1. Private Celebrations Linked with Shabbos

This Shabbos, Parshas Vayigash,1 is the Shabbos preceding the day which concludes the eleven months of Kaddish.2

It was recently explained3 (on the basis of a teaching of Or HaChayim4) that the Shabbos day encapsulates all the upcoming weekdays: they all derive their life-force from the preceding Shabbos, and the way they pass depends on the way one conducts himself on that day. Accordingly, let us examine the connection between the last day of Kaddish and the preceding Shabbos, which is Parshas Vayigash.

In addition, there are a number of celebrations this Shabbos: There is the celebration of an individual to whom G‑d showed a miracle related to the saving of his daughter (May she enjoy lengthy days and good years!);5 another individual is celebrating the birth of a daughter; there is a chasan present who has just completed the seven days of feasting following his wedding;6 and someone else here has a birthday today. These matters, too, the private concerns of individual Jews, all occur by order of Divine Providence. They are therefore also connected with Shabbos Parshas Vayigash, as shall presently be clarified.

2. Strength and Submissiveness

Before we come to the miracle involving one girl, and similarly the birth of another girl, we should first consider - in the context of man’s Divine service - the Supernal root of the concepts of “son” and “daughter” (because, as is well known,7 everything in this world is a tangible echo of its spiritual source above).

As has often been discussed,8 the term “son” signifies avodah which is steered by the intellect and which is pursued with strength, as is hinted at in the phrase of the Sages,9 “It is in the nature of a man to conquer.” The term “daughter” signifies avodah that is undertaken by the submissive acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, in the spirit of the teaching that10 “a praiseworthy wife is she who carries out her husband’s will.”

Every Jew’s avodah should reflect both of these thrusts, even though they would appear to be opposites.

On the one hand a Jew is expected to acquire bittul, the self-effacement expressed in the daily prayer,11 “May my soul be as dust to all.” This entails not only negating pride and self-concern, but also setting aside one’s passions and desires and even one’s intellect - and acting in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch with a submissive acceptance of the Divine yoke. This is required even in a matter which his reason cannot accommodate and which he imagines will harm him. Even in such a case he is expected to set aside his own understanding, and to carry out his task in the submissive spirit of kabbalas ol. (He will then discover that his action was not only not harmful but in fact was beneficial, and not only spiritually but even materially as well.)

On the other hand, a Jew is expected to manifest strength. Though12 “you are the least among the nations,” and though within the Jewish people itself those who observe the Torah and its commandments are a minority, and though among the observers those who go beyond the letter of the law are again a minority, a Jew still has to have the strength to follow the Torah steadfastly, without being overawed by the majority.

For example: he will not argue that since most of the Jews around him attend a Conservative temple, he can do the same. So, too, in matters that go beyond the letter of the law, such as putting on the additional tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam: he will not argue that since he is neither a rabbi nor an elder chassid, he can allow himself to follow the majority.

And not only will he not be overawed by others, but, moreover, he will influence others and bring them near to the observance of the Torah and its commandments. (Indeed, since “it is in the nature of a man to conquer,” he will not wait until people approach him; rather, he will take the initiative of going out and influencing people.) He will begin by simply bringing them closer to observance; with time he will bring them to the actual observance of Torah and mitzvos; and ultimately he will bring them to the loving and meticulous observance which is called hiddur mitzvah, and to the conscientious observance beyond the letter of the law, which is called lifnim mishuras hadin.

3. One Man Impacts the World

The strength required to withstand the members of the majority and even to influence them, one receives from Avraham Avinu, the first Jew.

Of him it is written,13Avraham was one man,” one man against the world. The Midrash14 explains why he is called15 Avraham HaIvri - because “all the world stood on one side, and he alone stood on the other side.” While all others were idolaters, he alone “understood the path of truth… and knew that there exists One G‑d… Who created everything….”16

Though solitary, he not only walked the path of truth himself without being overawed by the whole world, but in addition he impacted the whole world. To continue the above-quoted words of Rambam, “he began to stand up and loudly call upon the whole world and let them know that there exists One G‑d, Whom alone it is appropriate to serve…; as it is written,17 ‘And there he called upon the Name of G‑d, G‑d of the Universe.’” On this phrase the Sages comment,18 “Do not read vayikra - ‘and he called…’; read vayakri - ‘and he caused [them] to call….’ From this we learn that Avraham Avinu caused the mouth of every passer-by to call upon the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He.”

