Introduction

Koheles 2:13 states: “I saw an advantage to wisdom over foolishness like the advantage of the light over darkness.” The simple meaning of the verse1 is that just as light dispels darkness effortlessly, so too does wisdom dispel foolishness as a matter of course.

Chassidus2expands the meaning of the phrase by giving two interpretations:

a) The place of darkness is illuminated by light. The greater the darkness, the more the power of the light becomes evident. The contrast highlights the effect the light can have.

b) The darkness itself becomes luminous and is transformed into light, bringing about a superior quality of light that the light does not inherently possess.

The Rebbe uses these concepts to explain a puzzling statement of Baal HaTurim:3that the best years of the life of our ancestor Yaakov were spent in Egypt. Yaakov was a man whose entire life was focused on holiness. How could his best years have been those that he spent in Egypt, a place of impurity and spiritual darkness?

Nevertheless, it was precisely the darkness of Egypt that endowed Yaakov’s years there with their cherished quality. Through the Torah study he brought to that land, he was able to transform its darkness and tap into the higher quality of light described above. As the facilitator of that change, Yaakov was able to rise above his own spiritual level and become part of G‑d’s greater purpose.

Yaakov’s Best Years

My revered father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, related:4 When the Tzemach Tzedek was a child and learned the verse,5 “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years,” his teacher interpreted it to him according to the commentary of Baal HaTurim,6“Our PatriarchYaakov lived his seventeen best years in Egypt.”7

When the Tzemach Tzedek came home from cheder, he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe: “How could it be that the best years of the life of our Patriarch Yaakov, the most eminent of the Patriarchs,8 were the seventeen years that he lived in Egypt, ‘the nakedness of the land’?”9

א

כְּבוֹד קְדֻשַּׁת מוֹרִי וְחָמִי אַדְמוּ"ר סִפֵּר68: בִּהְיוֹת הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק יֶלֶד וְלָמַד אֶת הַכָּתוּב69 "וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה", תִּרְגֵּם לוֹ מוֹרוֹ – עַל פִּי פֵּרוּשׁ בַּעַל הַטּוּרִים70 – שֶׁאֶת י"ז שְׁנוֹתָיו הַמֻּבְחָרוֹת חַי יַעֲקֹב בְּמִצְרַיִם ("יַעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ הָאט גֶעלֶעבְּט דִי זִיבֶּעצֶעהן בֶּעסְטֶע יָאהרֶען אִין מִצְרַיִם"). כְּשֶׁבָּא הַבַּיְתָה מֵהַחֶדֶר שָׁאַל אֶת זְקֵנוֹ אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן: הֲיִתָּכֵן שֶׁיַּעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ, בְּחִיר הָאָבוֹת71, יִהְיוּ מִבְחַר שְׁנוֹת חַיָּיו י"ז שָׁנָה שֶׁגָּר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ72?

The Alter Rebbe answered him: “It is written that10Yaakov sent Yehudah before him to Yosef, to show him (lehoros lefanav) the way to Goshen.’ The Midrash11– quoted also by Rashi12 – relates that R. Nechemiah said, ‘Yehudah was charged with preparing a House of Study for him, so that hora’ah, the directives of the Torah, would emerge from there,’ and his sons13 would meditate upon its teachings.”14

The Alter Rebbe added: “This is implied by the above-quoted phrase, lehoros lefanav Goshnah ‘To show him the way to Goshen.’15 Through Torah study, one draws closer to G‑d. In such circumstances, even in Egypt, there was life and vitality.”

וַיַּעֲנֵהוּ אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן: כְּתִיב73 "וְאֶת יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח לְפָנָיו אֶל יוֹסֵף לְהוֹרוֹת לְפָנָיו גֹּשְׁנָה", וְאִיתָא בְּמִדְרָשׁ74 – מוּבָא בְּרַשִׁ"י – אָמַר רַבִּי נְחֶמְיָה לְהַתְקִין לוֹ בֵּית תַּלְמוּד, שֶׁתְּהֵא שָׁם תּוֹרָה וְשֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה. לְהוֹרוֹת לְפָנָיו גֹּשְׁנָה, כְּשֶׁלּוֹמְדִים תּוֹרָה מִתְקָרְבִים לְהַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרֵךְ, וְ(לָכֵן) הָיְתָה בְּחִינַת "וַיְחִי" גַּם בְּמִצְרַיִם ("אַז מֶען לֶערְנְט תּוֹרָה ווֶערְט מֶען נֶעהנְטֶער צוּם אוֹיבֶּערְשְׁטְן בָּרוּךְ הוּא, אוּן אוֹיךְ אִין מִצְרַיִם אִיז גֶעווֶען וַיְחִי גֶעלֶעבְּט").

Not Just Stories

As is well known, in general, the stories of our Rebbeim – and, in particular, those which they conveyed to us with the intent that they be publicized – are precise in all their details.16The implication of that statement is twofold:

a) every detail is relevant and helps one understand the story as a whole, and

b) every detail relates to the lesson to be derived from the story, providing us with instruction in our Divine service.

ב

סִפּוּרֵי רַבּוֹתֵינוּ נְשִׂיאֵינוּ בִּכְלָל, וְאֵלּוּ שֶׁנִּמְסְרוּ לָנוּ עַל יָדָם עַל מְנָת לְפַרְסֵם – בִּפְרָט, מְדֻיָּקִים הֵם, כְּיָדוּעַ, בְּכָל פְּרָטֵיהֶם75; הַיְנוּ, הֵן בְּשַׁיָּכוּת לַהֲבָנַת תֹּכֶן הַסִּפּוּר – שֶׁכָּל פְּרָט נוֹגֵעַ וּמְסַיֵּעַ לַהֲבָנַת כְּלָלוּת עִנְיָנוֹ, וְהֵן בְּשַׁיָּכוּת לְהַמּוּסַר־הַשְׂכֵּל שֶׁבְּהַסִּפּוּר, שֶׁבְּכָל פְּרָט טְמוּנָה הוֹרָאָה בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה'.

Similar concepts apply to the story at hand, including the question asked by the Tzemach Tzedek. Even though he asked the question while still a child, since it is also part of the story conveyed to us by the Rebbeim, it certainly contains a profound message and a lesson for our Divine service. In particular, this is true based on our Sages’ statement,17The quality of a cucumber can be determined in its blossoming stage,” i.e., a person’s abilities can be detected even in childhood.

וְכֵן הוּא גַּם בְּנִדּוֹן דִּידַן – כּוֹלֵל גַּם שְׁאֵלַת הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק, כִּי אַף שֶׁשְּׁאָלָהּ בְּיַלְדוּתוֹ, בְּכָל זֶה מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁגַּם הִיא חֵלֶק מֵהַסִּפּוּר שֶׁנִּמְסַר לָנוּ עַל יְדֵי רַבּוֹתֵינוּ נְשִׂיאֵינוּ, הֲרֵי בְּוַדַּאי שֶׁגַּם בָּהּ תֹּכֶן רַב וּ(בְמֵילָא) גַּם הוֹרָאָה בַּעֲבוֹדַת הָאָדָם. וּבִפְרָט עַל פִּי מַאֲמַר רַזַ"ל "בּוּצִין בּוּצִין מִקַּטְפֵיהּ יְדִיעַ"76.

There is another point: The Alter Rebbe offered this explanation to the Tzemach Tzedek while he was still a child. This indicates that the lesson from the story is relevant to everyone, even one who is merely a child in terms of his Divine service.

