1. This week’s Torah reading begins, “These are the names of the children of Yisrael coming into Egypt with Yaakov. They came with their households.” This verse raises several questions: a) Why does the verse use the present tense, “coming”? The descent of the Jews had taken place hundreds of years beforehand and seemingly, the past tense would be more appropriate. Indeed, in Parshas Vayigash, where the Jews’ descent into Egypt is first described, the verse states, “And Yaakov and all his descendants came into Egypt.” b) What is the significance of the mention of both names, Yaakov and Yisrael, in our verse? c) Parshas Vayigash mentions “Yaakov and his sons coming into Egypt.” In contrast, our Torah portion mentions “the children of Yisrael coming into Egypt with Yaakov.”

These questions can be resolved within the context of the Midrash’s interpretation of this verse. The Midrash states:

Did they enter [Egypt] that day? Behold many days passed from the time they had entered Egypt. Nevertheless, as long as Yosef was alive, they were not burdened by the Egyptians. When Yosef died, the Egyptians imposed burdens upon them. Therefore, the verse describes them as “coming into Egypt.” It was as if they first entered Egypt that day.

Since “the Torah is eternal,” this teaching must also contain a lesson relevant to the present. It is, however, difficult to appreciate that lesson. On the contrary, we are in the last days of the exile. “All the appointed times for Mashiach’s coming have passed and the matter depends on teshuvah alone.” Furthermore, we have already carried out the service of teshuvah and have, to quote the Previous Rebbe, “polished the buttons,” and are prepared to greet Mashiach. What relevance therefore, does the concept of coming into exile today have for us?

To explain: There is a difference between the Book of Shmos and the Book of Bereishis. The Book of Bereishis is described as “the Book of the Just,” i.e., it relates the stories of the Patriarchs who were just. In contrast, Shmos begins the chronicles of their descendants, the narrative of the Jewish people as a communal entity. Bereishis is a necessary preliminary to such a narrative for the lives of the Patriarchs grant us the potential to carry out all the mitzvos mentioned in the later books.

This concept is based on the transition brought about by the giving of the Torah. The Midrash relates that before the giving of the Torah, spirituality was totally separate from our material existence. When the Torah was given, however, the potential was granted to infuse holiness into the material substance of the world (revelation from above) and also elevate that material substance, transforming it into a sacred object.

The service of the Patriarchs, however, was necessary to bring about such a transition. This was accomplished by their complete self-nullification to G‑dliness to the extent that they are described as G‑d’s “chariot.” This implies that even as they existed within this material world, they were a “chariot,” [i.e., an intermediary which transfers an entity from one place to another,] for G‑d as He is manifest in the spiritual realms,1 to be revealed within this material world. This granted the potential for their descendants, the Jewish people, to draw down G‑dliness through the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos.2

There is, however, an advantage to our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos over the service of the Patriarchs. The Patriarch’s service was preparatory in nature, granting the potential for drawing holiness into this material world. The actual service of drawing down holiness, the establishment of a dwelling for G‑d in this material world, is accomplished through the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. This observance brings G‑dliness into this world in an open and manifest manner.

The beginning of the service of the Jewish people in actually drawing G‑dliness into this world is reflected in the verse, “These are the names of the children of Yisrael coming into Egypt with Yaakov. They came with their households.”

The Jewish people descended to Egypt to draw G‑dliness into the lowest levels of material existence. To emphasize their potential to carry out this service, they are described as “the children of Yisrael.” Yisrael was “the chosen of the Patriarchs,” and his spiritual qualities were passed on to his descendants.

To explain: Yaakov was given the name Yisrael because he “strove with angels and men and prevailed.” Similarly the name Yisrael (ישראל) contains the letters of the words li rosh (לי ראש) “a head for Me,” i.e., the Jews are a head for G‑d, as it were. Indeed, the Jews are above the level of G‑d’s “head,” for a Jewish soul is “an actual part of G‑d from above,” one with G‑d’s very essence.

Thus, the level of Yisrael stands above all connection to Egypt (מצרים), the boundaries and limitations (מיצרים) of worldly existence. Surely, it is above the concept of exile, in which the ruling authorities causes difficulty (מצירות) to the Jews. Since Yisrael has the power to “strive with angels and men and prevail” and is “a head for Me” as it were, this level cannot be contained within any limits and surely, is not subject to exile.