This implies that not only did he cause them, too, to call upon the G‑d of the Universe; beyond that, he spoke to them tirelessly until they in turn called out and publicized the concept of “G‑d of the Universe.” Furthermore: if the Torah were to spell E-l Olam, the phrase translated “G‑d of the Universe,” as E-l HaOlam, this might leave room for the thought that the universe is an independently-existent entity which G‑d animates; the belief that Avraham Avinu taught was that G‑d is E-l Olam, which implies that the very existence of the universe is Divinity.19

It should be noted, by the way, that even though after Avraham Avinu’s declaration about One G‑d the nations of the world still retained numerous misconceptions, there is a great gain in the mere fact that this declaration caused them to cease making idols to which they had bowed down and made offerings. This recalls the statement that appears in the early editions of Rambam20 which the censors did not manage to lay hands on: “All those words of Yeshua of Nazareth and of that Ishmaelite who rose after him will only serve to pave the way for the coming of the King Mashiach and for the improvement of the entire world, [motivating the nations] to serve G‑d together, as it is written,21 ‘For I shall then make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G‑d and serve Him with one purpose.’”

Considering the activities of Avraham Avinu, we are taught that22 “the deeds of the Fathers are a signpost for their sons.” Though “the Fathers” refers to all three Patriarchs, Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov, it applies particularly to Avraham, who is the forebear of all Jews, including righteous converts (as discussed recently23). Following that signpost, then, Jews should not be over-impressed by a majority. Jews should not only steadfastly maintain their positions, but in addition should influence others - just as our Father Avraham did when Judaism first took to the road.

4. Why be Impressed by a Mere World?

We said earlier that every Jew’s Divine service is expected to include both thrusts, a self-effacing acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, and strength.

At first glance these might appear to be two conflicting thrusts. In truth, though, not being overawed by the world and moreover influencing it (“It is in the nature of a man to conquer”) requires a strength which results from a self-effacing acceptance of the Divine yoke (like the woman who “carries out her husband’s will”). But how?

A man’s submissive acceptance of the Divine yoke enables him to sense that he himself is not an independently-existent entity (a metzius) - and neither is the world; rather, it is conducted by G‑d alone. Accordingly, he ought to carry out G‑d’s will and follow the path of the Torah, the path of truth. He has no reason to be impressed by considerations such as majority and minority.

5. Circumcision as Superrational Self-Sacrifice

This sequence - strength resulting from self-effacement - also finds expression in the mode of avodah signified by a “son” (“It is in the nature of a man to conquer”).

When a son is born to Jews,24 “on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised,” at an age when he can neither understand nor object - even though it might have been more democratic, so to speak, to wait until he reaches the age of understanding (like the sons of Ishmael, who circumcise at age 13) and then to ask his opinion….

Circumcision at eight days highlights every Jew’s innate self-sacrifice to G‑d: once he is born a Jew, his true desire is to even give away his life for G‑d’s will.

And even if at some later time, after he has reached the age of understanding, he says that the circumcision does not reflect his will, this is only because “his Evil Inclination coerced him”; and even then, the truth is that “his desire” (i.e., his truest and innermost desire) “is to be counted as one of Israel…, to fulfill all the commandments…” (as Rambam rules25).

A Jew’s underlying willingness to set aside his own life for G‑d’s will finds expression in the letting of blood during circumcision - for26 “the blood is the soul,” so that even if it be a single drop it is nevertheless a drop of blood on which the soul’s vitality depends. And this he does because of G‑d’s command.