וְעוֹד נְקֻדָּה בְּזֶה: בֵּאוּרוֹ שֶׁל אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן נֶאֱמַר לְהַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק וְהוּא עֲדַיִן בְּקַטְנוּתוֹ – שֶׁמִּזֶּה מוּבָן שֶׁהַהוֹרָאוֹת מֵהַסִּפּוּר שַׁיָּכוֹת לְכָל אֶחָד וְאַחַת – גַּם לְאֵלּוּ שֶׁהֵם עֲדַיִן בְּדַרְגָּא שֶׁל "קַטְנוּת" בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה'.

Focusing on Details

At first glance, there are several details that require explanation regarding the story quoted above:

ג

בְּהַשְׁקָפָה רִאשׁוֹנָה, יֶשְׁנָם כַּמָּה פְּרָטִים בִּלְתִּי מוּבָנִים בְּתֹכֶן וּבְהֶמְשֵׁךְ הַסִּפּוּר הַנַּ"ל:

a) The Alter Rebbe’s answer does not appear to provide a satisfactory reply to the Tzemach Tzedek’s question. His question was, “How could it be that Yaakov’s best years… were the seventeen years that he lived in Egypt?” The Alter Rebbe answered him that through Torah study there can be life and vitality even in Egypt. That answer does not explain why the best years of Yaakov’s life were spent specifically in Egypt.

א) בֵּאוּרוֹ שֶׁל אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן אֵין בּוֹ לִכְאוֹרָה תְּשׁוּבָה מַסְפִּיקָה לִשְׁאֵלָתוֹ שֶׁל הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק – דַּהֲרֵי שְׁאֵלָתוֹ הָיְתָה: אֵיךְ יִתָּכֵן שֶׁמִּבְחַר שְׁנוֹת חַיָּיו שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב הֵן הַי"ז שָׁנָה שֶׁגָּר בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְאִלּוּ מַעֲנָתוֹ שֶׁל אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן הָיְתָה שֶׁעַל יְדֵי לִמּוּד הַתּוֹרָה אֶפְשָׁר לְהַגִּיעַ גַּם בְּמִצְרַיִם לִבְחִינַת "וַיְחִי", וַעֲדַיִן אֵין בְּזֶה נְתִינַת טַעַם לְ"וַיְחִי . . בְּמִצְרַיִם" בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁל מִבְחַר שְׁנוֹת חַיָּיו.

b) Since the Tzemach Tzedek was of the age that he merely heard the interpretation of Baal HaTurim from his teacher rather than having studied it himself, why did the Alter Rebbe cite the source of our Sages’ interpretation of the verse “to show him the way to Goshen” as the Midrash which is quoted by Rashi instead of quoting Rashi directly? Seemingly, that would be more appropriate, for Rashi’s commentary is intended (even) for “a five-year-old18 (beginning his study of) Scripture.”19

Accordingly, we must say that although the quote in Rashi’s commentary also answers the question – and therefore, the Alter Rebbe mentioned it in his reply – an additional element is contributed by citing the source in the Midrash.

ב) כֵּיוָן שֶׁהַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק הָיָה אָז בְּגִיל אֲשֶׁר רַק מִמּוֹרוֹ שָׁמַע פֵּרוּשׁ הַבַּעַל הַטּוּרִים, לָמָּה הֵבִיא אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן דְּרָשַׁת רַזַ"ל עַל הַפָּסוּק לְהוֹרוֹת לְפָנָיו גֹּשְׁנָה מִ"מִּדְרָשׁ – מוּבָא בְּפֵרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י", וְלֹא מִפֵּרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י עַצְמוֹ? וְעַל כָּרְחָךְ צָרִיךְ לוֹמַר שֶׁאַף שֶׁהַמּוּבָא בְּפֵרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י גַּם כֵּן מְתָרֵץ הַשְּׁאֵלָה (שֶׁלָּכֵן הֻזְכַּר בְּהַמַּעֲנֶה פֵּרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י) – בְּכָל זֶה יִתּוֹסֵף בְּזֶה עַל יְדֵי הַהוֹסָפָה שֶׁבְּמִדְרָשׁ.

c) Rashi quotes our Sages’ interpretation “preparing a House of Study for him, so that hora’ah, the directives of the Torah, would emerge from there.” The Midrash adds, “And his sons would meditate upon its teachings.” It is necessary to understand: The Alter Rebbe’s intent was to explain why Yaakov’s best years were spent in Egypt. How does the fact that Yaakov’s sons “would meditate on the Torah’s teachings” add to the understanding of how these were Yaakov’s best years?20

ג) בְּפֵרוּשׁ רַשִׁ"י מוּבָא מִמַּאֲמַר רַזַ"ל הַנַּ"ל "לְתַקֵּן לוֹ בֵּית תַּלְמוּד שֶׁמִּשָּׁם תֵּצֵא הוֹרָאָה", וּבַמִּדְרָשׁ מוֹסִיף עַל זֶה: "וְשֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה"; וְצָרִיךְ לְהָבִין: כַּוָּנַת אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן הָיְתָה לְבָאֵר אֵיךְ שֶׁמִּבְחַר שְׁנוֹתָיו דְּיַעֲקֹב הָיוּ בְּמִצְרַיִם – וּמַה מּוֹסִיף בְּזֶה עַל יְדֵי הָעִנְיָן "שֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה"77?

What Gave Yaakov Joy?

These questions can be resolved by beginning with a clarification of the Tzemach Tzedek’s question. On the surface, the fundamental concept – that Yaakov’s best years were his last seventeen years that he spent with Yosef – is not so difficult to understand. It is obvious that the foremost joy experienced by Yaakov, “the most eminent of the Patriarchs,” came from seeing Yosef living and conducting himself like his son, maintaining his righteousness, even after having lived in Egypt for such a long time.21

ד

וְיוּבַן בְּהֶקְדֵּם תּוֹסֶפֶת בֵּאוּר בִּשְׁאֵלַת הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק:

לִכְאוֹרָה אֵין לִתְמוֹהַּ עַל עֶצֶם הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר מִבְחַר שְׁנוֹתָיו שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב הָיוּ דַוְקָא הַי"ז שָׁנִים הָאַחֲרוֹנוֹת שֶׁלּוֹ שֶׁהָיָה בְּיַחַד עִם יוֹסֵף, כִּי מוּבָן וּפָשׁוּט שֶׁעִקַּר שִׂמְחָתוֹ שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב, "בְּחִיר הָאָבוֹת", הָיְתָה עַל יְדֵי זֶה שֶׁרָאָה יוֹסֵף חַי וּמִתְנַהֵג כִּבְנוֹ, עוֹמֵד בְּצִדְקָתוֹ גַּם לְאַחֲרֵי הִמָּצְאוֹ זְמַן אָרֹךְ בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם78.

