The Torah portion of Vayeitzei details Yaakov’s 20-year stay in Lavan’s house. During this time he was involved in tending Lavan’s sheep, as Yaakov himself testified:1 “With all my might I served … by day … by night.”

Still and all, it was specifically during this period that he enjoyed his greatest successes — “the man flourished mightily.”2 This refers not only to material success, but to spiritual success as well. For if with regard to all righteous individuals we say that “their true lives are not physical but spiritual,”3 surely it is so with Yaakov, who was on a level of a Chariot to G‑d, possessing only G‑dly desires and always attached to Him.4

Moreover, it was expressly with Lavan that Yaakov merited to father the Jewish tribes (except for Binyamin), establishing the House of Israel wherein each Jew possesses a holy soul,5 souls that were first included within the Patriarch’s soul.6

How was it that Yaakov attained such spiritual success not during a time of concentrated Torah study, but while a laborer in Lavan’s household?

Our Rabbis tell us7 that the “truly righteous are similar to their Creator.” Thus, Yaakov’s establishment of the House of Israel is similar to G‑d’s establishment of His “house.”

Our Sages inform us8 that “G‑d earnestly desired a dwelling in the nethermost level.” This means that G‑d’s “house” is not in the spiritual worlds, but in this lowly physical world.

The purpose of the spiritual service of the Jewish people in general is to purify and refine this physical world. This is accomplished through studying Torah and performing mitzvos with physical objects, doing all things “for the sake of Heaven,” and thereby sanctifying the physical world so that it becomes a fit vessel for G‑d’s sanctity. At the conclusion of this service — with the arrival of Moshiach — the entire world shall be a “dwelling place” for G‑d.9

This also explains why, throughout Jewish history, most Jews have been primarily engaged in earning a living rather than in Torah study: Transforming the world into a dwelling place for G‑dliness is accomplished primarily by interacting with it and making it holy.

This is also why Yaakov’s spiritual and material success, and his founding of the House of Israel, was accomplished in the house of Lavan in Charan — a place that evoked “Divine wrath”10 — and during a time when he could not concentrate on Torah study. For the “dwelling place” is established by descending into the lowest of levels and transforming even them into holiness.

This, however, remains to be understood. After all, the main aspect of Avraham is loving kindness, the main aspect of Yitzchak is divine service, and the main attribute of Yaakov is Torah study.11 Thus, although there is a special quality in uplifting the world to holiness, how does this tie in with Yaakov’s primary aspect?

Moreover, once the “dwelling place” is accomplished, this lower form of service will cease — our duty will then be to attain ever-greater degrees of spirituality12 and Torah study.13

How then does this temporary form of service achieve a permanent dwelling for G‑d? Should not the permanent dwelling be achieved by something that is itself permanent, such as Torah study?

In fact, the actual dwelling is achieved through Torah and the Jewish people — two things that endure forever. The purpose of this lower manner of service, wherein Jews must interact with lowly physical matters and transform them into holiness, is to demonstrate the immutability and permanence of Torah and the Jewish people.

As long as a Jew is not engaged with the physical world, seeking to purify and elevate it, we are not sure of his spiritual state — how he would react when confronted by the corporeal. When the Jew interacts with the world and overwhelms it with holiness, we are sure that his innate sanctity and spiritual tenacity are such that he becomes a dwelling for the G‑dliness which, with the arrival of Moshiach, will shine within him forever.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XXX, pp. 135-139.