Who can descend to Egypt? “The descendants (i.e., the extension) of Yisrael.” Similarly, Yaakov which refers to a lower level than Yisrael, the aspect in the Jewish soul which descends to and permeates the heel (עקב)3 can enter Egypt.

Based on the above, we can explain the difference between the Torah’s expressions in our Torah portion and in Parshas Vayigash. Parshas Vayigash describes the Jews’ descent to Egypt, the boundaries and limitations of worldly existence. They were not, however, enslaved or in exile per se. Therefore, the Torah relates that Yaakov went down to Egypt. Our Torah portion, in contrast, describes “the children of Yisrael... coming... with Yaakov,” this implies a lower level.

Although the children of Yisrael are on a lower level than Yisrael himself and thus can descend into exile, nevertheless, because they are the “children of Yisrael,” they are full heirs to the legacy left them by the Patriarchs. Therefore, the descent into Egypt cannot affect them in a negative way. On the contrary, they have the potential to refine and elevate Egypt, taking from it all the sparks of G‑dliness invested in it, leaving it like “a silo without any grain.”

Based on the above, we can understand why the Jews are described as “coming into Egypt,” in the present tense. Despite the many years which they had been in Egypt, on any — every — given day, it could be considered as if they had entered Egypt that very day. Since the Jews inherit all the qualities of the Patriarchs, including those of Yaakov, i.e., the potential to “strive with angels and men and prevail,” they are, in essence, above the exile. Thus, their existence within the exile is a new development, a present happening.

This infinite potential bequeathed by the Patriarchs to their descendants gives them the opportunity to accomplish the purpose of the exile, to draw G‑dliness into the world and establish a dwelling for G‑d. When a Jew is aware of the infinite potential that he possesses and thus feels that his existence within the exile is a new development, he becomes aware of the purpose of the exile and this enables him to accomplish this purpose. Thus each moment the Jews are in exile is not a continuation of the previous years of exile, but a new moment, in which our service should be fulfilled with new energy, with the hope of redemption in the near future.

This is reflected in each person’s individual service each day for “in each and every generation (and as the Alter Rebbe adds, in each and every day), a person is obligated to see himself as if he is leaving Egypt (that day).” This is reflected in the service of,

redeeming the G‑dly soul from the imprisonment of the body to be included in union with the light of the Ein Sof through the service of Torah and mitzvos... and in particular through the yoke of G‑d’s kingdom in Kerias Shema.... This is [comparable to] the exodus from Egypt. For this reason, it was ordained to mention the exodus from Egypt in the recitation of the Shema.

The potential to experience an exodus from Egypt every day also includes the awareness that each moment, the entry into exile is a new and present happening. Since yesterday, a Jew left Egypt, i.e., went beyond his personal limitations, the fact that today he also finds himself within limitations — even though those limitations could be considered as transcendent when compared to his situation of the previous day — is a new entry into exile.

Each morning, when a person wakes up, he is “a new creation,” and G‑d has returned his soul, “an actual part of G‑d,” to him. Thus, his nature is above all connection to the limitations of the body. It is as if “today he entered into Egypt.” And the awareness of this concept will inspire him to carry out his service of refining the body with new and increased power. Since, in essence, he is above the exile, even when he is found within the exile, it does not limit him. Although he has spent years in Egypt, i.e., in the personal sense, years confined by the body and the animal soul, since his soul is “an actual part of G‑d,” he is fundamentally above the exile.4

The concept that, at every moment, the Jews are entering exile anew because essentially, they are above the exile, is also reflected in the events described subsequently in our Torah portion. When G‑d told Moshe to collect the elders of the Jewish people, Moshe protested that they would not believe him. Our Sages explained that Moshe:

spoke improperly at that time. The Holy One, blessed be He, told him, “They will listen to your voice,” and he protested, “They will not believe me.” [G‑d told Moshe:] “They are believers and the descendants of believers.”

The Maharsha explains that Moshe’s error came from his underestimation of the impact of the sign which G‑d had given him to convey to the Jewish people. Since both Yaakov and Yosef had told the Jewish people that a repetition of the word Pakod would be a sign of the redemption, as soon as Moshe would give them this sign, they would respond to him.