This is also understood from Rashi’s understanding of Yaakov’s response to his sons’ words,22 “Yosef is still alive.” At first, “his heart became faint.” It was only after “he saw the wagons,” that “the spirit of Yaakov came alive.” As Rashi explains, “Yosef gave them a sign – the subject he was studying when he became separated from Yaakov – the passage of eglah arufah.23 This is intimated by the verse, ‘and he saw the wagons24 that Yosef had sent.’ ” Yaakov’s foremost happiness and his consummate joy resulted from seeing that Yosef was able to maintain his spiritual state, studying Torah and acting righteously as before.25

This is also hinted at by Yaakov’s words to Yosef after descending to Egypt when he expressed his joy at26 “having seen your face that you are still alive.” Is it specifically seeing a person’s face that shows he is alive? Instead, Yaakov was saying that Yosef’s righteousness and spiritual vitality was evident in his physical countenance and that was the primary cause of Yaakov’s joy.27

וְזֶה גַם מוּבָן מִדִּבְרֵי רַשִׁ"י בְּבֵאוּר סִפּוּר הַכָּתוּב (לְאַחַר שֶׁנִּתְבַּשֵּׂר יַעֲקֹב כִּי "עוֹד יוֹסֵף חַי וגו'", "וַיָּפָג לִבּוֹ גו'" עַד כִּי "וַיַּרְא אֶת הָעֲגָלוֹת וגו' וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם"79) שֶׁדַּוְקָא כִּרְאוֹת יַעֲקֹב אֶת הָעֲגָלוֹת אָז וַתְּחִי רוּחוֹ: סִימָן מָסַר לָהֶם בַּמֶּה הָיָה עוֹסֵק . . בְּפָרָשַׁת עֶגְלָה עֲרוּפָה זֶהוּ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וַיַּרְא אֶת הָעֲגָלוֹת אֲשֶׁר שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף וכו'; הֲרֵי שֶׁעִקַּר שִׂמְחָתוֹ שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב וּשְׁלֵמוּתָהּ בָּאָה בִּרְאוֹתוֹ שֶׁיּוֹסֵף עוֹמֵד בְּמַצָּב רוּחָנִי נַעֲלֶה וְתוֹרָתוֹ וְצִדְקָתוֹ עִמּוֹ כְּמִקֶּדֶם80. וְזֶהוּ גַם מַה שֶּׁאָמַר יַעֲקֹב לְיוֹסֵף בְּבוֹאוֹ לְמִצְרַיִם: "אַחֲרֵי רְאוֹתִי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ כִּי עוֹדְךָ חָי"81 (וְהַאִם דַּוְקָא רְאִיַּת פָּנָיו מוֹכִיחָה שֶׁהוּא חַי? אֶלָּא) שֶׁהַכַּוָּנָה בְּזֶה לְצִדְקָתוֹ וְחַיּוּתוֹ הָרוּחָנִית שֶׁאוֹתָהּ רָאָה יַעֲקֹב בְּפָנָיו שֶׁל יוֹסֵף, וְזֶהוּ עִקַּר סִבַּת שִׂמְחָתוֹ82.

These words indicate that Yaakov’s joy in seeing Yosef’s countenance reflected a truly lofty dimension of happiness and pleasure.28That became possible specifically in Egypt, “the nakedness of the land,”6 because of the transformation of darkness into light.29 Accordingly, the question posed by the Tzemach Tzedek and the elaborate reply of the Alter Rebbe require explanation.

וּמִזֶּה מוּבָן, שֶׁשִּׂמְחָתוֹ זוֹ שֶׁל יַעֲקֹב, בִּרְאִיַּת פְּנֵי יוֹסֵף, הָיְתָה שִׂמְחָה וְעֹנֶג נַעֲלֶה בְּיוֹתֵר83 דַּוְקָא בְּמִצְרַיִם עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ – כְּיִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִתּוֹךְ הַחֹשֶׁךְ.

וּמִכֵּיוָן שֶׁכֵּן, שְׁאֵלַת הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק וְכֵן אֲרִיכוּת מַעֲנֵה אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן – טְעוּנוֹת בֵּאוּר.

The Key to Unlimited Growth

To elucidate the above: Mitzrayim, Hebrew for “Egypt,” shares the same root letters as the word meitzarim, meaning “boundaries” and “limitations,”30 i.e., it is a land that does not allow for the revelation of the unlimited dimensions of G‑dliness. Moreover, it is “the nakedness of the land,” a place where the propensity for sin exists31 and the forces of kelipah conceal all aspects of G‑dliness.

ה

וְהַבֵּאוּר בְּזֶה:

"מִצְרַיִם" הוּא מִלְּשׁוֹן מְצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים84 – אֶרֶץ שֶׁאֵינָהּ נוֹתֶנֶת מָקוֹם לְגִלּוּי אֱלֹקוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הַבִּלְתִּי בַּעַל גְּבוּל; וְעוֹד יוֹתֵר: הִיא "עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ", מְקוֹם הַחֵטְא85 וְהַקְּלִפּוֹת הַמַּעְלִימִים וּמַסְתִּירִים עַל כָּל עִנְיָן אֱלֹקִי בִּכְלָל.

The ultimate purpose of man’s Divine service is to go beyond these boundaries and limitations – that he feel the revelation of G‑d’s unlimited light. This will lift him to an entirely unbounded rung of Divine service.32

תַּכְלִית עֲבוֹדַת הָאָדָם הִיא: לָצֵאת מִמְּצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים אֵלּוּ, הַיְנוּ שֶׁיֻּרְגַּשׁ אֶצְלוֹ גִּלּוּי אוֹר הָאֱלֹקִי הַבִּלְתִּי בַּעַל גְּבוּל, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי זֶה יִתְעַלֶּה לַעֲבוֹד אֶת ה' בְּלִי כָּל מְדִידוֹת וְהַגְבָּלוֹת86.

This was the point of the question the Tzemach Tzedek asked the Alter Rebbe: True, in his last seventeen years, Yaakov reached an extremely lofty rung of spiritual pleasure and happiness that he had not attained until then. Nevertheless, conversely, the descent into Egypt – because of its “boundaries” and “limitations,” and it being “the nakedness of the land” – certainly brought about concealment or at least limitation for Yaakov, preventing him from carrying out his Divine service in a consummate manner. That descent made it more difficult for him to transcend entirely the limits of this world and to feel the G‑dliness above nature.33

How then could it be possible that the years of his life and Divine service in Egypt would be considered his best years? The question becomes even more poignant when Yaakov’s years in Egypt are compared to those spent in Eretz Yisrael, a place that is more appropriate for the holiness of a person who is comparable to a perfect burnt-offering, a sacrifice of the most sacred degree of holiness.34

וְזוֹ הִיא נְקֻדַּת שְׁאֵלָתוֹ שֶׁל הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק לְאַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן: הֵן אֱמֶת, שֶׁדַּוְקָא בְּי"ז שָׁנָיו הָאַחֲרוֹנוֹת בָּא יַעֲקֹב לְשִׂמְחָה וְעֹנֶג רוּחָנִי בְּמַדְרֵגָה נַעֲלֵית כָּזוֹ, שֶׁלֹּא הִגִּיעָה אֵלֶיהָ עַד אָז: אֲבָל לְאִידָךְ, הֲרֵי יְרִידָתוֹ לְמִצְרַיִם, מְצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים וְ"עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ", פּוֹעֶלֶת הֶעְלֵם וְהֶסְתֵּר (וְעַל כָּל פָּנִים הַגְבָּלָה) בְּתַכְלִית וּשְׁלֵמוּת עֲבוֹדָתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ – לָצֵאת לְגַמְרֵי מֵהַגְבָּלוֹת הָעוֹלָם, כִּי אִם הַרְגָּשַׁת אֱלֹקוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מִן הַטֶּבַע87 – וּמִצַּד זֶה אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁשְּׁנוֹת חַיָּיו וַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ בְּמִצְרַיִם נִקְרְאוּ מִבְחַר שְׁנוֹתָיו? וּבִפְרָט בְּעֶרֶךְ שְׁנוֹת חַיָּיו בְּאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל מָקוֹם מַתְאִים לִקְדֻשַּׁת עוֹלָה תְמִימָה – קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים88.