The Sages teach27 that an infant is not circumcised before the eighth day “in order that one Shabbos should pass over him.” Now, unlike the dates of Yom-Tov,28 which are determined and sanctified by the people of Israel, the sanctity of Shabbos is determined from above.29 In explanation of the above teaching of the Sages, this characteristic of Shabbos may be seen as an endowment of the spiritual strength that makes possible the spiritual service of circumcision.30

And by means of this circumcision - the self-sacrifice which is the ultimate in bittul and kabbalas ol - the infant is endowed with the strength by virtue of which he will not be overawed by the world, and by virtue of which he will actively influence the world, for “it is in the nature of a man to conquer.”

6. Anything - to Save a Child!

The above concepts also throw light on the incident in which a girl’s life was saved.

When G‑d shows a Jew a miracle that involves his daughter, this is an indication from above that his life should reflect the kind of Divine service which is designated by the name “daughter,” namely, a humble and self-effacing acceptance of the yoke of Heaven. This in turn will give him the strength to remain unaffected by all those around him, in everything that concerns the fulfillment of his decision to follow the path of the Torah (regardless of his past conduct) - because he knows that this is the path of truth.

A prominent part of this is the education of this daughter, and of his other children, in the path of Torah and mitzvos.

There is a maamar31 in which the Rebbe Rashab points out the positive side of the present state of the Jewish people, who are asleep and faint during this period of exile. His parable tells of a “a father whose sons… went out and left him…; nevertheless [this] father is not extremely distressed… (and) does not feel the pain of being severed from the root of his son’s soul. Indeed, if he did feel this pain, he would not be able to bear it on account of the intense anguish which a father undergoes when his son is separated from his source…. The obscuring darkness thus does a positive service to righteous and innocent fathers, by sparing their pain somewhat.”

At the same time, it is obvious that one should not be satisfied with this positive side alone - that parents do not feel the pain of their children’s departure from the path of the Torah.

This is especially so since the children themselves gain nothing from this positive side. Indeed, if their parents did feel the pain they might try to rectify the situation; so long as they do not feel the pain the children will remain deprived. If so, then through what fault of the children are they sentenced to remain fixated in their present state, only because of the positive side which spares the parents from feeling the pain?

It is obvious, then, that one should not be satisfied with this positive side alone. What is needed is that which is consummately good - and this is no doubt being granted by G‑d, Who is goodness itself, and32 “it is in the nature of the kindly to be benevolent.” And that which is consummately good is that the children return, and walk in the path of the Torah.

If parents see their little child about to do something which will cause him lifelong damage, G‑d forbid, they don’t first consult their calendar to see whether their reaction should perhaps be deferred to a later date. They rush to the scene and do everything they possibly can, in every way possible. They will turn worlds upside-down. They will do anything - to prevent the damage.

And if this is the case with regard to the life of the body, how much truer is it with regard to the life of the soul!

7. For the Sake of One Single Child

This week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayigash, gives a clear directive on this theme: For the sake of a single Jewish child one should exert oneself to the point of self-sacrifice.33

On the verse,34 “And Yehudah approached him,” the Sages comment35 that Yehudah was prepared for everything, even for battle (so that if Yosef was not willing to free Binyamin, Yehudah would do battle with him).

Now, is this not strange? How could Yehudah entertain such a thought when he and his brothers were a mere few individuals, while Yosef was the viceroy of Egypt? True, they were mighty warriors, but Yosef and his sons were even more so. As the Midrash relates,36 when Yehudah demonstrated his strength Yosef equalled him, so that “Yehudah was immediately amazed and said, ‘This man is stronger than I am!’” How, then, could he have contemplated fighting him?

The answer is, as he explains to Yosef, [referring to himself as Yosef’s “servant”,]37 “Your servant offered himself to my father as a guarantee for the lad, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you…”: having taken responsibility to bring Binyamin back to his father, he had to make every endeavor for his sake to the point of actual self-sacrifice. And all this was for the sake of a single Jewish child (for Binyamin was the only brother in danger).

