In this week’s Parshah we read how, shortly after Abraham and Sarah arrived in the land of Canaan, a famine forced them to go down to Egypt. As they approach that decadent land, Abraham says to Sarah,

“Behold, I now know that you are a woman of beautiful appearance. When the Egyptians will see you, and they will say, ‘this is his wife,’ they will kill me and you they will make live . . . Please say that you are my sister, so that good will be done me for your sake, and my soul will live because of you.”

Abraham’s fears are borne out. Sarah is carried off to Pharaoh’s palace. Abraham receives many gifts as the beautiful woman’s perceived “brother.” Miraculously, G‑d prevents Pharaoh from touching her. Sarah is freed and restored to her husband, and the two of them return to the Holy Land laden with riches gained from their (mis)adventure.

The Midrash sees this episode as a precedent for Abraham and Sarah’s children’s future sojourn in Egypt. Then, too, our captivity in Egypt ended in our liberation and exodus from that land with “great wealth.” This great wealth, the chassidic masters explain, refers not just to the gold and silver that the Israelites carried out of Egypt, but also to the “sparks of holiness” which the Children of Israel redeemed and elevated in the course of their 210 years of servitude there.

This saga is also replayed in every individual’s life.

According to the Zohar, “Abraham” represents the soul, and “Sarah” the body. In the biblical narrative, Abraham and Sarah both go down to Egypt, yet it is Sarah who undergoes the greater “descent” when she is imprisoned in Pharaoh’s palace and threatened by his advances. In the end, however, Sarah’s ordeal becomes a source of wealth for her, and in her merit, her husband is also enriched.

So, too, in the life of every individual. Both soul and body descend into the material world, but it is the body that is most exposed to and compromised by the world’s decadence, while the soul remains largely aloof from it. Ultimately, however, it is the body which, through its physical actions, redeems and elevates the “wealth of Egypt.” For only the body can perform a mitzvah, the ultimately G‑dly deed. Only a physical being can access the sparks of holiness strewn throughout the physical world, elevating and enriching its soul in the process.