Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, p. 13ff.

I. TheTalmud explains1 that the verse:2 “And they embittered their lives with mortar and bricks, and all [sorts of] work in the field, all their work...,” [reflects a sequence]. First, they compelled them to work with “mortar and bricks.” Afterwards, they were forced to do “all [sorts of] work in the field,” and ultimately,3 “all their work.”

The commentaries4 explain the Talmud’s intent as follows: One might ask: Why does the verse single out “mortar and bricks”? Seemingly, these tasks are also included in “all their work.” Therefore the Talmud explains that “mortar and bricks” came first. It was the beginning of their “work in the field.” Therefore the verse mentions it (first and) as a separate category.

Every concept in the Torah is extremely precise. The fact that the work with “mortar and bricks” came first (and only afterwards came “all their work”) reflects more than chronological precedence. It was also the most significant and most difficult element of their enslavement. When describing the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt with a general statement, one would say that they performed work with “mortal and bricks.” Afterwards, as one begins to explain the various particulars, one would speak of their “work in the field.”

From this, we can conclude that even ultimately, when the Jews performed “all their work,” the core of their enslavement involved making bricks.5 This concept is also reflected in the ensuing phases of the narrative, for when Pharaoh desired to “make the work difficult for the men,”6 {— an event which took place in the final phases of the enslavement in Egypt, after Moshe and Aharon had already come to Pharaoh as G‑d’s emissaries and told him to release the people —} he sought to accomplish this, (not through any other type of work, but) through the task of making bricks. [He told his overseers] not to give the Jews any straw for the bricks, and yet to require them to produce the same quantity of bricks in the same given amount of time as they had previously.

Moreover, throughout the time of the enslavement, the Jews’ workday was primarily devoted to making bricks (although they also performed other tasks). This is understood from the interpretation the Midrash offers7 to the verse:8 “And the Egyptians made the children of Israel perform excruciating (lrpc) labor,” as lr vpc, “with a soft tongue,”9 [i.e., with deception]. Pharaoh himself took a basket and a rake and made bricks, and while performing this work, he told the Jewish people: “Work together with me today as a favor,” i.e., that they should follow his example and make bricks.10 [The Jews fell for his ploy, and] worked with him “with all their strength.” When night fell, Pharaoh had a reckoning made of the bricks and told the Jews: “Prepare this amount every day.”

Since every day, they had to prepare the same number of bricks that they had made on that first day when they had worked “with all their strength” for the entire day, it follows that throughout the later time of their enslavement, the overwhelming majority of their time — indeed, it could almost be said their entire time11 — was spent making bricks.12 The other work which they performed was carried out during the few extra hours they had and at night.13

On this basis, we can appreciate why the Torah mentions explicitly the Jews’ work “with bricks and mortar.” For even after they were compelled to perform “all their work,” their primary occupation was making bricks.

II. To explain why the fundamental aspect of the Jews’ enslavement14 involved “mortar and bricks”: As stated on a different occasion at length,15 the explanation of the verse: “And Egypt enslaved the children of Israel... and they embittered their lives” [refers to the Jews’ spiritual vitality]. For the true vitality and the true energy of the Jewish people stems from holiness16 (from their G‑dly soul).17

The Egyptians desired [to subjugate this potential and] use it to build storage cities for Pharaoh. Instead of the Jews building a dwelling for G‑d, building “the city of our G‑d,”18 they were compelled by those “who cause them aggravation and distress”19 to use their holy powers to establish a dwelling for kelipah, “storage cities for Pharaoh.”

“One corresponds to the other.”20 “The city of our G‑d” is built from stone (just as a city is built from many houses, and the houses built from stone21 — for the fundamental strength of a house depends on the stones with which it is built).22 The cities of kelipah, by contrast (for kelipah copies holiness as a monkey mimics man23 ) [are built from bricks]. And thus the essential enslavement of the Jewish people involved making bricks (for “they used bricks in place of stones”24 ), the building blocks for the Egyptian cities.