Precisely this is the lesson to be learned by every father and mother. Since G‑d entrusted them with the responsibility for each of their sons and daughters (“as a guarantee for the lad”), then even for the sake of one single child one should exert oneself (so that things that should not happen to a Jewish child will in fact not happen to him) - to the point of self-sacrifice.

8.Deference and Determination

Significantly, it is Yehudah who exemplifies this quality.

On the one hand, his name is related to hodaah, which signifies submissive deference - hence self-effacing bittul, and the acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven.38 At the same time, his readiness for battle demonstrates his strong determination to overpower all odds.

This juxtaposition indicates (as said above) that it is by means of self-effacement (bittul) and a submissive acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven (kabbalas ol) that one can acquire a strong determination not to be over-impressed by the whole world, but rather, to walk in the path of truth, which is the path of the Torah and its commandments, and to educate one’s sons and daughters in that path. And in this endeavor one should exert himself to the point of self-sacrifice.

9. Eleven Months: The Impact of Kaddish

It39 was mentioned earlier that this is the last Shabbos before the day on which the recital of Kaddish will be concluded. Though opinions vary as to the period during which Kaddish should be recited,40 a decisive majority of the later poskim agree on eleven months less one day. This in fact was the practice of our Rebbeim. In the present case, this means that Kaddish should be recited up to and including the ninth of Teves,41 a day whose blessings are drawn downward in potential form on the preceding Shabbos, which is Parshas Vayigash.

It is explained in the writings of the AriZal42 that the recital of Kaddish relates not only to the elevation of a soul out of Gehinnom, but also to its ascent from one level to the next within Gan Eden itself. (This explains why Kaddish is also recited on Shabbos [when the first reason does not apply].) Accordingly, the recital of Kaddish is ended at the close of eleven months not because at this time the ascents of the soul come to an end (for, as our Sages teach,43 Tzaddikim have no rest have no rest in this world nor in the World to Come, as it is written,44 ‘They shall go from strength to strength’”). Rather, the recital of Kaddish is ended at the close of eleven months because at this time there begins a new pattern in the ascents experienced by the soul, which are now incomparably loftier than those experienced until that time.45 From this point on, the ascents of the soul transcend any possible connection with the recital of Kaddish in the realm of speech.

This perception enables us to understand why the Rebbe Rashab regretted having added one day to his eleven-months’ recital of Kaddish46 - for the verbal articulation of Kaddish creates an impact, and could conceivably (G‑d forbid) hamper those ascents of the soul which transcend any connection with the recital of Kaddish in the realm of speech.47

10. Keeping Pace with the Rebbe

To revert now to our own situation.

In the course of a recent discussion48 of the assurance of my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe [Rayatz],49 that the shepherds of Israel never become separated from their flock, it was explained that as they ascend from level to level, the shepherds of Israel take along with them their chassidim and all those who are bonded with them. Indeed, even those whose connection with them was only marginal also accompany them in all those ascents.

The Rebbe [Rayatz] once related how the Rebbe Maharash had gone to speak with his wife, the Rebbitzin [Rivkah], on erev Rosh HaShanah, 5643 [1882], which was to be the last erev Rosh HaShanah of his life in this world. (It was the practice of each of the Rebbeim to make a point of speaking with his rebbitzin on this day.50) Having gathered from his words that in the coming year he was going to take his leave of this world,51 she argued: “How can one leave little children?” - and so on.

In the course of their conversation the Rebbe Maharash said: “I will ascend 32 steps above, and you will ascend 32 steps down here.”

The Rebbe [Rayatz] explained this statement as follows. The 32 steps in this world refer to the 32 remaining years of the Rebbitzin’s life - from that time, erev Rosh HaShanah, 5643 [late 1882], which was still part of the year 5642 [1882], until her passing on Yud Shvat, 5674 [early 1914]. The “32 steps above” refer to the 32 maamarim in Likkutei Torah LeGimmel Parshiyos [by the Rebbe Maharash] that were published after his passing.52

Now, with the Rebbitzin’s 32 steps there is no problem: since they were to be taken down here, they found expression in 32 years of life in this world. But since the 32 steps of the Rebbe Maharash were to be taken in the world above, how do they relate to the 32 maamarim in Likkutei Torah LeGimmel Parshiyos that were published in this world?

