1. The beginning of this week’s parshah speaks of the encounter between Yehudah and YosefVayigash eilav Yehudah [“And Yehudah approached him”]. This event can be interpreted on three different levels.

a) From Yehudah’s perspective: Yehudah was under the erroneous impression that Yosef was an Egyptian, second in command only to Pharaoh. His approach towards Yosef therefore was as one who wished to convince a non-Jewish ruler to release Binyamin.

b) In actuality: In truth, Yehudah was not dealing with a non-Jewish ruler, but with the tzaddik, Yosef.

c) In the spiritual realms above: “Yehudah” is the name used to refer to every Jew (as we are called, “Yehudim”). The word “eilav” refers to the essence of G‑d, as the Sifri explains on the verse (Devarim 4:7), “All who call to Him (eilav)” — “To Him, not to His attributes.” The word “approach” stands for prayer, through which a Jew becomes attached to and unified with G‑d.

We have explained on many occasions that all interpretations of a single event are connected with one another. We will therefore explain the connection between these three explanations, and also the practical implication and lesson contained therein regarding how to help us serve G‑d better.

We must first explain the relevance of the first of these three interpretations. Yehudah’s approach was based on a misunderstanding of the situation, based on his inability to identify Yosef. His approach nevertheless provides an eternal lesson for us.

This is because the Torah is eternal, and everything written in it is also eternal. This can be seen clearly from the Rogachover’s analysis of Moshe’s oath to never return to Egypt, which was later annulled in order to allow Moshe to take the Bnei Yisrael out. If one would make an oath today “like Moshe’s oath,” it would nevertheless be valid. The reason for this is that once something is written in Torah, it acquires eternal significance. Similarly in our case, since Yehudah’s misimpression was recorded in the Torah, it is of everlasting importance.

Furthermore, the lengthy account in the first part of the parshah is exclusively according to Yehudah’s mistaken impression. This shows us that not only can we derive a lesson from his perspective, but that it contains the lesson of primary importance.

What is this lesson? Yehudah thought that he was dependent upon the approval of a non-Jewish ruler in order to help Binyamin. This is similar to the status of the entire Jewish people in exile, when we depend on the kindness of the non-Jewish nations around us in order to lead our lives as Jews in peace and comfort.

The reality of the situation, though, was that Yehudah was really not dependent on a non-Jew at all. This ruler, as he found out later, was really Yosef, and therefore a Jew was really in charge. The same applies to the Jewish people in exile. Although it appears that the non-Jewish nations are in control, in reality the Jew is the baal habayis of the world, and he has the ability to influence the nations to carry out his will.

How does the Jew acquire such an amazing power? This is because he has attached himself to G‑d. His strength is therefore not his alone, but that of G‑d Himself. And G‑d, who is the “King of all kings,” guides the nations of the world to act according to His will and the will of the Jewish people.

With this we can understand the connection between the three levels of interpretation listed above. Even when the Jewish people are in exile (“a”), it is revealed that it is the Jew who is really in control (“b”). And how does the Jew acquire this power? — through his connection with G‑d (“c”).

This lesson (that even in exile, the Jew is baal habayis over the world) is especially stressed on Shabbos Vayigash. In addition to reading the first part of the parshah — as we do on the previous Shabbos, Monday and Thursday — we read the entire parshah, as well as the beginning of Parshas Vayechi at Minchah.

Later in the parshah, Pharaoh himself tells Yosef that he is giving “the choicest part of the land of Egypt” for him and his family. In the end of the parshah (in today’s portion), the land is actually given to them, “as Pharaoh commanded.” The last verse of the parshah concludes, “And Yisrael lived in Goshen in the land of Egypt, and they inherited it and multiplied in great numbers.” This statement is followed in Parshas Vayechi by the verse, “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years,” meaning that the best years of his life (“17” equaling the numerical value of “good” — tov) were those years spent in Egypt. These verses show that the nations themselves provided the Jews with great prosperity, even in exile.

