In the Torah portion of Vayigash, we learn that when Yosef finally revealed his identity to his brothers, he told them not to feel too guilty about causing him to be sold into slavery and go to Egypt, for1 it was G‑d who caused him to go. The purpose of his descent to Egypt was to become its ruler, so that Yaakov and his children would be sustained during the famine.

Yosef then tells his brothers that they should tell their father, Yaakov, that since G‑d made him a master over all Egypt, he should “descend to me, do not delay” — Yaakov and his entire family were to hasten to Egypt.

It is thus understood that the descent of Yaakov and his family into Egypt was dependent on Yosef’s being the master there. In other words, Yosef said not only that his being sold was a cause for their coming to Egypt, but that by making him a master over Egypt, G‑d made it possible for them to “descend” — the purpose of the Egyptian exile could now be realized.

How did Yosef’s rule allow the purpose of the exile to be realized?

When G‑d told2 Avraham that his descendants would be subject to “exile in a foreign land where they will be enslaved and oppressed,” He also told him: “Afterwards they will leave with great wealth.”

This “great wealth” was not meant only as a payoff for their pain and affliction, but was in fact the purpose for their descent in the first place.

Thus we find that one of the reasons3 for the Plague of Darkness that G‑d brought upon the Egyptians was so that the Jews could ascertain where the Egyptians’ valuables were hidden. This in turn enabled them to borrow “gold and silver vessels,”4 i.e., the riches of Egypt, fulfilling G‑d’s promise of great wealth.

G‑d was anxious that this promise be fulfilled in order5 that Avraham not complain that G‑d fulfilled His words with regard to their being “exiled in a foreign land where they would be enslaved,” but not His promise that “Afterwards they will leave with great wealth.”

This must be understood. When a person finds himself in exile, especially in so harsh an exile as the Egyptian exile, then he is surely ready to forego any and all wealth as long as he can escape.

Indeed, the Gemara states6 that this is exactly what the Jews said to G‑d: “If we could only get ourselves out!” The Gemara relates the parable of a prisoner who is told: “Tomorrow you will be freed and given a lot of money.” The individual’s response: “Please let me out today ; I ask nothing more of you.”

Why then did G‑d extend the exile in order to fulfill His promise of great wealth? Surely Avraham would have foregone the riches if only his children could leave that bitter exile even one day earlier?

We must conclude that obtaining this wealth was the ultimate reason for the descent into the Egypt. In order to fulfill this purpose, it was necessary that Yosef first rule over all of Egypt, thereby enabling it to obtain the wealth of the entire world.7 Thus, when the Jews left Egypt they took with them the wealth of the world.

But why was it so important to obtain this wealth?

The descent into Egypt was for the express purpose of refining and elevating the sparks of holiness found there.8 Through their service during the years of servitude, the Jews elevated the sparks of holiness that were in Egypt and returned them to their source.

The Baal Shem Tov thus interprets9 the statement of our Sages10 that “The Torah has sympathy for a Jew’s wealth,” in the following manner. The Torah has “sympathy” for a Jew’s wealth as a Jew’s wealth is very precious on high, since within it are found sparks of holiness that are to be elevated.

These very sparks were found within the “great wealth” that the Jews took with them when they left Egypt. It was therefore impossible to leave without first obtaining this wealth.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, pp. 823-825.