The Alter Rebbe’s response was that Yaakov had charged Yehudah with “preparing a House of Study for him,” in Egypt, and “through Torah study… even in Egypt, there was life and vitality.” The study of the Torah lifts a person above all limits and restraints and enables him – even in Egypt – to ascend to a rung where “he lives” with genuine vitality.

וְעַל זֶה בָּא מַעֲנֵה אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן, שֶׁיַּעֲקֹב "הִתְקִין לוֹ בֵּית תַּלְמוּד" בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְעַל יְדֵי הַתּוֹרָה הִנֵּה גַם בְּמִצְרַיִם הָיָה הַמַּצָּב בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁל "וַיְחִי" ("גֶעלֶעבְּט") – עַל יְדֵי לִמּוּד הַתּוֹרָה, הַמַּגְבִּיהַּ אֶת הָאָדָם הַלּוֹמֵד לְמַעְלָה מִכָּל מְדִידוֹת וְהַגְבָּלוֹת, אֶפְשָׁר לְהִתְעַלּוֹת גַּם בְּמִצְרַיִם לִבְחִינַת "וַיְחִי" – חַיִּים אֲמִתִּיִּים.

The reason this is possible is that the Torah is rooted in G‑d’s very Essence.35 Just as G‑d’s Essence transcends all conception of what is considered “high” and what is considered “low”, so too does the Torah. Even as it is drawn down to the lowest of levels – “as it set forth and descended from its lofty source… until it enclothed itself in material things and matters of this world”36 – the Torah remains unlimited in nature on every one of its rungs.37

וְהַטַּעַם: הַתּוֹרָה מֻשְׁרֶשֶׁת בְּעַצְמוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ89

Therefore, through studying and attaching oneself to the Torah, a person can achieve a wondrous unity with it, “becoming actually one and unified from every side and angle.”38The Torah empowers him to elevate himself above all the measures and limits of the world to the extent that he can nullify the concealment of G‑dliness generated by Egypt.

וְלָכֵן כְּשֵׁם שֶׁעַצְמוּתוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ הוּא לְמַעְלָה מִכָּל הַקְּצָווֹת דְּמַעְלָה וּמַטָּה, עַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה הוּא בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁגַּם בְּהַמְשָׁכָתָהּ לְמַטָּה, בְּכָל הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת שֶׁלָּהּ – גַּם כְּשֶׁ"נָּסְעָה וְיָרְדָה כו' עַד שֶׁנִּתְלַבְּשָׁה בִּדְבָרִים גַּשְׁמִיִּים וְעִנְיְנֵי עוֹלָם הַזֶּה"90 – הֲרֵי הִיא בִּבְחִינַת בְּלִי גְבוּל91.

וְלָכֵן בְּכֹחַ הַלִּמּוּד וְהַדְּבֵקוּת בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי זֶה מִתְיַחֵד עִמָּהּ בְּיִחוּד נִפְלָא כו' לִהְיוֹת לַאֲחָדִים וּמְיֻחָדִים מַמָּשׁ מִכָּל צַד וּפִנָּה92, לְהַעֲלוֹת אֶת הָאָדָם מִכָּל הַמְּדִידוֹת וְהַגְבָּלוֹת שֶׁל הָעוֹלָם, לְבַטֵּל אֶת הַהֶעְלֵם וְהַהֶסְתֵּר דְּ"מִצְרַיִם".

Therefore, by “sending Yehudah before him,” “to prepare a House of Study for him,”39 Yaakov ensured that coming to Egypt would not lead to a descent in his Divine service. He would not be subject to the boundaries and limitations of Egypt because of his occupation with Torah study. Therefore, it was possible for his best years to be even those spent in Egypt.

וְלָכֵן: מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁ"אֶת יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח (יַעֲקֹב) לְפָנָיו גו' – הִתְקִין לוֹ בֵּית תַּלְמוּד שֶׁתְּהֵא שָׁם תּוֹרָה"93, הֲרֵי לֹא הָיָה בְּבִיאָתוֹ לְמִצְרַיִם יְרִידָה בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ, כִּי לֹא הָיָה נָתוּן תַּחַת הַמְּצָרִים וְהַגְּבוּלִים דְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם.

וְלָכֵן אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁמִּבְחַר שְׁנוֹתָיו יִהְיוּ (גַּם) כְּשֶׁגָּר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם.

Superior Light

To explain why these years specifically were Yaakov’s best, the Alter Rebbe quoted our Sages’ interpretation of the phrase “to show him the way to Goshen” in the Midrash, and chose to emphasize the phrase, “and his sons would meditate upon its teachings,” as mentioned above.40

ו

וּלְבָאֵר אֵיךְ דַּוְקָא שָׁנִים אֵלּוּ הֵן "מִבְחַר" שְׁנוֹתָיו – מוּבֵאת דְּרָשַׁת רַזַ"ל (עַל הַפָּסוּק "לְהוֹרוֹת לְפָנָיו גֹּשְׁנָה") מִמִּדְרָשׁ עִם הַהוֹסָפָה "וְשֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה" (כַּנַּ"ל סְעִיף ג).

The reason why emphasis was placed on Yaakov’s sons can be found in an interpretation the Tzemach Tzedek offered as an adult for the verse about which he had questioned the Alter Rebbe as a child:41

“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years.”… Seventeen is numerically equivalent to the word טוב, meaning “good.” Through the seventeen years he spent in Egypt, he became worthy of “living,” of seeing goodness, because “the superior quality of light42 is elicited from darkness.”

The Tzemach Tzedek was explaining that Yaakov began a new phase of Divine service in Egypt. Through his descent to that land, he became worthy of “the superior quality of light that is elicited from darkness.”

וְהַבֵּאוּר: בְּאוֹתוֹ הַפָּסוּק וְהָעִנְיָן שֶׁשָּׁאַל הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק בִּהְיוֹתוֹ יֶלֶד – בֵּאֵר בְּגַדְלוּתוֹ94 "וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה . . שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה כְּמִסְפַּר טוֹב, דְּהַיְנוּ עַל יְדֵי שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה דְּמִצְרַיִם זָכָה לִבְחִינַת וַיְחִי לִרְאוֹת טוֹב כִּי יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר נִמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ". וְהַיְנוּ, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי הַיְרִידָה לְמִצְרַיִם זָכָה לְיִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ.

Illumination and Transformation

There are two interpretations of the phrase,43 “the advantage of the light over darkness,” which reflect two different modes of expression of light:44

a) The place of darkness is illuminated by light. The greater the darkness the more the uniqueness of the light and its unlimited power becomes evident, for the contrast highlights the effect the light can have even in a place of such great darkness.

b) The darkness itself becomes luminous and is transformed into light, bringing about a superior quality of light. A superior dimension of light that the light does not inherently possess is elicited through the transformation of darkness.