All other exiles stem from, and are compared to the Egyptian exile. From all this we learn that even when we are in exile, the nations themselves will provide for all of our needs, both material and spiritual.

Ultimately, of course, this is insufficient. Although we have all good things both materially and spiritually, the main thing is missing — we are still in exile! Everything is insignificant when compared to the tremendous pain of exile! Parshas Vayechi is therefore followed by Shmos, which is the parshah and the book which deals with redemption.

2. Until now we have discussed the lesson of Parshas Vayigash vis-à-vis our status in exile. The main lesson, however, regards how this is a preparation for redemption.

This can be understood in view of another explanation given in Chassidus of the approach of Yehudah to Yosef, Vayigash eilav Yehudah. It is explained that the difference between Yehudah and Yosef is analogous to that between the earth and the heavens, inanimate objects and plant life, action and study. Which is higher, the aspect of Yehudah or that of Yosef? The verse which begins our parshah implies that Yosef is higher than Yehudah, since he must be approached. On the other hand, the Haftorah (Yechezkel 37:19,24) implies that Yehudah is higher: “I took the stick of Yosef...and placed upon it the stick of Yehudah...and my servant Dovid [from the tribe of Yehudah] will rule over them.”

In reality both are true, but in two different eras. During the time of exile, Yosef (the heavens, plant life, study) is higher, but in the Messianic Age, the superiority of Yehudah (the earth, inanimate objects, action) will be revealed.

The advantage of the realm of action is hinted to in G‑d’s statement regarding the world (Isaiah 43:7), “It is for My glory that I have created it, formed it, and also made it (af asisiv).” These three expressions (created, formed and made — borosiv, yetzartiv, asisiv) correspond to the three realms of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. These in turn correspond to the three realms of human activity — thought, speech and deed.

There is a great difference between the lowest of these three realms and the higher two. Thought and speech are similar in that they both are connected with the thinker and the speaker. Action, however, primarily deals with the object being acted upon. Similarly, there is a qualitative difference between Asiyah and the more spiritual realms of Beriah and Yetzirah. This is the significance of the word “also,” or af (“also made it”), which separates the first two expressions from the third. This separation highlights the fact that the realm of action (Asiyah) cannot be compared with the other two.

The same point can be seen in the shape of the Hebrew letter hay. The hay is composed of three lines which represent thought, speech and action. There is a space, however, between one of the lines and the other two. This sole line corresponds to action, which is distinct and removed from thought and speech.

This all brings out how much higher the aspect of Yosef is over that of Yehudah. There is, however, a tremendous advantage which Yehudah has over Yosef — an advantage which can be clearly seen by the comparison with Asiyah. Although it is the lowest of the worlds, Asiyah is the ultimate purpose for the creation of all the worlds. And this goal is to make a dwelling place for G‑d specifically through the realm of action.

According to this, the gap between the third aspect and the other two is for the opposite reason. Asisiv cannot be grouped with the other two because it is far superior, to the extent that the reason for the existence of the other two is solely for the existence of the third. This is also conveyed by the word af mentioned above, even in the plain meaning of the verse (“I also made it”), which is that the word af comes to add something much greater.

The same can be said for the third line of the letter hay, which transforms the letter dalet to a hay. The letter dalet stands for poverty (dalus), and the one line transforms it into the letter hay, which is contained in G‑d’s name.

These two extremes of low and high are characteristic of exile in general. On the one hand we see that the world gets lower and lower the longer we are in exile. Simultaneously, though, there is a continuous addition of Torah and mitzvos which brings us closer and closer to redemption.

This duality of exile is also seen in the usage of the word af. The Midrash (Eichah Rabbah 1:57) says,

“The Jewish people were hit with the word af, as it is written (Lev. 26:41), ‘I will also (af) walk with them sporadically.’ They were also comforted with the word af, as it is written (Ibid. 26:44), ‘Yet, also (af) then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not abhor them nor spurn them....’ ”

The Alter Rebbe explains that the word af itself indicates something negative. The positive side of af comes only when the negative has been reversed and transformed into something positive, a process which we perform via our G‑dly service in exile.

