Once a group of Jewish educators came to the Rebbe, proudly telling him that the number of children in Jewish schools had increased, and now half the Jewish children in the New York area were receiving a Jewish education. The Rebbe’s response was immediate: “Don’t pat yourselves on the back. What about the other half?”

When focusing on another person, Chassidus emphasizes looking at the person’s positive qualities and not his or her shortcomings. But when it comes to confronting a task, instead of resting on one’s laurels, one should appreciate what must be done and set about doing it.

Once the Rebbe Rashab, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was sitting at a strategy session with some other Jewish leaders. The Russian government was trying to impose certain restrictions on Jewish education and many people in the Jewish community felt that there was no alternative but to give in. The Rebbe Rashab differed, and together with a handful of other devoted Rabbis, he set out to win the others over to his perspective. As they were considering different alternatives, the Rebbe Rashab broke down and began to cry. One of the other Rabbis tried to comfort him, saying: “Lubavitcher Rebbe, why are you crying? You’ve done all you can. You have fulfilled your obligation. No one can hold you responsible.” The Rebbe answered: “But the objective is still to be accomplished.” He was not concerned with his own personal responsibility; he was focused on the mission.

Our people have been given a task: to prepare the world for the Future Redemption. Each one of us has been given a unique role within that greater goal. In moments of truth, the question that we must ask ourselves is not: “How are we doing? Do we deserve a pat on the back?” but rather: “What can be done to complete the mission one day earlier?”

Parshas Vayigash

This Torah reading tells us how Jacob and his family made their journey from the Land of Israel to meet Joseph in Egypt. Jacob was hesitant about leaving the Holy Land, and it was not until he received a pledge of assurance from G‑d that he resolved to do so.

Why was he hesitant? It’s obvious. Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land, “the land on which the eyes of G‑d are [focused] from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.” That is certainly where Jacob our Patriarch would like to have spent his final days.

So why did he go to Egypt? Our Sages answer that it was pre-destined. If necessary, Jacob would have been led to Egypt in chains of iron. But out of G‑d’s kindness, He ordained that Jacob’s son become the viceroy and that Jacob make his journey to that land by royal invitation.

But that just deflects the question: Jacob went to Egypt because G‑d wanted him to. But why did G‑d want him to? And why does He want us, Jacob’s descendants, to continue living in the different Egypts of our widespread Diaspora?

The Jews were created with a mission: to make this world a dwelling for G‑d. And that does not mean only the Land of Israel. On the contrary, since Eretz Yisrael has an inherent dimension of holiness, the essence of that mission is directed to places outside its borders.

Within the material substance of the world are contained sparks of G‑dliness. Every piece of food we eat, every person we meet or situation we encounter is maintained by G‑dly energy. Our mission is to tap that energy and use it for a positive purpose. For example, when we recite a blessing before or after eating and use the vitality that the food generates for a G‑dly intent, we fulfill G‑d’s objective in creating that food.

It’s like a fruit and a peel. The fruit — in the analogue, the G‑dly spark — is what is of primary importance, but for that fruit to exist in our material world, it needs a peel — the material substance of our world.

This is the intent of the Jewish people in the world — to refine the world by highlighting the existence of this spiritual dimension, to show — ourselves and others — that there is a fruit beneath the peel. For this purpose, the Jews have wandered from continent to continent and from land to land, seeking to reveal the G‑dly life-force hidden in these places.

This process began with Jacob’s descent to Egypt. When G‑d told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt, He told him: “Afterwards, they will leave with great wealth.” Why would Abraham be interested in knowing that his descendants would receive this wealth? Seemingly, he would have desired that they leave earlier, even if they would not receive those riches.

The wealth Abraham was promised was the elevation of the Divine sparks enclothed in the wealth of Egypt. This is the spiritual motive for Joseph’s collecting all of Egypt’s wealth during the famine — so that afterwards, through the Jews’ labor and toil, they could elevate these Divine sparks and depart Egypt heavily laden with gold and silver. The process was consummated when they used that gold and silver to build the Sanctuary in the desert, establishing a dwelling for G‑d in this world.

Looking to the Horizon

Maimonides mentions the belief in Mashiach and the belief in the Resurrection of the Dead as two of the thirteen fundamental principles of the Jewish faith. He cites prophecies from the Bible which point to their importance and says that a person who denies these principles is not merely rejecting one aspect of the Torah, he is renouncing the Jewish faith in its entirety.

Why is Mashiach soimportant to our faith? Because in the present era, our religious and spiritual lives are secondary elements of our existence. We are far more concerned with our material well-being. And this is not a fault. If we weren’t concerned, no one else would be, and we would not be able to maintain our existence.

But this is not the purpose of our lives. These efforts are intermediaries, necessary only to create a setting for our spiritual service. The purpose of our lives is our service of G‑d, expressing the spiritual potential that we all possess.

Just as these concepts are true in an individual sense, they apply to mankind as a whole. G‑d desired that after thousands of years of our focusing on the material elements of our existence, there would come a time when the spiritual dimensions of existence would receive the prominence that they deserve.

This is the core of our belief in Mashiach and the Resurrection: that ultimately we will live in a perfected world where our fundamental energies will be directed toward spiritual and G‑dly ends.