There is a famous statement of the Shelah1 that all Jewish festivals are related to the Torah reading of the week in which they occur. Included in this are those festivals that took place long after the passages were written.

We thus understand that the festival of Yud-Tes Kislev, the festival of the liberation of the Alter Rebbe and the day of liberation of the teachings of Chassidus, isalso alluded to in the Torah portion of Vayeishev, the portion in which this festival almost always occurs.

At first glance the very opposite seems to be the case. Vayeishev speaks of the events leading up to and including Yosef’s sale as a slave in Egypt and his subsequent incarceration. How does this relate to the Alter Rebbe’s liberation from prison?

This may be understood by first considering the Midrash on the verse, “And Yosef was taken down to Egypt.”2 The Midrash explains that the Hebrew word for “taken down” (hurad) is related to similar words that mean “conquest” and “dominion.”

Thus, according to the Midrash, Yosef’s descent to Egypt not only eventually resulted in his becoming the viceroy of Egypt — without whom “no man will lift a hand or foot in all Egypt,”3 a state of “conquest” and “dominion” — but it also immediately involved “conquest” and “dominion.”

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There are three ways in which a person may be redeemed and liberated from a state of exile. The first is liberation through battle — one combats his oppressor and vanquishes him.

However, although the enemy may have been completely routed in this form of liberation, the victory may be somewhat hollow. For in order to secure this liberation through mortal combat, it was necessary to lower oneself to the enemy’s standards, even to the point of shedding blood.

There is a superior form of victory and liberation — “peace through strength”; that is to say, the individual is so powerful that his enemy is afraid to engage him in battle. However, here as well, although actual bloodshed is avoided, the victory is only temporary; the enemy still exists and should he become more powerful he may well seek once again to engage in battle.

The greatest form of peace and liberation from one’s oppressors comes about when the oppressor himself is encountered and transformed into a steadfast friend. In this instance there is no need to worry about an eventual attack from the enemy, for having become a friend, the enemy has ceased to exist .

These three forms of liberation parallel the spiritual service of a) Yosef’s brothers, the founders of the Twelve Tribes, b) the Patriarchs, and c) Yosef.

The founders of the Tribes chose to be shepherds, cut off from the world, so that they would not have to engage in worldly matters that would interfere with their Divine service of cleaving to G‑d. They feared that if they were to engage their spiritual enemy in battle — lowering themselves to do battle with the world in order to refine and elevate it — this would inevitably cause them to be tainted.

In contrast, the Patriarchs were of so lofty a level — the physical world did not affect them in the slightest — that they knew that even while they were within the world they could transcend it. The world was (so to speak) afraid to do battle with them. The Patriarchs did not, however, vanquish evil; they stood above it.

The highest level of all, however, was that of Yosef. On the one hand he descended into Egypt and was wholly engaged in conducting the affairs of state, but on the other hand, he did not permit this involvement to affect his constant cleaving to G‑d — even in the midst of his bureaucratic duties, Yosef was in a state of utter union with G‑d. Yosef thus confronted and engagedEgypt and transformed it.

The same was true with regard to the arrest and liberation of the Alter Rebbe — and herein lies the connection between the Alter Rebbe’s liberation and the events described in the section Vayeishev:

Although incarcerated by extremely coarse individuals who sought to destroy him, the Alter Rebbe was able — during his very incarceration — to engage his captors in conversation and debate. By doing so, he transformed them to the extent that they came to recognize him as a “wise and holy man,”4 whom they ultimately released in a wondrous manner.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXV, pp. 193-199.