With this we can understand how the prosperity of Yaakov and his family in Egypt represents not just the positive side of exile, but the preparation for redemption.

In general, serving G‑d despite the difficulties of exile shows the tremendous strength of the bond between the Jewish people and G‑d. The special type of service described in Parshas Vayigash represents a transformation of the negative side of exile (Pharaoh, Egypt, etc.) to the positive, as Pharaoh himself gave the choicest land to them. It is this transformation which is the preparation for redemption.

This is actually not just the preparation for redemption, but part of the redemption itself — the transformation of exile itself to redemption (from golah to geulah). All of this will be revealed when Mashiach comes, and we will see how all the difficulties of exile were brought upon us only to make the revelations of redemption that much greater.

This transformation of exile through the assistance of the non-Jewish nations to Jews has been seen in our generation in a large measure. The reason for this is that before redemption, we are given a “taste” of what the redemption will be like; and the closer we get, the greater the revelations are.

We see this in particular regarding the Previous Rebbe, who after being hounded by the Russian government, came to this country, where he was free to keep Torah and mitzvos. Now after the “Year of Miracles” (shnas nissim) and in the “Year in Which ‘I Will Show You Wonders’ ” (shnas niflaos arenu) that same government is allowing — and even assisting — Jews to leave their difficult situation in exchange for freedom. In this way they are experiencing a taste of redemption even during exile, similar to the prosperity of Yaakov even though he was in Egypt. As mentioned above, the reason for this is because we are standing on the very threshold of the redemption.

This same point also finds expression in this particular time — the Shabbos immediately following Chanukah. The Chanukah Menorah is lit only after it becomes dark outside. The lighting of the Menorah represents how every Jew helps illuminate the darkness of exile through Torah and mitzvos. In addition, the Menorah is lit facing the outside, representing the transformation of the darkness of the world to light and holiness.

3. As mentioned above, the superiority of the realm of action will be revealed in the Messianic Age. Therefore, in view of our proximity to the redemption, we must add even more in concrete action.

One of the main aspects of redemption is the building of the Third Beis HaMikdash. This is closely connected with this Shabbos in two ways: 1) It is the Shabbos after Chanukah, which is connected with the Chanukah (inauguration) of the Beis HaMikdash, and 2) Parshas Vayigash and the advantage of Yehudah over Yosef, which corresponds to that of inanimate objects over plant life. This matches the advantage of the Beis HaMikdash over the Mishkan, since the former is made of stone, whereas the latter consisted of wood.

Therefore, our preparation for building the Beis HaMikdash should involve something similar, i.e. building new houses (and adding to existing houses) which will be used for Torah, prayer and gemilus chassadim — “miniature sanctuaries” (mikdash me’at). This means both public buildings and private dwellings, including the rooms of even small children. They should all be made into homes in which Torah, prayer and gemilus chassadim penetrate and fill every corner.

This idea is contained in the well-known term, Bayis Molei Seforim, a “home filled with books.” Every home should contain not just a Siddur and Chumash, but a large number of holy books. Furthermore, the holy content of the books should fill and penetrate the entire home, even the areas which are empty of books. And although the house contains other objects as well, they are all secondary and nullified to the books. Even more so, the effect of the books is felt even outside the home, just like the mezuzah, which protects its owner both in the home and outside.

This is connected with the Fifth of Teves, which is a particularly auspicious time for holy books: when the Federal Court issued a favorable ruling regarding the library of the Rebbeim. May it be G‑d’s will that the job be completed and that all writings of the Rebbeim be returned home. And those who have been involved in this until now should continue until they are totally successful, in the words of our Sages, “To the one who began the mitzvah we say, ‘Finish it!’ ” And G‑d, who tells us that He also fulfills all the mitzvos, should Himself finish what He started and ensure their success.

And may all our positive resolutions regarding buildings of holiness hasten even more the arrival of Mashiach, and may we be lead by Yaakov Avinu and the Previous Rebbe and all the tzaddikim to the Holy Land immediately.