On this basis, we can understand why “mortar and bricks” is mentioned before the general term “all of their work” (as mentioned in sec. I). For the inner meaning of every act that a person performs is building. When he performs a positive act, whether a mitzvah or an activity which is neither commanded or forbidden, but is carried out “for the sake of heaven”25 or [in a manner which fulfills the charge:26 ] “Know Him in all your ways,” he adds a stone to the building of holiness. And when he performs an undesirable act, he adds a brick to the building of kelipah. The different nature of the activities is expressed in the type of building, but there is a common factor shared by all the activities, they are all building. (Positive activities are building Jerusalem, while negative activities are building Tyre.)27

III. Within stones themselves, there are two categories: stones and bricks. Stones are created by G‑d, while bricks are fashioned by man.28 The work performed by the Jews in Egypt centered primarily (not on using stones, but) on making bricks.

What is the difference between stones and bricks? Stones are created by G‑d and allude to a high level of holiness.29 Therefore, at the outset, the Beis HaMikdash was to be built from stone,30 and Eretz Yisrael is praised31 as “a land whose stones are iron.”

Bricks, by contrast, refer to activities which are reshus, neither commanded nor forbidden,32 but whose outcome — whether holiness or the opposite — depends on man’s intention.

{For this reason, we find that the prohibition against prostrating oneself with outstretched hands and legs applies only on a stone floor, and not on a brick floor.33 For the prohibition was instituted so that an activity — prostration — which resembles an activity performed in the Beis HaMikdash34 should not be performed outside of the Beis HaMikdash. Since bricks do not allude to any element of holiness, prostrating oneself on a brick floor does not resemble the service of prostration performed in the Beis HaMikdash.}

Indeed, bricks have (the potential [to be used] for) the opposite of holiness.35 Thus the Talmud, when speaking about designating a false divinity,36 gives as an example:37 “He erected a brick.”38 A similar concept is reflected in Rashi’s commentary39 [explaining why the Tower of Bavel was built with bricks]: “For there are no stones in Bavel, for it is a valley.” Since Bavel (and any valley40 ) is a low place, a place where the Divine light is concealed, a place of darkness, to the extent that the Torah applies the phrase:41 “He set me down in a dark place,” to the Babylonian Talmud.42 Therefore the level of stones which are created by Heaven is not relevant to Bavel.

IV. Based on the above, it is possible to explain why the arduous labor the Jews had to perform in Egypt concerned bricks and not stones. Since the purpose of their work was to build “storage cities for Pharaoh,” the very opposite of “the city of our G‑d,” the building could not be performed with stones which reflect the realm of holiness, but rather with bricks, which are appropriate for “cities for Pharaoh.”

This explanation is, however, insufficient. For, as explained above, the intent of the Egyptians was to use the power and vitality of holiness the Jews possessed to build the cities of kelipah, as indicated by the verse: “And Egypt enslaved the children of Israel... and they embittered their lives.43 Thus it would seem appropriate that they would have sought (and indeed, with greater intensity44 ) to use stones for their cities, for this would have enabled them to derive nurture from the holiness contained in the stones which are created by G‑d.45

We must therefore say that the opposite is true. Despite the great advantage possessed by stones, bricks must contain an even greater quality. And because of that greater quality, the Egyptians so anxiously endeavored to make the Jews work (as their highest priority and for the most time) with bricks. For their intent was to introduce into the realm of kelipah the high spiritual level associated with bricks.

V. On the surface, it is possible to explain that the advantage possessed by bricks over stone (which, because of this advantage, the Egyptians desired to have the “storage cities for Pharaoh” built from bricks) is that their level is lower.

As is well known, “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired that He (blessed be He)46 have a dwelling in the lower realms.”47 As the Alter Rebbe (whose yahrzeit falls on Teves 2448 ) emphasizes,49 this refers to [our material world], for “there is no lower level below it.” Thus the lower the level that becomes a dwelling for G‑d, the deeper and more consummate is the fulfillment of His will and intent. Thus building “the city of G‑d” with bricks, which are on a lower level, fulfills G‑d’s intent more than building it with stones.50

To cite a parallel: The Beis HaMikdash possesses an advantage over the Sanctuary which accompanied the Jews in the desert. The Sanctuary was a temporary dwelling for G‑d,51 and was built primarily from (boards of) cedar, i.e., from the plant kingdom. The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, is G‑d’s permanent dwelling52 and it was built from stone,53 inanimate matter, which is lower54 than plants.55

In truth, however, this explanation is not sufficient. If this was the higher quality that bricks possess (and thus it would be fitting to build “the city of our G‑d” from bricks to fulfill G‑d’s intent for a dwelling in the lower worlds in a more consummate manner), the Egyptians (seeking to use the highest potentials the realm of holiness possesses for the purposes of kelipah) should have desired that the building of the cities for Pharaoh, the cities of kelipah, be performed only (by Jews) using bricks. It does not seem appropriate, however, for them to have forced the Jews to make bricks.

