1. This Shabbos is Shabbos Chazak, the Shabbos on which the reading of the Book of Bereishis is being concluded. At the conclusion of the Torah reading, it is customary to pronounce “Chazak, Chazak, V’nischazaik” — “Be Strong, be strong, may we be strengthened.” Thus, the conclusion of one of the books of the Torah adds strength to all matters of Jewish concern. It also contributes to strength in the world at large since “The Holy One, blessed be He, looked into the Torah and created the world; a person looks into the Torah and maintains the world.”

Since the proclamation “Chazak, Chazak...” comes at the conclusion of the Torah reading, it follows that it shares a connection with the subject which immediately precedes it, Yosef’s death and entombment in Egypt.

This raises a question: Why was this the passage chosen to conclude the Book of Bereishis? How does it “strengthen” the Jewish people in their service of G‑d? On the surface, it represents a descent and undesirable event. Previously, the Torah portion had related Yaakov’s statements:

Do not bury me in Egypt. [When] I lie with my fathers...bury me in their burying place...in the Cave in the field of Machpelah.

In Yaakov’s statements, there are two points: the advantage of being buried in Eretz Yisrael and in the Cave of Machpelah and the desire to avoid being buried in Egypt, a land with an extremely low spiritual level.

Yosef, in contrast, did not (at the outset) merit to be taken to Eretz Yisrael (let alone the Cave of Machpelah) and was entombed in Egypt with the intent (at least on the part of the Egyptians) that his remains be kept in Egypt for a prolonged period.1

It can be explained that from the Jews’ perspective, the entombment of Yosef had a positive dimension. It endowed the Jews with the strength and personal fortitude necessary to endure the exile. Yosef was the ruler of Egypt, as Pharaoh told him, “Without you, no one will left a hand or a foot in all the land of Egypt.” During this time, he was the source of sustenance for the Jews. Thus, they were able to internalize the concept that even while in exile, no one can disturb them. Yosef’s entombment continued this influence even after his death.2

This concept is relevant at present, for the exile in Egypt is the source for all the subsequent exiles of the Jewish people. Hence, the lesson associated with Yosef’s entombment is relevant to all the others exiles which the Jews had to endure including the present exile. Indeed, the connection to the present exile is greater as emphasized by the fact that the leader of our generation, the Previous Rebbe, is also named Yosef.3 His service, which involved “spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus and Yiddishkeit outward,” translating the Torah into “seventy languages,” also paralleled the service of Yosef. The latter, as explained in Chassidus, is connected with Rachel’s prayer, “May G‑d add to me another son.” This is interpreted to mean that Yosef’s service involves transforming the “others” — those alienated and estranged from Yiddishkeit into “sons.” Indeed, these “sons” are on a higher level than those who naturally follow the service of “sons”4 as our Sages declared, “In the place of Baalei Teshuvah, complete Tzaddikim cannot stand.”

2. The Previous Rebbe stated that we are in the final days of exile and that all that is necessary is to “polish the buttons” and stand prepared to greet Mashiach. Since more than forty years of “polishing the buttons” have passed, it is clear that any obstacle or difficulty which a Jew encounters in Yiddishkeit is only a challenge. The Hebrew word for challenge, נסיון (nisaon), also has the connotation נס (nais), elevation, lifting the person totally above his previous level.

We see this concept expressed in regard to Avraham who confronted ten different challenges. Even before confronting these challenges, Avraham was on an elevated spiritual plane. Certainly, this applies after he successfully completed the previous trials. Because G‑d desired that he reach an even higher level, He, therefore, gave him further trials.

The same applies in the present generation. We are living in an era which follows all the trials which the Jews have undergone in the previous generations. Similarly, it is after the trials undergone by the Previous Rebbe in Russia, the leader of our generation, trials which he overcame with the ultimate of courage, allowing him and all of his books to emerge from there.5 If so, the only reason G‑d subjects us to trials is because He wants to lift us to an even higher realm.

There is a further dimension to this concept. A challenge only appears as a challenge. In truth, it is an entity that has no genuine substance and exists only to lift us to a higher level. When a Jew shows that he is not at all effected by the challenge and continues his service as if the challenge did not exist, the truth is revealed. He sees how the challenge, in truth, does not exist — except for the elevation which it brings the Jew.

We see this concept exemplified in the story of Avraham who, on his way to the binding of Yitzchok, was confronted with a great river. Without a second thought, Avraham proceeded onward through the river. When the water reached his neck, he prayed to G‑d that he be able to continue his journey and immediately, the river dried up.

Although the river appeared to be great and powerful, it had no real substance and as soon as Avraham showed that he was not at all effected by it, the truth was revealed, resulting in a further elevation in Avraham’s spiritual level. (Vayikra Rabbah 24:3)

This relates to the story in the Midrash which explains that after a plague had effected a spring, the Jews went out and shouted “Didan Notzach,” a blood stain appeared on the water and the plague disappeared. This shows that the plague was ultimately intended to bring about a more powerful spreading of the waters of the spring.

Since a challenge has no real substance, no time should be wasted talking about the challenge itself. On the contrary, doing so confuses a person and stimulates his Yetzer Hora. What should be talked about and what is most important is the elevation that results from the challenge. In this context, the greater potential which is presently granted to spread Chassidus. In simple terms, this means the study of Chassidus (which, needless to say, follows the study of Nigleh). When a Chassidic text or discourse is printed, each person should feel personally motivated to study it. He should feel that the text or discourse was printed for himself alone.

There is a special emphasis on the above this year, a Shemitah year, which shares a special connection to the concept of Torah study. The Shemitah year allows the farmers who are not allowed to do any agricultural work the opportunity to devote their time to Torah study.6

The above should be carried out in the spirit of Chanukah; i.e., light should be placed at the entrance to one’s house facing outward. The candles will never be nullified. On the contrary, the light will continually be increased.

As a practical directive, efforts should be made to establish Chabad Houses, i.e., places for Torah study, prayer, and deeds of kindness. Similarly, each person should transform his home or room into a center for these activities.

Also, as mentioned previously,7 each individual, men, women, and children, should prepare himself for three tests to see whether his preparation for Yud Shevat is adequate, one on the 20th of Teves (the Rambam’s Yahrzeit), one on Rosh Chodesh Shevat (associated with the beginning of Moshe’s recitation of the Book of Devarim), and one on Yud Shevat itself. This concept is relevant to each and every Jew and efforts must be made to publicize it in the fullest manner possible.

May these activities lead to the redemption of the Jewish people, the central theme of the Book of Shemos which we are about to begin. The description of the redemption of our people from Egypt also contains allusions to the ultimate Messianic redemption. May it be speedily in our days.