The explanation is, that the Rebbe’s ascents in the world above have to be mirrored - and have to infuse renewed strength - in the chassidim here below.

The same applies too to our subject. The new scheme of ascents about to be undertaken by the Rebbe after the period of Kaddish has ended, being incomparably superior to the heights attained in the preceding period, ought to be mirrored - and ought to infuse renewed strength - in our avodah here below.

To make this possible, however, every one of his chassidim and every one of those who have a connection with him must work hard to strengthen his hiskashrus with the Rebbe. Once this is done, he will be able to ascend in step with the Rebbe. By way of a simple analogy: No particular effort is required if one wants to accompany someone who walks at a usual pace; more effort is demanded if one is trying to match the stride of an athlete, especially if he begins to run, and even more so if he accelerates his pace. In the same way, as the Rebbe proceeds to ascend ever higher, a greater effort of hiskashrus is required to enable one to accompany him.

And since53 “G‑d does not confront His creatures with unreasonable demands,” the Rebbe no doubt supplies the strength that this effort of intensified hiskashrus requires, thus making it possible to accompany him in his new upward progression.

11. A Tzaddik as a Conduit

This bestowal of added strength is hinted at in the opening words of the weekly Torah reading of the Shabbos from which the upcoming final day of Kaddish draws its blessings:54 ויגש אליו יהודה - “Yehudah approached [Yosef].”55

Yosef is the world’s righteous man. As is well known,56 this description is applied particularly to him, as in the epithet “Yosef HaTzaddik,” (and sometimes to Binyamin as well57).

Yehudah’s approach to Yosef signifies his self-dedication to Yosef HaTzaddik, the world’s tzaddik, and his desire to become unified with him.

The above-quoted opening words of our parshah continue: ויאמר בי אדני (lit., “Please, my master”). [To continue the above interpretation:] What Yehudah seeks in this encounter is not that he be favored with the spiritual revelations afforded by the Lower Gan Eden or the Upper Gan Eden, but that Yosef HaTzaddik be his master - and in this way the entire flow of Divine blessings connected with Yosef HaTzaddik will be drawn down to him. As is explained in Torah Or:58 ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני - “Yehudah’s request is that the blessings that flow through Yosef HaTzaddik should be drawn downward and invested within him.”59

12. Confronting the Rebbe with Petty Requests

This perspective allows us to understand - in the context of the theme of hiskashrus to Yosef HaTzaddik, the world’s righteous man - Yehudah’s further words to Yosef: “Let me, your servant, say something in your ear, my master. Do not be angry with me, your servant, for you are like Pharaoh.”

Yehudah was aware of how his unworthy spiritual stature compared with the lofty heights of Yosef HaTzaddik.

This may be appreciated especially in the light of the way in which Chassidus60 extols Yosef in relation to his brothers, the founders of the Tribes, and even in relation to the Patriarchs. For these all chose to be shepherds because they needed to be in solitude, sequestered from mundane affairs, in order to be in a state of union with Divinity. Yosef, by contrast, was involved in worldly matters. (For example,61 “He came home to do his work,” which the Targum paraphrases, “…to check his accounts”; and he was obviously even more involved in the demands of worldly matters once he had become62 “the governor of the entire land of Egypt.”) At the very same time, however, he was in that elevated state of union with Divinity which is known as Yichuda Ilaah.

Since Yehudah was thus aware of the incomparable distance between them, how could he bring himself to make any request - especially on a petty matter - of Yosef?

This barrier explains why Yehudah prefaced his request with the phrase, בי אדני - “Please, my master.” This phrase declares that Yosef is his master, and because he is therefore bound to him and united with him, he can make a request of him.

Indeed, even once that has been said he nevertheless continues, “Do not be angry with me, your servant”: he asks that Yosef should not take offense from the fact that he has turned to him and is taking up his time on a petty issue.