It is easy to understand the source for Moshe’s error. Moshe knew that the Jews had been in exile for many years and felt that even when they heard the sign which they had been promised, they would not respond quickly. It would be difficult for them to actually feel that the time for their redemption had come. G‑d told Moshe that he did not appreciate the nature of the Jews; they are “believers and the descendants of believers.” This is their essential nature and therefore, they will never consider exile as the norm. On the contrary, it is as if “today they entered Egypt.” Therefore, as soon as Moshe would communicate the sign, they would believe that their redemption was imminent.

This concept is also reflected in the conclusion of the Torah reading which relates that, after Moshe delivered G‑d’s message to Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded by increasing the severity of his oppression. When this transpired, Moshe protested to G‑d, “O L‑rd, why have You harmed Your people.... From the time, I came to speak to Pharaoh in Your name... You have not saved Your people.”

G‑d responded by telling Moshe, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh...,” promising Moshe that the redemption would come immediately. From the very opposite extreme, the most severe moments of slavery, G‑d redeemed the Jews. Why did this come about? Because the Jews are the children of Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. Since they are the descendants of the Patriarchs, they are totally above exile and, therefore, G‑d will redeem them immediately.

The unique nature of the Jews is further emphasized by the conclusion of the Haftorah: “Yaakov will no longer be ashamed... when he sees his children, the work of My hands in his midst, that they sanctify My name.” Even though the Jews are in exile, Yaakov has no reason to be ashamed with his descendants. G‑d testifies that each one of them is “the work of My hands” and that they “sanctify My name.”

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2. The above concepts provide us with a lesson relevant to our present situation. Although the Jews have been in exile for 2000 years, a Jew is, in essence, above exile. On the contrary, each moment in which a Jew finds himself in exile is a totally new development, against his nature. At every moment, he is filled with trust and faith that G‑d’s promise of the Future Redemption will be fulfilled in the near future. This is particularly true since the Previous Rebbe told us to prepare ourselves to greet Mashiach and now, forty years after his passing, we have been granted the “knowing heart, eyes to see, and ears to hear” to appreciate his teachings. Furthermore, this is a year when “I will show you wonders.”

Therefore, now is a time when we must encourage the Jewish people by telling them how near we are to Mashiach’s coming, how “he is standing behind our wall, peeking through the lattice.” We must prepare ourselves to greet Mashiach by increasing our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos and then, as the Rambam states,5 “With one mitzvah, one can tip his personal balance and that of the entire world to the side of merit and bring deliverance and salvation.” Surely, a contrary approach is out of the question, to break the Jews’ spirit by threatening them with Divine retribution, heaven forbid.

We must learn from the example of Moshe. When Moshe described the Jews as lacking in virtues,6 G‑d asked him, “ ’What is that in your hand?’ And he answered, ‘A staff.’ ” Rashi explains that G‑d was intimating to Moshe, “You are worthy to have been beaten for speaking unfavorably about My children.” Similarly, the signs Moshe was given, his staff turning into a snake7 and his hand turning leprous are interpreted as reflecting G‑d’s displeasure with Moshe’s statements about the Jews.

Why does the Torah relate these matters to us? As a lesson; to teach us how careful we must be not to speak unfavorably about our fellow Jews.8 The above occurred before the giving of the Torah. Even then, G‑d punished Moshe for speaking unfavorably about the Jews and told him that they are all “believers and the descendants of believers.” Surely, this applies after the giving of the Torah when the Jews were selected as G‑d’s chosen people, “a nation of priests and a holy people.” How much more so does it apply since in the thousands of years after the giving of the Torah, the Jews have sanctified G‑d’s name through their observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, including their recitation of the Shema.9

Since the Jewish people today are heirs to this great legacy of holiness — for the positive effects of the mitzvos our people have performed are eternal, while, in contrast, the negative effects of undesirable conduct are temporary and will be erased — it is impossible to appreciate the great merit possessed by the Jewish people today. Heaven forbid that someone should speak unfavorably about a fellow Jew, one of G‑d’s children.