ז

וְהִנֵּה בְּ"יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ" יֵשׁ ב' פֵּרוּשִׁים – אוֹפַנִּים95: א) מְקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ מוּאָר עַל יְדֵי הָאוֹר. וְכֹל שֶׁהַחֹשֶׁךְ גָּדוֹל יוֹתֵר – נִכֶּרֶת יוֹתֵר מַעֲלָתוֹ שֶׁל הָאוֹר וְכֹחוֹ הַבִּלְתִּי־מֻגְבָּל לִפְעוֹל גַּם בְּמָקוֹם שֶׁל חֹשֶׁך גָּדוֹל כְּזֶה. ב) הַחֹשֶׁךְ עַצְמוֹ מוּאָר וְנֶהְפָּךְ לְאוֹר וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה נַעֲשֶׂה יִתְרוֹן בְּהָאוֹר, שֶׁנִּמְשָׁךְ בְּהָאוֹר בְּחִינָה נַעֲלֵית יוֹתֵר שֶׁאֵינָהּ בְּהָאוֹר מִצַּד עַצְמוֹ.

To highlight the difference between these two interpretations: According to the first interpretation of the phrase “the advantage of light over darkness,” the intent is not that the light actually relates to the existence of the darkness (that brings out the light’s superior quality). Since this light is utterly unlimited and therefore shines everywhere, even in a place of darkness, from the very outset, it is as if darkness does not at all exist in relation to it.45Accordingly, the phrase “the advantage of light over darkness” is relevant only with regard to a) a place that, were the light not to extend there, would be dark, and b) with regard to an observer, a person who perceives both light and darkness.

By contrast, according to the second interpretation – that “the superior quality of light is elicited from darkness” itself – darkness exists even in relation to the light and the light must transform it. This transformation also brings about the superior quality of light.

וְהַהֶפְרֵשׁ שֶׁבֵּין ב' בֵּאוּרִים אֵלּוּ: לְפִי בֵּאוּר הָא' בְּ"יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ" אֵין הַכַּוָּנָה שֶׁלְּגַבֵּי הָאוֹר עַצְמוֹ יֵשׁ בְּפֹעַל מְצִיאוּת שֶׁל חֹשֶׁךְ (שֶׁעַל יָדָהּ נִכָּר יִתְרוֹנוֹ שֶׁל הָאוֹר) – דְּמִכֵּיוָן שֶׁהוּא אוֹר בִּלְתִּי מֻגְבָּל וּבְמֵילָא מֵאִיר בְּכָל מָקוֹם גַּם בִּמְקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ, הֲרֵי שֶׁמִּלְּכַתְּחִלָּה אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְתָאֵר כְּלַפֵּי הָאוֹר מְצִיאוּת שֶׁל חֹשֶׁךְ – וְהַכַּוָּנָה בְּ"יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ" הִיא מִצַּד הַמָּקוֹם שֶׁהוּא חָשׁוּךְ (לוּלֵא הִתְפַּשְּׁטוּת הָאוֹר) וּמִצַּד הָרוֹאֶה שֶׁהוּא בְּגֶדֶר אוֹר וְחֹשֶׁךְ; מַה שֶּׁאֵין כֵּן לְבֵאוּר הַב' שֶׁיִּתְרוֹן הָאוֹר נִמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ עַצְמוֹ, הֲרֵי יֶשְׁנָהּ מְצִיאוּת שֶׁל "חֹשֶׁךְ" גַּם לְגַבֵּי הָאוֹר, וְצָרִיךְ הָאוֹר לְהַפְּכוֹ וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה גַּם בָּא יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר כו'.

Similar concepts apply to the matter under discussion – the interpretation of the verse, “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years” – that through the descent to Egypt he became worthy of truly “living,” of revealing “the superior quality of light elicited from darkness.” Not only was the superior quality of Yaakov’s life – that it was consummately superlative – evident to others when he lived in Egypt, a place of darkness.46Moreover, he transformed the environment within Egypt, as reflected in the second interpretation of the above phrase, i.e., he transformed the very darkness of Egypt into light.

וְעַל פִּי זֶה בְּנִדּוֹן דִּידַן, בְּפֵרוּשׁ הַפָּסוּק "וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב גו' בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם", שֶׁעַל יְדֵי הַיְרִידָה לְמִצְרַיִם "זָכָה לִבְחִינַת וַיְחִי כו' הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ" (וְלֹא שֶׁבִּהְיוֹתוֹ בְּמִצְרַיִם מְקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ, הָיְתָה נִכֶּרֶת לַאֲחֵרִים מַעֲלַת הַ"חַיִּים" שֶׁלּוֹ, שֶׁהָיוּ גַּם שָׁם בְּתַכְלִית הָעִלּוּי) – הֲרֵי מוּבָן שֶׁהוּא לְפִי בֵּאוּר הַב' הַנַּ"ל.

A Spiritual Transition

On this basis, it is possible to understand why the Alter Rebbe was careful to include in his answer the quote from the Midrash cited above – that “his sons10 would meditate upon its teachings.” This phrase alludes to the explanation above that “the superior quality of light is elicited from darkness.”

ח

עַל פִּי זֶה יֵשׁ לוֹמַר שֶׁאַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן דִּיֵּק לְהוֹסִיף בִּתְשׁוּבָתוֹ מֵהַמִּדְרָשׁ " . . וְשֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה" בִּכְדֵי לְרַמֵּז לְבֵאוּר זֶה דְּ"יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ".

The Patriarchs are identified with the realm of Atzilus. Yaakov’s sons – referred to in Rabbinic literature as the shevatim, “the tribes” – are identified with the lower realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah.47The transition from level to level is reflected in the meaning of the term sheivet,“which has the connotation of extension; thus, a comet is referred to as a kochva deshavit, ‘a shooting star.’ ”48

On Yaakov’s level – Atzilus, the realm where G‑dly light that is unlimited is manifest – it is as if the spiritual darkness and the concealment of G‑d brought about by Egypt does not exist.49 For this reason, after quoting the Midrash that speaks of Torah study, the Alter Rebbe emphasized that Yaakov’s sons would meditate upon the Torah’s teachings.” As mentioned, Yaakov’s sons are identified with the worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah,50 realms characterized by separation, places of relative darkness. Through their study of the Torah in the land of Egypt,51 they were able to illuminate the darkness itself – which for them (in contrast to Yaakov) was a significant entity. By transforming the darkness into light, they were able to draw down “the superior quality of light that is elicited from the darkness.”52

דְּהִנֵּה הָאָבוֹת הֵם בְּחִינַת אֲצִילוּת, וְהַשְּׁבָטִים – "מִלְּשׁוֹן הַמְשָׁכָה כְּמוֹ כּוֹכְבָא דְשָׁבִיט"96 – הֵם בְּיַ"ע97. וְלָכֵן בַּנּוֹגֵעַ לְיַעֲקֹב עַצְמוֹ, לְגַבֵּי מַדְרֵגָתוֹ מַדְרֵגַת הָאֲצִילוּת (הַיְנוּ הָאוֹר הַבִּלְתִּי מֻגְבָּל) אֵין שׁוּם מְצִיאוּת בְּהַחֹשֶׁךְ וְהַהֶעְלֵם שֶׁל מִצְרַיִם98.

וְלָכֵן מֵבִיא אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן מֵהַמִּדְרָשׁ: "(שֶׁתְּהֵא שָׁם תּוֹרָה) וְשֶׁיִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה" – כִּי מִכֵּיוָן שֶׁהַשְּׁבָטִים הֵם בְּיַ"ע99, עָלְמִין דִּפְרוֹדָא וּמְקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ, הֲרֵי עַל יְדֵי לִמּוּדָם בַּתּוֹרָה בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם100 פָּעֲלוּ לְהָאִיר אֶת הַחֹשֶׁךְ גּוּפָא שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת מְצִיאוּת לְגַבֵּיהֶם, וְעַל יְדֵי שֶׁהָפְכוּ אֶת הַחֹשֶׁךְ לְאוֹר נִמְשַׁךְ לָהֶם "יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר הַבָּא מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ" עַצְמוֹ101, כַּנַּ"ל.