The fact that the Egyptians did compel the Jews to perform that activity — indeed, the fundamental element of their enslavement was directed toward that end56 — indicates that making bricks expresses the ultimate advantage [of a Jew’s service]. (And for that reason, the Egyptians compelled the Jews to make the bricks for Pharaoh’s cities, so that they could derive nurture from the elevated effect produced by that activity.)

VI. The elevated quality which is brought out by making bricks can be understood through the preface of a more detailed explanation of the difference between the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash stated above. [As mentioned,] the Sanctuary was made primarily from plants, while the Beis HaMikdash was built from stone.

Were it true that the Sanctuary did not include inanimate matter at all, one could say simply that it had not brought about a dwelling in the lower worlds. [For G‑d’s dwelling would not have encompassed] the realm of inanimate matter, the lowest rung possible (and that would not be achieved until the building of the Beis HaMikdash). In truth, however, the Sanctuary also included inanimate matter, for the floor of the Sanctuary was from earth. And the earth was an integral element of the Sanctuary as a whole; it also contributed to the indwelling of G‑d’s Presence, as evident from the verse:57 “And the priest will take from the earth on the floor of the Sanctuary.”

As such, since G‑dliness was drawn down to the lowest levels possible in the Sanctuary, why was the Sanctuary built from the plant kingdom instead of inanimate matter as was the Beis HaMikdash?

VII. The above concepts can be explained as follows: The elevated level that is achieved through drawing down G‑dliness into the lower realms can be expressed in two ways:

a) Drawing G‑dly light down in a manner which expresses its unlimited power, that it is infinite, and cannot be confined. It can even illuminate the lowest possible form of existence. (Were, by contrast, the light to be limited, it would not be able to extend that low.)

To cite a parallel [in the human realm]: a generous person. The greater his quality of generosity, the further he extends it, reaching out to people on lower levels. Avraham our Patriarch [can be pointed out as a paradigm]. His quality of kindness was so unbounded58 that he granted influence to Arabs — who bowed down — to the dust on their feet.59

b) Through the fact that by drawing down G‑dliness, His greatness is appreciated within the lower worlds. This expresses (not only the unlimited nature of the light, that it can be extended until the lowest levels, but also) the truth of G‑dliness. This is reflected in the fact that created beings on a low spiritual plane (who are not G‑dly) will also recognize Him.60

This new development, that created beings should recognize G‑dliness, is a far greater (breakthrough and) advantage over the extension of G‑dliness to this material plane. For in this second motif, the truth of G‑dliness is expressed so powerfully that even another entity recognizes the truth. To borrow an expression coined by the Ralbag:61 “The unique dimension of truth is that accord is reflected from every side.”62

Since we are speaking about a recognition of the truth of G‑dliness on the part of creations within our material frame of reference, it is clear that this recognition is achieved fundamentally and in the most consummate manner through developing an awareness of G‑dliness from proofs derived from the nature of creation itself; ([this follows the motif of haalah] mimateh limaalah). For this demonstrates how the creation itself reflects the truth of G‑dliness. Nevertheless, even when the awareness [on the part] of a created being comes as a result of a revelation of G‑dly light from Above63 — in which instance the awareness has not permeated the created being’s conceptual framework as powerfully — there is still an advantage to the fact that the G‑dly light is appreciated and His truth recognized over the revelation of the light itself.64 For the acceptance of influence [points to a higher and] deeper level than [the generation of] the influence itself.65 To express this concept using the terminology of Chassidus: “The source of the keilim (the receptacles of Divine light) is higher than the source of the light.”

{[This concept can also be illustrated by] an analogy of a generous person.66 His desire to do good for others comes (not only because of the want of the recipient, that he is in need of the giver’s generosity, but also) as a result of his own nature. Since he is by nature a generous person, that nature seeks expression in giving and doing good for others.

To cite an example: When Avraham our Patriarch had no guests to whom to show hospitality, it caused him pain.67 Since he was a generous person, his nature pushed him to do good.68 Therefore, just as the expression of his nature through doing good brought him pleasure, when his attribute of kindness lacked expression, he felt discomfort.