The fact that a Jew’s conduct does not reflect these positive qualities does not detract from their existence. Thus the Rambam rules that every Jew, even one who protests the contrary, “wants to be part of the Jewish people and desires to fulfill all the mitzvos and separate himself from sin, and it is only his Evil Inclination which forces him [to do otherwise].” Particularly, in our days, a Jew whose performance of the commandments of the Torah is imperfect must be judged leniently according to the principle of tinok shenishba, (meaning one who was deprived of a childhood environment conducive to Torah observance). Conversely, if despite the pressures of his environment, he fulfills any mitzvah — and, “even the least worthy member of our people possesses as many mitzvos as a pomegranate possesses seeds” — he and his deeds will surely be cherished in the Heavenly Court. Indeed, G‑d takes pride in every Jew as it is written, “Your people are all righteous..., They are the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”

If anything, our complaints and demands should be directed toward G‑d, demanding as Moshe did, “O L‑rd, why have You harmed Your people.... You have not saved Your people.” Similarly, we find that Gideon demanded of G‑d, “If G‑d is with us, why has all this befallen us? Where are all His miracles of which our fathers have told us?” G‑d responded to his demand positively, telling him, “Go in this your strength [— in the strength of your positive statements about the Jews —] and you will deliver Israel.” Surely, after all the suffering which our people have endured in exile, particularly, after the suffering of the last generation, it is proper that we cry out to G‑d over the length of the exile, and our demands will hasten the coming of the redemption.

There are those who maintain that the approach of chastising harshly and threatening with Divine retribution has a source, that it reflects the approach of mussar and that of the preachers of the previous generations. Furthermore, they explain, we find the Books of the Prophets full with harsh rebuke and threats of retribution.

There are several replies to such attempts at self-justification: Firstly, during the last several generations, the approach of Chassidus has spread throughout the entire Jewish community. This approach which stresses the fundamental positive qualities which each Jew possesses has been demonstrated to be more effective in drawing Jews closer to G‑dliness and particularly, in drawing close the tinokos shenishba of the present generation.

Furthermore, even according to the approach of mussar itself, there are several faults with such an approach. Mussar requires several prerequisites; among them:

Ahavas Yisrael

It is written, “Listen my son to the mussar of your father,” and “The one who loves [his son] gives him mussar early.” These quotes imply that mussar depends on a father-son relationship. Because a father loves his son with an essential love, he reproves him [and punishes him from time to time]. Nevertheless, the manner in which he does clearly indicates that he loves him with an all-encompassing love.

Similarly, in regard to the mitzvah of rebuking a colleague, the rebukes must be filled with ahavas Yisrael, for loving a fellow Jew is “a great general principle within the Torah,” and indeed, “the entire Torah.”10 This love must be felt by the person receiving the reprove. He must sense that it is being given because the other person loves him.


A person who gives mussar to others should not try to lift himself above them. Instead, he must try to establish a commonalty with the people he is reproving. It must be obvious that he is making his statements only because he feels pain for the low level of the people and not as a way of raising himself up. Furthermore, he must include himself in the reproof, finding at least in a refined way, similar faults in his own conduct and attempting to correct them. When his listeners see that he is reproving himself as well, his words will evoke a far greater response.

Furthermore, one should have in mind the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching that when a person sees a fault in a colleague, he must realize that his colleague is merely a mirror for him to recognize failings in his own conduct. Therefore, before he criticizes a colleague, he should correct his own faults as our Sages commented, “Correct yourself, and then correct others.”

Thus, when a person reproves others without mentioning any faults in his own conduct or in that of the people surrounding him, and threatens them with severe retribution, without at all indicating that their transgressions cause him pain, and without doing anything to reach out to them in a loving manner and encourage them to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, he cannot say that he is perpetuating the tradition of mussar.

In regard to the reproofs found in the works of prophets: a) The prophets’ words were not their own personal statements, but rather, “the word of G‑d.” When, however, a person makes his own statements, he must speak with mercy and kindness. b) Even in regard to the prophets, we find the prophets being rebuked for making unfavorable statements about the Jews. Although their statements were made with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine inspiration), since they were unfavorable to the Jews, G‑d did not desire them. How much more so is it improper for a person to choose11 to make such statements on his own.12

What is required of us at present is to emphasize the virtues of every Jew and to spread love and unity among the Jewish people. This will nullify the reason for the exile, unwonted hatred. And when the cause is nullified the result will also disappear and we will merit the coming of the redemption when, as it is stated in the Haftorah, “Those lost in the land of Ashur and those dispersed in the land of Egypt will come and bow to G‑d in [His] holy mountain in Jerusalem.”