True, Yaakov himself did not share an inherent connection to this superior light because, from the outset, darkness was not a factor for him.53 Nevertheless, through “preparing a House of Study… so that hora’ah, the directives of the Torah, would emerge from there, and his sons would meditate upon its teachings,” he also “became worthy of ‘living, ’… because ‘the superior quality of light is elicited from darkness.’ ”

וְאַף שֶׁיִּתְרוֹן הָאוֹר הַזֶּה לֹא הָיָה בְּיַעֲקֹב מִצַּד עַצְמוֹ – כִּי לְגַבֵּיהּ לֹא הָיָה חֹשֶׁךְ מִלְּכַתְּחִלָּה – אֲבָל עַל יְדֵי זֶה שֶׁ"הִתְקִין לוֹ בֵּית תַּלְמוּד שֶׁתְּהֵא שָׁם תּוֹרָה וְשֶׁ(עַל יְדֵי זֶה) יִהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה", פָּעַל שֶׁגַּם הוּא "זָכָה לִבְחִינַת וַיְחִי . . יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ".

To cite a well-known parallel couched in Kabbalistic terminology: Through Divine service in the realms of Beriah, Yetzirah, and Asiyah, new G‑dly light is increased in Atzilus.

וּבְדֻגְמַת הַיָּדוּעַ שֶׁעַל יְדֵי עֲבוֹדָה בִּבְיַ"ע – מוֹסִיפִים אוֹר בַּאֲצִילוּת.

Taking Necessary Precautions

Based on the above, it is also understood why the Alter Rebbe did not explicitly refer to the concept of transforming darkness in his answer to the Tzemach Tzedek and clarify it with an analogy that could be comprehended by a child of that age, but instead merely alluded to it:

ט

עַל פִּי זֶה גַּם יוּבַן הַטַּעַם מַה שֶּׁאַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן לֹא אָמַר בֵּאוּר זֶה בְּפֵרוּשׁ (בְּמָשָׁל הַמּוּבָן בְּגִיל הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק), כִּי אִם בְּרֶמֶז:

A person’s Divine service should follow a direct and ordered pattern, as indicated by the verse,54 “Turn away from evil and do good.” First, he must avoid darkness and then proceed to Divine service in a manner – and involving entities – that from the outset allow for the possibility and potential to bring about goodness and light.

סֵדֶר עֲבוֹדַת הָאָדָם צָרִיךְ לִהְיוֹת בְּאֹפֶן יָשָׁר: "סוּר מֵרָע (חֹשֶׁךְ) וַעֲשֵׂה (עֲבוֹדָה בְּאֹפֶן וּבְדָבָר שֶׁהוּא מִלְּכַתְּחִלָּה עָלוּל וּמֻכְשָׁר לִהְיוֹת) טוֹב (אוֹר)"102;

True, through serving G‑d by overcoming challenges – surmounting the obstacles that hinder his observance of the Torah and its mitzvosa person can reach a spiritual level that he could not have accessed were it not for the challenge.55 Furthermore, through teshuvah that transforms his willful sins into merits,56 he brings about “the superior quality of light over darkness” according to the second approach described above.

וְאַף שֶׁעַל יְדֵי עֲבוֹדַת הָאָדָם בְּאֹפֶן שֶׁל נִסְיוֹנוֹת – כְּשֶׁיֵּשׁ לוֹ מְנִיעוֹת וְעִכּוּבִים בְּקִיּוּם הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְווֹת וְהוּא מִתְגַּבֵּר עֲלֵיהֶם וְעוֹמֵד בְּנִסָּיוֹן – הוּא מִתְעַלֶּה לְדַרְגָּה גָבוֹהַּ כָּזוֹ, שֶׁלּוּלֵא הַנִּסָּיוֹן לֹא הָיָה מַגִּיעַ אֵלֶיהָ103; וִיתֵרָה מִזּוֹ מָצִינוּ בַּעֲבוֹדַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי זֶה מְהַפֵּךְ זְדוֹנוֹתָיו לִזְכֻיּוֹת104 נַעֲשֶׂה יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ בְּאֹפֶן הַב' –

Nevertheless, all the above applies after the fact. When a person is brought to a spiritually dangerous place and he overcomes the challenge, he thereby ascends to an incomparably loftier and more powerful level of spiritual service than before. Taking this motif further, once a person already sinned, Heaven forbid, through performing complete teshuvah, he can transform his willful transgressions into merits, and be worthy of the lofty rung, concerning which our Sages said,57 “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand, perfectly righteous men are incapable of standing.”

הֲרֵי כָּל זֶה הוּא רַק בְּדִיעֲבַד, כְּשֶׁהוּבָא לִמְקוֹם סַכָּנָה רוּחָנִית וְעָמַד בְּנִסְיוֹנוֹ, עַל יְדֵי זֶה מִתְעַלֶּה בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ בְּיֶתֶר שְׂאֵת וְשֶׁלֹּא בְּעֶרֶךְ מִמַּדְרֵגָתוֹ הַקּוֹדֶמֶת; וְעַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה אָדָם שֶׁכְּבָר חָטָא, רַחֲמָנָא לִצְלָן, הִנֵּה עַל יְדֵי תְּשׁוּבָתוֹ הַשְּׁלֵמָה עַד שֶׁ"זְּדוֹנוֹת נַעֲשׂוּ לוֹ כִּזְכֻיּוֹת", הוּא זוֹכֶה לְעִלּוּי זֶה שֶׁאָמְרוּ רַזַ"ל105 "בְּמָקוֹם שֶׁבַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה עוֹמְדִין אֵין צַדִּיקִים גְּמוּרִים יְכוֹלִין לַעֲמוֹד שָׁם".

However, just as in a physical sense “a person should not put himself in a position of danger,”58so too, initially, it is forbidden to subject oneself to spiritual challenges or put oneself in a position where it is possible that he will sin. How much more so may one not sin with the intent of repenting.59 Moreover, we pray every day,60 “Do not bring me to a challenge,” asking that even from Above we not be led to such a situation.

אֲבָל אַל יַעֲמוֹד אָדָם בִּמְקוֹם סַכָּנָה106, אָסוּר לְהַעֲמִיד אֶת עַצְמוֹ לְכַתְּחִלָּה בְּמַצָּב שֶׁל נִסְיוֹנוֹת וּבְמָקוֹם שֶׁעָלוּל לָבוֹא לִידֵי חֵטְא, וְעַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה שֶׁלֹּא לַחֲטוֹא בְּפֹעַל מַמָּשׁ עַל מְנָת לָשׁוּב107, וְלֹא עוֹד אֶלָּא שֶׁמִּתְפַּלְלִים בְּכָל יוֹם108: "וְאַל תְּבִיאֵינוּ לִידֵי נִסָּיוֹן" – שֶׁגַּם מִלְמַעְלָה לֹא יְבִיאוּהוּ לְזֶה.

For that reason, when speaking to a child who is still at an age when he is being educated to perform mitzvos, it is not appropriate to speak about the advantage that comes from being involved with darkness in order to transform it into light.61 Instead, it is necessary to explain to him the importance of Divine service in turning away from evil.