Nevertheless, we see that when a generous person does a kindness to another person, and that person accepts [and recognizes] the kindness, this awakens a greater degree of satisfaction than that evoked by the giving itself. For, as stated above, the acceptance of influence [points to a higher and] deeper level than [the generation of] the influence itself.69 }

VIII. The above reflects the difference between the Sanctuary and the Beis HaMikdash: The Sanctuary gave expression to the unlimited power of G‑d’s light, showing how it can be extended to the lowest possible levels, even to inanimate matter. The Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, reflected [a deeper step]: the beings of this material plane — even inanimate matter — became a medium for G‑dliness.

For this reason, the Sanctuary was itself constructed in a manner which reflects [descent] from above downward. The roof of the Sanctuary was made from the hides of rams, techashim,70 and goats, and their wool,71 i.e., the animal kingdom. The walls ([wooden boards,] which were below the roof) were from the plant kingdom, and the floor of the Sanctuary was earth (inanimate matter). In the Beis HaMikdash, in contrast, an opposite motif was followed. The fundamental and primary element of the structure was [stone,] inanimate matter.72 It was used to build the entire Beis HaMikdash. Although there was a sub-structure built with beams of cedar, this was only an auxiliary element,73 necessary for support and the like.74

When the advantage of the lowest level is that it enables the infinite power of G‑d’s light to be expressed, showing that the light can be drawn down to such a low level (but not that this level itself [becomes a medium which] expresses that light), the lowest level receives the final phases, the nethermost levels, of the influence. [The rationale is that] since the motif follows the pattern of light being drawn down as a revelation from Above, it is drawn down to the higher levels first and then to the lower levels. The lower levels thus follow (also qualitatively) the higher levels. This is the pattern that was manifest in the Sanctuary.75

When, however, the higher quality is expressed through the lower level itself and ascending its becoming a medium for G‑dliness [through] recognizing His greatness, it is apparent that the fundamental importance is the lowest level.76 Therefore the Beis HaMikdash [which expresses this motif] was made primarily of stone.77

IX. The Beis HaMikdash fulfilled the ideal that elements of this lowly world itself become vessels for G‑dliness (and not only that the light is drawn down through them). Nevertheless, it did not accomplish the ultimate expression of a dwelling in the lower realms. It is only in the Future era, the Era of Mashiach, and more particularly, the Era of the Resurrection,78 that this purpose will be consummated. The Beis HaMikdash was only “a microcosm of the World to Come,”79 and not the ultimate expression of G‑d’s dwelling in the lower realms.80

These concepts can be understood through [the preface of the explanation of the well-known statement of the Alter Rebbe,81 [when asked why G‑d] “desired a dwelling in the lower realms” [answered]: “With regard to a ‘desire,’ you don’t ask why.”82

The intent is that G‑d did not have a reason83 why He wanted a dwelling in the lower worlds. It was a desire, as it were, something which is above having a reason.84

From this, it is understood that this dwelling in the lower realms, which is the subject of G‑d’s desire (which is above reason), does not reflect the attainment of a particular purpose or the attainment of fulfillment. For were this to be the case, that purpose or fulfillment would be the reason for His wanting a dwelling. Instead, the intent is something that cannot be considered as an advantage or the attainment of fulfillment.85 [There is no reason or logic for it.] Only this can represent the true dwelling in the lower realms in which the intent that G‑d desired is expressed.

Therefore (in the Sanctuary and) in the Beis HaMikdash, the true purpose of the dwelling in the lower realms which G‑d desired was not manifest. For the dwelling [for G‑d brought about by these structures] expressed a particular advantage86 [— these structures brought into an expression a positive quality that is recognizable]. {[In the Sanctuary,] G‑d’s light was drawn down even to the lowest levels, and} [in the Beis HaMikdash,] entities of this material world became a medium for G‑dliness. [But the fact that the positive value of these achievements is recognizable indicates that this is not the dwelling His essence desired.]

X. Where is the ultimate expression of the dwelling in the lower worlds that “the Holy One, blessed be He, desired”?

In Tanya,87 the Alter Rebbe explains that [His dwelling will be manifest] in [our material world], “the lowest level possible with regard to the concealment of [G‑d’s] light, a double and multiplied darkness to the extent that it is filled with kelipos and the sitra achra which are actually contrary to G‑d, saying ‘I am, and there is nothing else but me.’88 “ [His dwelling will be manifest] in a place that has no connection with G‑dliness. [It is not appropriate for G‑dly light to shine there, and it is certainly not appropriate to become a medium for G‑dliness.] On the contrary, it is filled with kelipos and the sitra achra whose existence is permeated by the feeling: “I am, there is nothing else but me.”89 Although they are the direct opposite of G‑dliness and “are actually contrary to G‑d,” [it is] there [that] G‑d desired to have His dwelling.