A young man recently comes in to see me and for about half an hour presents all his arguments as to why he really must have… a car!

About his Divine soul and his animal soul and their ongoing battle there’s no shadow of a mention, because that subject doesn’t begin to concern him; what concerns him is that car, and for the sake of that car he is willing to waste not only his own time, but other people’s time as well.

Now, why does this young man need a car? A young man with two healthy legs, thank G‑d, can walk. Moreover, if he utilizes his walking time and thinks over a pasuk of Chumash or of Tehillim, then his entire lifetime is worthwhile for that moment! Yet in place of that, he wants to travel in a car. Then he won’t be able to think about a pasuk of Chumash or Tehillim because he’ll be busy driving, with one eye on the speedometer and the other on the traffic lights - especially if he wants to demonstrate the prowess of his animal soul by crossing a red light without getting a ticket….

The Rebbe [Rayatz], by the way, didn’t know how to drive, though he was proficient in all kinds of things, including horseback riding and sharpshooting.

Elye Chaim63 told me that once, during the lifetime of the Rebbe Rashab, he was traveling with the Rebbe [Rayatz] past a shooting range. Never a man to be inhibited by bashful deference, Elye Chaim challenged the Rebbe to a shooting match.

“And amazingly,” as he later told me, “the Rebbe hit the target every single time, whereas every single time I missed it!”

As we were saying…. Yehudah’s words - “Do not be angry with me, your servant” - ask that Yosef HaTzaddik should not be offended by a request for petty matters.

And why should he not take offense? - “…for you are like Pharaoh.”

On the mystical plane, the “Pharaoh” Who relates to the holy side of the universe is an allusion to G‑d. Thus, on the phrase,64 בית פרעה (lit., “the house of Pharaoh”), the Zohar65 comments, “the house from which all the Supernal lights and lamps are laid bare (Aram.: דאתפריעו) and revealed.”

In the case of G‑d (the “Pharaoh of kedushah) it is unthinkable that for such a request He should grow angry or take offense, since He is the very essence of goodness, and it is in the nature of him who is good to act kindly.66 (One of the prominent elder chassidim of the Alter Rebbe once related that before he became a chassid he had thought that G‑d was cruel - because, so he had argued, year after year people ask for forgiveness in the Selichos and make all kinds of requests, yet nevertheless…. Only after he became a chassid did he begin to appreciate the immensity of G‑d’s kindness, which He demonstrated by not slapping his mouth or his head when He saw how imperfect was the way he faced Him in prayer.) At any rate, just as in the case of G‑d it is unthinkable that He should react to a request by growing angry or taking offense, so too is it unthinkable that Yosef (“for you are like Pharaoh”) should grow angry or complain, for it is in the nature of him who is good to act kindly.

13. If Obligated, Be Obliging or Obedient

Returning to the theme of strengthening one’s hiskashrus, it is appropriate to mention once more the recent suggestion67 that every chassid should (so to speak) present the Rebbe [Rayatz] with a minyan of Jews whom he has inspired to take a step forward in the realm of thought, word and deed.

This suggestion was made with the knowledge that its fulfillment would certainly bring the Rebbe spiritual pleasure.

And now, a further reason to carry out this suggestion.

The Rebbe [Rayatz] once recounted68 that his [maternal] grandfather and namesake69 used to say that he made a point of praying together with a minyan. One day, when he was observed to be still deep in his prayers after all of that morning’s minyanim had ended, he was asked how such a davenen could be called tefillah betzibbur, congregational prayer.

Tefillah betzibbur,” he replied, “means congregating and marshaling all ten faculties of one’s soul.”70

From this reply we may understand that congregating the ten faculties of one’s soul is related to the spiritual meaning of a minyan of ten Jews. Therefore, when an individual chassid brings the Rebbe a minyan of Jews, the Rebbe will see to it that that individual’s minyan of soul-faculties is likewise complete (for71 במדה שאדם מודד בה מודדין לו - “With whatever measure a man measures, with that same measure is recompense measured out to him”). And when it is the Rebbe who sees to it that his personal minyan is complete, then one may rest assured that this is done in the most elevated manner possible.