וְלָכֵן אֵין מָקוֹם לְבָאֵר לְקָטָן, שֶׁהוּא עֲדַיִן בְּגִיל הַחִנּוּךְ, אֶת הַמַּעֲלָה הַבָּאָה עַל יְדֵי הִתְעַסְּקוּת בְּהַחֹשֶׁךְ בִּכְדֵי לְהַפְּכוֹ לְאוֹר; כִּי אִם אַדְּרַבָּה, צְרִיכִים לְהַסְבִּירוֹ הָעֲבוֹדָה דְּסוּר מֵרָע.

For this reason, the Alter Rebbe merely alluded to the concept of transforming darkness. However, when the Tzemach Tzedek came of age, he himself explained the lofty heights that were reached through the descent to exile in Egypt, following the motif that “the superior quality of light” is specifically elicited from darkness.

וְלָכֵן לֹא אָמַר אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקן לְהַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק אֶת הָעִנְיָן כִּי אִם בְּרֶמֶז; אֶלָּא שֶׁאַחַר כָּךְ פֵּרֵשׁ וּבֵאֵר הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק בְּעַצְמוֹ אֶת גֹּדֶל הָעִלּוּי שֶׁנַּעֲשָׂה עַל יְדֵי הַיְרִידָה לְגַלּוֹת מִצְרַיִם עַל יְדֵי יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ דַּוְקָא.

To Apply the Above in Our Lives

There is a lesson of general scope applying to our Divine service to be derived from the above story: True, when Yaakov our Patriarch came to Egypt, he derived great happiness and pleasure from seeing Yosef and the members of his household conducting themselves as befitting.

Nevertheless, the Tzemach Tzedek wondered how the years Yaakov spent in Egypt, in the boundaries and limitations of material existence of Egypt could be his best years. Even as a child, it was clear to him that the ultimate intent of the descent of the soul to this world is so that – through his Divine service – a person should at the outset refrain from entering any situation where there are boundaries and limitations62 and, if compelled to do so, he should hastily flee from that “Egypt” at his earliest opportunity. Therefore, the Rebbe Rayatz also mentioned the Tzemach Tzedek’s question.

י

הַהוֹרָאָה הַכְּלָלִית בַּעֲבוֹדַת ה' בְּסִפּוּר הַנַּ"ל:

אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיַּעֲקֹב אָבִינוּ, בְּבוֹאוֹ לְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם זָכָה לְשִׂמְחָה וְעֹנֶג גָּדוֹל מִזֶּה שֶׁיּוֹסֵף וּבְנֵי בֵיתוֹ מִתְנַהֲגִים גַּם שָׁם בְּדֶרֶךְ הַיָּשָׁר – עִם כָּל זֶה תָּמַהּ הַצֶּמַח־צֶדֶק אֵיךְ יִתָּכֵן לוֹמַר שֶׁשָּׁנִים אֵלּוּ שֶׁנִּמְצָא בְּהַמְּצָרִים וְהַגְּבוּלִים דְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם תִּהְיֶינָה "מִבְחַר" שְׁנוֹתָיו, וְהַיְנוּ מִשּׁוּם – שֶׁתַּכְלִית הַכַּוָּנָה בִּירִידַת הַנְּשָׁמָה הִיא, שֶׁהָאָדָם עַל יְדֵי עֲבוֹדָתוֹ מִלְּכַתְּחִלָּה לֹא יִהְיֶה בִּמְצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים109, יִבְרַח בְּחִפָּזוֹן תֵּכֶף מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם.

Conversely, however, a person who already finds himself in such boundaries and limitations and cannot flee from there must realize that his Divine service is to follow Yaakov’s example and make the time he spends there “his best years.”

לְאִידָךְ גִּיסָא: בְּאִם כְּבָר נִמְצָא בְּמֵצַר וּגְבוּל וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִבְרוֹחַ מִשָּׁם – עֲבוֹדָתוֹ הִיא – שֶׁשָּׁם יִהְיֶה "מִבְחַר שְׁנוֹתָיו".

The directive – and the order of service to achieve this goal – are explained in the Alter Rebbe’s words: In a simple sense, his answer is a directive to those whose Divine service follows a straightforward path, as indicated by the verse,63 “G‑d made man in a way that he conduct himself in a straightforward manner.” Even those upon whom it was decreed from Above that their mission in this world is to live within the boundaries and limitations of this world – this includes even those found in “the nakedness of the land”6 – must know that their Divine service there must not merely involve preventing a spiritual descent, Heaven forbid. Instead, they must also direct their energies to “making a dwelling for G‑d in the lowest of realms,”64 drawing down His Essence that is entirely unbounded.

Even when one finds himself within the boundaries and limitations of “the nakedness of the land,” in the lowest of levels of this world, he must know that there is a path he is advised to follow: Torah study. The Torah is a revelation of G‑d’s will and wisdom that transcends all limits and changing circumstances. Its study empowers a person to rise above all boundaries and limitations, as explained above. Not only will these limitations not confine the person or drag him down, but on the contrary, through the Torah, he can be worthy of living – enjoying genuine life – even in Egypt.

וְסֵדֶר הָעֲבוֹדָה וְהַהוֹרָאָה אֵיךְ לְהַגִּיעַ לְזֶה, מְבֹאָרִים בְּמַעֲנַת אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן:

בְּפַשְׁטוּת הַמַּעֲנֶה שֶׁלּוֹ, הִיא הוֹרָאָה לְאֵלּוּ שֶׁעֲבוֹדָתָם הִיא בְּסֵדֶר הַ"יָּשָׁר" – "עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹקִים אֶת הָאָדָם יָשָׁר"110, דְּאַף אֵלּוּ שֶׁמִּצַּד גְּזֵרָה הָעֶלְיוֹנָה וּשְׁלִיחוּתָם בְּעָלְמָא דֵין נִמְצָאִים הֵם בִּמְצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים דְּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה, אֲפִלּוּ בְּאִם זֶהוּ בִּמְקוֹמוֹת כָּאֵלּוּ שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם הַזֶּה גּוּפָא הֵם בִּבְחִינַת "עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ" – עֲלֵיהֶם לָדַעַת שֶׁעֲבוֹדָתָם הִיא (לֹא רַק לִמְנוֹעַ הַיְרִידָה, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אֶלָּא גַם) לַעֲשׂוֹת דִּירָה לוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ בַּתַּחְתּוֹנִים111, הַמְשָׁכַת הָעַצְמוּת הַבִּלְתִּי בַּעַל גְּבוּל, גַּם בְּהִמָּצְאָם בְּתוֹכֵכִי הַמְּצָרִים וְהַגְּבוּלִים שֶׁל "עֶרְוַת הָאָרֶץ" – וְהָעֵצָה הַיְּעוּצָה לְזֶה הִיא: הַתּוֹרָה, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי לִמּוּד הַתּוֹרָה, שֶׁהִיא גִלּוּי חָכְמָתוֹ וּרְצוֹנוֹ יִתְבָּרֵךְ שֶׁלְּמַעְלָה מֵהַגְבָּלוֹת וְשִׁנּוּיִים, נִתַּן הַכֹּחַ לְהִתְעַלּוֹת מֵעַל לִמְצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים כַּנַּ"ל; וְלֹא זוֹ בִּלְבָד שֶׁ"מִּצְרַיִם" לֹא תַגְבִּילוֹ וְתוֹרִידוֹ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אֶלָּא אַדְּרַבָּה לִזְכּוֹת לִבְחִינַת "וַיְחִי . . ("גֶעלֶעבְּט" – חַיִּים אֲמִתִּיִּים) בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם".