[The ultimate purpose is for] a Jew to take material entities which are “filled with kelipos and sitra achra which are contrary to G‑d,” and make a dwelling for G‑d. [This is accomplished] (not through revealing the good and holiness which is latently concealed within them [— this is not possible, because —] their entire existence is “actually contrary to G‑d,”90 but rather) through breaking them and negating the sitra achra entirely. In this manner, the dwelling for G‑d is established as a new creation through the Divine service of the Jewish people alone.91 This is the dwelling desired92 by the Holy One, blessed be He.93

And this — to make a dwelling for G‑d even in a place where the created beings are “actually contrary to G‑d” has no place in logic,94 and it is not within the potential of the revealed levels of G‑dliness.95 For it is impossible to have an effect in such a place through drawing down G‑dly light or even through the source of the keilim (for these levels cannot become vessels for G‑d’s] light, as explained above). [The transformation of such a place into a dwelling for Him] is possible only through the power from G‑d’s essence alone96 (for it was He who desired to have this dwelling); “He alone has the power and the potential to create something from nothing and absolute non-being.”97 And He transferred, as it were, that power to the Jewish people so that they can make a dwelling for Him in the lower realms, despite this being an entirely new development, as explained above.98

XI. On this basis, we can appreciate the reason why the Jews’ primary task in Egypt was making bricks. The way bricks are made is that after the prepared cement is poured into the mold used to form the bricks, they are placed into a fiery furnace99 where they harden and become as strong as stone. As it is written with regard to the generation who built the Tower of Bavel:100 “Let us make bricks and burn them in a fire, and the bricks will be as stone,” i.e., it is through “burn[ing] them in fire,” that the bricks become “as stone.” [The fire] gives the bricks the hardness and strength that stones (creations made by G‑d) [inherently] possess and enables one to use [the bricks] to build a structure (of holiness).101

Since the strength which the bricks possess comes from burning them in fire, we can apply the law stated with regard to an earthenware utensil: 102 After it is burned in a kiln, it is considered as a new entity.103

The strength the bricks possess is {not an innate tendency which the person is revealing,} but rather a new potential which is brought about primarily through the person’s activity in burning the bricks and negating their previous form of existence.

Therefore making bricks (when this is done with the intent of using them to build “the city of our G‑d”) represents [the Jews’] task in making a dwelling for G‑d in the lower realms. For the making of bricks involves two phases:

a) burning and negating the previous form of the bricks which stems from “the side of impurity,”104 and

b) making them hard and strong as stone, infusing them with the strength of holiness possessed by stones which are made by G‑d. [Endowing bricks with] this strength is a totally new development which is brought about through the labor of a mortal.

Parallels to these two phases are found in the mission of creating a dwelling in the lower worlds:

a) This is achieved through breaking and negating the kelipos and sitra achra of which the world is full, and

b) This is an entirely new creation which is brought about through man’s Divine service.

For this reason, the fundamental task of the Jewish people throughout exile, beginning with the Egyptian exile, (the source for all [subsequent] exiles,105 ) involves making bricks. Since the consummation of the dwelling for G‑d in the lower realms that will be manifest in the Era of Mashiach and the Era of the Resurrection is “dependent on our deeds and Divine service throughout the duration of the exile,”106 our work must resemble [its purpose]. Therefore our work throughout the exile involves “making bricks.”

Everything in the world begins in the Torah, [described as] “the Torah of life.” [Occupying ourselves in] t,fkv iuchk the clarification of Torah law, [takes the place of making bricks (ohbck).]107 Through these efforts, we will merit [a new revelation of] Torah, “the revelation of P’nimiyus HaTorah in the Era of the Redemption, [when] ‘I will show you wonders108 .’ ”109 This will lead to [new revelations in the world], [bringing] the world to consummate perfection, [manifesting the purpose of] its creation,110 for G‑d’s dwelling in the lower worlds will be complete. [This will come to fruition with] the coming of Mashiach. May it be in the immediate future.