There were people who originally went about looking despondent because they did not know how they would ever succeed in putting together a minyan, whereas ultimately they found more than a minyan, two minyanim, and more. On the other hand, there are people for whom this whole question is still a subject for debate. After all, who says that one should really get together such a minyan…?

The answer for such people is that whichever way they look at this suggestion, they will lose nothing by following it. For if it is needed as a means of strengthening one’s hiskashrus, then that is obviously a good thing, and if not (G‑d forbid), then they have lost nothing.72 For in the first place, a person who acts in accordance with the mistaken ruling of a beis din is exempt from offering a sacrifice because he did not act of his own accord, but is in the situation of an unordained disciple who relies on their ruling.73 In our case, moreover, to consider the present proposal on its own merits, bringing a minyan of Jews closer to the Rebbe is without a doubt a positive and desirable proposal.

There is an additional benefit to be gained by following this proposal: anyone who is finding difficulty in tackling it will have to undertake a mighty effort of self-discipline74 and obey [ - here the Rebbe mentioned his own name] Schneerson.

At any rate, even if such a person still does not find this proposal reasonable, it should be undertaken anyway out of kabbalas ol, for one good thing will hopefully lead to another. And by doing so, he will be granted success in all his material and spiritual endeavors.

14. Thriving Even in Egypt

Our weekly reading ends with the words,75 וישב ישראל בארץמצרים ויאחזו בה ויפרו וירבו מאד - “The Children of Israel lived in the Land of Egypt… and took possession of it, and were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly.”

Understood in the terms of avodah, this means that they were not isolated from worldly things even when they were in Egypt; on the contrary, they “took possession of it.” At the same time, in their divine service they “were fruitful, and multiplied exceedingly.” This means that they were not only fruitful (which in the material model would mean that each man would bring one individual into the world, or at most one male and one female), but they multiplied, implying that each individual was the father of many.76 Indeed, the verse adds the adverb מאד (“exceedingly”), as in the phrase77 בכל מאדך (“[You shall love the L-rd your G‑d] with all your might”), which means78 “without bounds.” This level of divine service is powered by the Yechidah,79 the deepest, most transcendent level of the soul, a resource which can normally be tapped by only a few select individuals.

This level of activity must be prepared for by the kind of avodah hinted at in an earlier verse:80 ויאמר יוסף הא לכם זרע וזרעתם את האדמה - “Yosef said…, ‘Here is seed grain for you, and you shall sow the land.’”

“Here is seed grain for you”: This phrase carries an allusion to the input of spiritual energy which one receives from Yosef HaTzaddik - particularly the hashpaah which is received after his passing, as is explained in Iggeres HaKodesh81 with reference to the “successive generations of offshoots from the ‘light implanted for the righteous’ in ‘the field which G‑d has blessed.’”

“…And you shall sow the land”: This phrase, which follows the above, goes on to teach that one should not be content with the fact that Yosef HaTzaddik provides seed grain. Beyond this, it is every man’s duty to take that seed and sow it in the ground; that is, to take hold of the potential energy that one receives from Yosef HaTzaddik and actively apply it to solid avodah. This should be done in a spirit of bittul, of self-effacing humility - just as a seed sown in the soil, if it is to germinate and yield flourishing vegetation, must itself decompose. It should also be done in a spirit of joyful willingness - for a seed must be sown in soil, and soil (ארץ) is so called because it desired (רצתה) to carry out the will of its Creator.82

The avodah alluded to in these phrases, at the end of our weekly reading, gives rise to the situation described at the opening of the following weekly passage, Parshas Vayechi, which begins: ויחי יעקב בארץמצרים שבע-עשרה שנה - “And Yaakov lived in the Land of Egypt for seventeen years.” Even in the Land of Egypt - nay, specifically in the Land of Egypt - there arose a state of ויחי , a state of being not merely alive but animatedly so. The seventeen years, moreover, hint at the word טוב (“good”), whose numerical value is seventeen.83