Led Down a Winding Path

All of the above, however, applies to those who walk in a straight path – who, because of their Divine service in the study of the Torah, from the outset, were never thrust under the dominion of the Egyptians and limits of that land.

יא

אוּלָם כָּל זֶה הוּא לְהוֹלְכֵי יָשָׁר, שֶׁעַל יְדֵי עֲבוֹדָתָם בְּלִמּוּד הַתּוֹרָה אֵינָם נְתוּנִים מֵעִקָּרָא תַּחַת שְׁלִיטַת הַמְּצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים דְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם;

However, what about those who have sinned, created blemishes, and deviated from the Torah’s path? Seemingly, they have already fallen under the dominion of Egypt and the limits of that land. How can they “live,” experience genuine life?

אֲבָל אֵלּוּ שֶׁחָטְאוּ וּפָגְמוּ וְעָבְרוּ אֶת הַדֶּרֶךְ, רַחֲמָנָא לִצְלָן, שֶׁלִּכְאוֹרָה כְּבָר נָפְלוּ תַּחַת הַשְּׁלִיטָה שֶׁל הַמְּצָרִים וּגְבוּלִים דְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר לָהֶם לְהַגִּיעַ לִבְחִינַת "וַיְחִי גו'"?

By alluding to the superior quality of light elicited from darkness, the Alter Rebbe’s answer provides a directive for such a person as well. Do not despair. Through teshuvah – labor and toil in the place of darkness itself – not only does that person leave the place of darkness, but he has the potential to transform the darkness itself, revealing “the superior quality of light,” in the loftiest possible manner.

בָּאָה הַהוֹרָאָה בִּתְשׁוּבַת אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן בְּדֶרֶךְ רֶמֶז: אֵין לְהִתְיָאֵשׁ חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, כִּי עַל יְדֵי עֲבוֹדַת הַתְּשׁוּבָה, שֶׁהִיא הַיְגִיעָה וְהָעֲבוֹדָה בִּמְקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ גּוּפָא, הֲרֵי לֹא זוֹ בִּלְבָד שֶׁעַל יְדֵי זֶה הוּא יוֹצֵא מִמְּקוֹם הַחֹשֶׁךְ, אֶלָּא שֶׁהוּא עוֹד פּוֹעֵל עַל יְדֵי זֶה לִהְיוֹת יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ, בְּאֹפֶן הֲכִי נַעֲלֶה, כַּנַּ"ל.

Nevertheless, this concept creates the possibility of an error occurring. Since the ultimate dimension of the superior quality of light is elicited from the darkness itself, a person who follows the straight path might err and say, “Let me go and carry out my Divine service in that sphere.”

וּמִכֵּיוָן שֶׁאֲמִתִּיּוּת הָעִלּוּי בְּיִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר נִמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ עַצְמוֹ, אוּלַי יִטְעֶה הַהוֹלֵךְ יָשָׁר לוֹמַר אֵלֵךְ וְאֶעֱבוֹד עֲבוֹדָתִי שָׁם –

For that reason, the Alter Rebbe merely alluded to this superior rung, but did not explicitly mention it. This indicates that this is not a straight path that a person should consciously choose. On the contrary, “If a person says, I will sin and I will repent, he is not given the opportunity to repent,”56 and he will stumble, falling even lower than his previous rung.

לָכֵן רָמַז אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן עִלּוּי זֶה, וְלֹא אֲמָרוֹ בְּפֵרוּשׁ, שֶׁזֶּה בָּא לְהוֹרוֹת שֶׁאֵין זוֹ הַדֶּרֶךְ הַיְשָׁרָה שֶׁיָּבוֹר לוֹ הָאָדָם; וְאַדְּרַבָּה "הָאוֹמֵר אֶחֱטָא וְאָשׁוּב – אֵין מַסְפִּיקִין בְּיָדוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת תְּשׁוּבָה"מ, שֶׁהוּא נוֹפֵל גַּם מִמַּדְרֵגָה הַקּוֹדֶמֶת.

A Share in Another Person’s Teshuvah

A person might protest: Why should I be prevented from reaching the superior quality of light that is elicited from darkness only because I carry out my Divine service according to the Torah’s straight path?

The resolution to this question is also alluded to in the Alter Rebbe’s response: As explained, because of his own lofty level, the revelation of the superior quality of light that is elicited from the darkness was not relevant to Yaakov. However, through his involvement with his sons and their descendants, enabling them to meditate upon the Torah’s teachings, he too was able to “live” in the ultimate sense, appreciating the superior quality of light that is elicited from transforming the darkness itself.65

יב

וְאִם יִטְעוֹן הַטּוֹעֵן: לָמָּה יִגָּרַע חֶלְקוֹ – שֶׁלֹּא יוּכַל לְהַגִּיעַ לְיִתְרוֹן אוֹר הַנִּמְשָׁךְ מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ בְּאֹפֶן נַעֲלֶה – מִשּׁוּם שֶׁהוּא הוֹלֵךְ בַּעֲבוֹדָתוֹ בְּדֶרֶךְ הַ"יָּשָׁר"?

גַּם הַתְּשׁוּבָה לְטַעֲנָה זוֹ מְרֻמֶּזֶת בְּמַעֲנֵה אַדְמוּ"ר הַזָּקֵן: כְּמוֹ שֶׁנִּתְבָּאֵר לְעֵיל, שֶׁמִּצַּד דַּרְגַּת יַעֲקֹב עַצְמוֹ לֹא הָיָה שַׁיָּךְ לְגִלּוּי דְּיִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ עַצְמוֹ, בְּכָל זֶה עַל יְדֵי הַהִתְעַסְּקוּת שֶׁלּוֹ שֶׁ"יִּהְיוּ הַשְּׁבָטִים הוֹגִים בַּתּוֹרָה" הִגִּיעַ גַּם הוּא לִבְחִינַת "וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב" בְּתַכְלִית הָעִלּוּי – יִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר מִן הַחֹשֶׁךְ עַצְמוֹ;

Similar concepts apply with regard to every Jew: Being involved with those who are currently distant from G‑d and His Torah, drawing them to the Torah and enabling them to become baalei teshuvah has a reciprocal effect on the person who reaches out. By bringing another person to the lofty rung of teshuvah, one has a portion in the superior light that person elicits.66

עַל דֶּרֶךְ זֶה בַּעֲבוֹדַת כָּל אֶחָד וְאַחַת: עַל יְדֵי הַהִתְעַסְּקוּת עִם אֵלּוּ הָרְחוֹקִים עֲדַיִן מֵה' וְתוֹרָתוֹ, לְקָרְבָם וְלַעֲשׂוֹתָם בַּעֲלֵי תְשׁוּבָה, הִנֵּה עַל יְדֵי שֶׁפּוֹעֵל בְּהַזּוּלַת הָעִלּוּי דִּתְשׁוּבָה, יֵשׁ לוֹ חֵלֶק בְּיִתְרוֹן הָאוֹר שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ112.

These efforts bear fruit beyond the individual realm, drawing closer the time when Mashiach “will motivate the righteous to turn to G‑d in teshuvah.”67

וְעַל יְדֵי כָּל זֶה מְקָרְבִים בִּיאַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ דְּ"אָתָא לַאֲתָבָא צַדִּיקַיָּא בִּתְיוּבְתָּא"113.

Likkutei Sichos, Volume 10, P. 160ff. (Adapted from a sichah delivered on Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, 5732 [1972])

(משיחת ש״פ ויחי, תשל״ב)