be revealed in all places and in all things, the service that prepares for that revelation must likewise be all-inclusive. Hence, our people have been spread throughout the world and have become involved in every aspect of existence.

Ultimately, each individual's efforts in making his/her environment a dwelling place for G‑d, will prepare the entire world for the era when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d, as the waters cover the ocean bed."