Adapted from
Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 212ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 206ff

Making a Potential Kinetic

In his Siddur, the Alter Rebbe writes:1

It is proper to say before prayer: I hereby accept upon myself the positive commandment,2 “Love your fellowman as yourself.”

Showing love for one’s fellowman prepares a person to intensify his relationship with G‑d. For a genuine commitment to all of mankind requires true selflessness,3 and this is the approach which should characterize our relationship with G‑d. But why is a verbal declaration required? Why isn’t the emphasis placed on contemplating the concept, rather than making a statement?

It can be explained that on an essential level, oneness exists among our entire people: “They are all complementary, and share one Father. Because of this common root in the One G‑d, all Israel are called ‘brothers’ in the full sense of the word.”

All too often, however, that oneness is not manifest in a person’s relations with his fellowmen. By actually making a statement, a person has activated this potential, bringing it into expression within our material world.4

The importance of this statement exceeds by far its few measured words. The objective is that one deed lead to another, in a self-reinforcing cycle that will motivate a person to express love for his fellowmen and stir his fellowmen to reciprocate in kind. Making a statement of purpose opens a channel to our inner feelings of love,5 with the intent that these feelings will become manifest in activity on behalf of others.

Bonding Power

A similar paradigm applies to this week’s Torah reading. Vayigash means: “And he approached;” Yehudah approached Yosef.6 But Yehudah’s approach was intended to establish more than physical closeness. Rashi explains7 that Yehudah told Yosef: “May my words enter your ears,” i.e., he desired to initiate communication.

Yehudah’s deed had tremendous repercussions.8 As the narrative continues, “Yosef could no longer restrain himself.”9 After years of separation, the brothers embraced, kissed each other, and spoke freely.10 Yaakov’s sons returned to him with the message that Yosef was alive and Yaakov descended to Egypt to join him, establishing oneness and unity between all Jews.

From the Inside Out

The spiral touched off by Yehudah’s approach to Yosef had larger ramifications.11 The Zohar12 understands their union as symbolizing the approach of the physical world to the spiritual world.

To explain: In essence, the world at large is at one with G‑d. This is the meaning of the phrase “G‑d is one” in the Shema13 not merely that there is one G‑d, but that all existence is at one with Him.14 Nevertheless, the oneness that pervades creation is not openly revealed. On the contrary, the world appears to exist as a collection of discrete entities.

Expressing the inner oneness that exists between people serves as a catalyst to achieve oneness in the world at large, allowing the material world to serve as a medium for the expression of spiritual truth. This was reflected in the conduct of Yaakov and his sons in Egypt. Although settling in Egypt involved a descent into exile, and Egypt was a morally depraved land,15 Yaakov and his sons established a model of spiritually oriented existence there.16 Pharaoh granted them the finest portion of the land,17 promising “the best of Egypt will be yours.”18

Yaakov and his sons made maximum use of this opportunity. Indeed, our Rabbis explain19 that these were Yaakov’s best years. Throughout his life, he endeavored to express spiritual values within the day-to-day realities of ordinary living. In Egypt, he was given the ability to bring this ideal to fruition.

Uncovering Identity

The relevance of the above concepts is not confined to periods when G‑dliness is openly apparent. Quite the contrary, the narrative begins in the ultimate of concealment. Yehudah did not know he was speaking to Yosef. He thought he was addressing the Egyptian viceroy, and he had to plead for Binyamin’s freedom after the youth had been discovered in a compromising situation. Despite the weakness of his position, Yehudah advanced in the direction of oneness,20 and his approach led to the revelation that the Egyptian ruler was Yosef.

Similarly, although today Jews may need the assistance of non-Jewish authorities for their security, they must realize that there is a subtle, inner dynamic at work. It is not an Egyptian who charts our destiny; “The hearts of kings and officers are in the hands of G‑d.”21 He and not the non-Jewish powers controls the fate of our people as a whole, and of each individual in particular.

Our conduct and choice of priorities should be structured accordingly. There is no need to accept the standards of the world at large. By emulating Yehudah’s example and striving toward oneness within our present situation, we can initiate a sequence that will lead to the open expression of our world’s G‑dly nature.

Egypt is not the End of the Journey

During his journey to Egypt, Yaakov had a vision in which G‑d reassured him:22 “Do not fear to descend to Egypt,” and promised “I will descend to Egypt with you and I will surely have you ascend.” Although Yaakov realized what he could achieve in Egypt, he was reluctant to descend there. For prosperity in exile even prosperity that is used to create a model of spiritually oriented existence is not the goal of a Jew’s life.

A Jew’s true life is in Eretz Yisrael and more particularly, Eretz Yisrael as it will exist in the Era of the Redemption. This is the promise Yaakov received from G‑d that his descendants would be redeemed from Egypt and live in Eretz Yisrael together with Mashiach.23

Why then did Yaakov descend to Egypt? Because he appreciated that the Redemption must be brought about by the Divine service of man. The establishment of a spiritually oriented society amidst material prosperity provides man with a foretaste of the Redemption, and prepares the world for the time when redemption will become manifest. Yaakov’s life in Egypt was dedicated to this purpose.

The theme of redemption is underscored by the Haftorah, which speaks about the ultimate union24 of Yosef and Yehudah:25 “I will take the children of Israel from among the nations… and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land…. No longer will they be two nations, no longer divided into two kingdoms.” And it promises:26 “And My servant David will be their prince forever,” for it is in the Era of the Redemption that the selfless striving for unity will receive the prominence it deserves.