Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXI, p. 48-49; Vol. XXXI, p. 32-33;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Bo, 5733, 5751

A Twofold Challenge

“[G‑d] placed the world within [man’s] heart.”1 The mission of mankind to transform the world into a dwelling for G‑d mirrors the challenges confronted by every individual in cultivating the G‑dly nature of his own character. For every person is a world in microcosm.2

There are two dimensions to our personal task of self-refinement: First, we must use the abilities we have been granted for a positive purpose. For example, our ability to feel love should be expressed in love for G‑d, and selfless love for our fellow man.3 And our potential for achievement should be directed to making contributions that are lasting in nature. Each of our abilities should be dedicated toward the most comprehensive good possible.

But there is a challenge which is more fundamental. Every person should ask himself: What am I living for? Is my goal merely self-gratification, or am I living for a higher purpose?

Chassidus explains4 that we have two souls. One is an animal soul, concerned only with its own needs and drives. It is not necessarily bad, but it cannot see beyond itself. The second soul is “an actual part of G‑d,” and its fulfillment comes through service, encouraging the expression of this G‑dly nature and revealing the G‑dliness invested in the world at large.

The appearance of conflict between these souls reflects the challenge which man faces: to break through his self-concern and reveal his G‑dly core. When this is accomplished, the first task mentioned above making positive use of the potentials and opportunities we are granted can be achieved with far greater ease.

Within the Macrocosm

These same thrusts are reflected within the world at large. One of mankind’s missions is to use the physical world for a positive purpose. Every element of being contains sparks of G‑dliness concealed within it. By using these objects for a spiritual purpose, e.g., eating a meal with the intent of using the energy generated to serve G‑d, we tap the G‑dly energy invested in the physical, and cause it to be vented. This goal has varied means of expression, for it must be achieved in a way suitable to every given situation.

There is, however, a second, more general goal to nurture selflessness. For worldly existence encourages self-centerdness, and man’s task is to break through this barrier and reveal the inner truth.

The words “break through” are used intentionally. For with regard to self-concern to borrow a Talmudic phrase5 “its destruction is its purification.” Our desires can be redirected and given a positive orientation, but first the fundamental selfishness which characterizes worldly existence must be broken.

What the Plagues Accomplished

Egypt, Mitzrayim in Hebrew, serves as an analogy for material existence as a whole.6 As such, both motifs mentioned above are reflected in the story of the Exodus. The miracles G‑d wrought in Egypt had two purposes:

a) that Pharaoh should release the Jews, and that when they depart, they would “ask every man of his friend, and every women from her neighbor, gold and silver articles.”7 In this way, they would “drain Egypt of her wealth.”8 This reflects the Jews’ effort to refine the sparks of holiness concealed within Egypt, allowing these resources to find positive expression.

b) “So that you will be able to tell your children and grandchildren how I have made sport from Egypt, performing miraculous signs there.”9

Pharaoh is identified with the stubborn boasts, “I do not know G‑d,”10 and “The river is mine and I have fashioned it,”11 denying G‑d’s influence in our world. The fundamental purpose of the plagues was to shatter this illusion, to manifest G‑dliness so that all could see, and in doing so, to break the pride of Pharaoh and his nation.

G‑d persisted in this endeavor until Pharaoh’s pride was crushed, and he came in his nightclothes to Moshe, entreating G‑d’s mercy.12 Personally, Pharaoh would have been prepared to release the Jews much earlier; he was held back (and the plagues continued) because G‑d hardened his heart.13

Why was this necessary? Had Pharaoh released the Jews earlier, he and his nation would not have been sufficiently humbled. The refinement of the G‑dliness concealed within Egypt would have been accomplished, but some of the power which opposed G‑d would have remained intact. The plagues continued until “Egypt [knew] that I am G‑d,”14 and the self-oriented approach which their leader personified was shattered utterly.

Reaching to the Core

Just as the defeat of Pharaoh had to be absolute, in a personal sense the negation of selfishness must also be complete, encompassing every aspect of our being. This requirement is reflected in the name of this week’s Torah reading, Bo. The most common meaning of Bo is “come,” but it also means “enter,” or “penetrate.”15 Moshe is commanded to penetrate to Pharaoh’s core and negate his strength. As the Zohar states:16 G‑d caused Moshe to enter room after room, penetrating to the very heart of Pharaoh’s palace.

Come With Me

The command to confront Pharaoh and negate his influence is given to Moshe, representative of mankind, because the negation of selfishness is a fundamental dimension of man’s service. Man was given the mission of making this world a dwelling for G‑d, and this is possible only when selfishness is nullified. Haughty self-interest prevents the Divine Presence from being manifest.17

And yet, this nullification of self cannot be accomplished by man alone; it requires G‑d’s power. For this reason, Moshe shrank at G‑d’s command; he realized that the task was beyond him. That is why G‑d instructed him: “Come to Pharaoh,” i.e., come with Me, and not “Go to Pharaoh.” G‑d would confront Pharaoh together with Moshe.

Moshe was not shirking responsibility. He was willing to go, but not with his own resources alone. By hesitating, he invited G‑d’s assistance, emphasizing that he would be acting only as an agent, and that the power to nullify Pharaoh’s pride would be G‑d’s.

The Dynamic of Redemption

Penetrating and nullifying self-orientation makes possible the revelation of a positive dimension. And thus the Zohar refers to the House of Pharaoh as:18 “the place where all lights are revealed in an unrestrained manner.”

Carrying this concept further, the Exodus from Egypt is connected to the ultimate Redemption. Indeed, had the Jews merited, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael immediately after leaving Egypt.19

As it is, the entire period from the Exodus until the final Redemption is referred to as “the days of your exodus from Egypt.”20 For nullifying the selfishness of Pharaoh and breaking through the limitations of Egypt began and begins for each of us as we relive the Exodus a self-reinforcing dynamic destined to take our nation beyond all natural limitations and lead to the Redemption.