GATEWAY TO EGYPT – Why the Descent?


What was the significance of the Egyptian exile?

How was Israel redeemed if they were sunk in the 49th level of impurity?

The entire purpose of the exile of the Jews in Egypt was to repair the sin of the first human being, Adam HaRishon.[1] As a consequence of Adam eating from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, many worlds were overthrown and cast down from their spiritual level. Countless holy sparks fell into the depths and became entangled in the klipot. Since then, the work has been to sift out these sparks from where they fell and return them to their original place before Adam’s sin. From the beginning of time, refining holy sparks has always been the task of the tzaddikim. It was also the hidden significance as to why Yosef was sold into slavery by his brothers, which occurred in order to sift out and extricate the holy sparks that fell into the klipa of Pharaoh and Egypt. According to the Arizal, Yosef merited to refine 202 of the 288 holy sparks ensnared in Egypt.

HaShem constantly devises ways in which those who were banished from Him will not remain estranged forever.[2] Transcending all reason and logic, He brought about the various circumstances that caused Yaakov and his holy offspring to go down into Egypt and refine the sparks that remained there. Yaakov and his descendants were created for this mission; they were the only ones capable of redeeming the sparks from the depths of the klipot. As messengers of the Compassionate One, their unparalleled strength allowed them to both enter and exit the domain of impurity in peace, to save those imprisoned by the Sitra Achra—the Side of Evil. Before his arrival in Egypt, Yaakov sent forerunners to establish a yeshiva,[3] and afterwards, together with his sons and descendants, he worked intensively to refine and gather all the holy sparks. Because of their great strength, their efforts bore fruit and they succeeded.

As long as one of the twelve sons of Yaakov was still alive, the Jews were not actually enslaved to Pharaoh and the Egyptians. It was only after Yaakov’s last son passed away that the klipa and the Sitra Achra became extremely overpowering,[4] since it understood that soon, all of its inner vitality, nourished by the trapped holy sparks, would be extracted and it would be left with nothing. Hard labor began at this stage, and the Jews became entrenched in slavery. Innumerable holy sparks were refined and purified during this time of suffering. The only reason the Jews were in Egypt was to accomplish this purpose, since otherwise, it was not a place for Israel. They were forced to remain there as long as it was still possible to refine these sparks through their avodat HaShem.

However, HaShem saw that they had reached the outermost border of the 49th gate of impurity. Remaining there for even a single moment longer, they would have crossed over into the fiftieth gate of impurity, and become defiled completely. If this had happened, we, our children, and children’s children would have been enslaved in Egypt until today. All the effort and toil of the tzaddikim in each generation to find “lost objects,” i.e., refining holy sparks, would have been for naught, God forbid. This is why God illuminated them with an extremely wondrous light, a light that had never existed before in the world. He then took His people out in great haste with a strong hand and outstretched arm, together with everything they had, including the holy sparks they had refined in Egypt.

This can be understood through a parable. There was once a king who sent his beloved deputy on a specific mission where he needed to descend into a domain of snakes and scorpions. For the entire duration of the mission, the king covertly accompanied him in order to protect him. When the king saw that his deputy fell into great danger in the course of faithfully carrying out his mission, the king revealed himself and extricated his beloved deputy. As it is written, “Rebbe Shimon said, ‘Great is God’s affection for Israel, in that He revealed Himself to them.’”[5] Despite His concealed presence, when it was time to take them out of bondage, He showed them that He was actually there during their entire sojourn in Egypt.

The redemption from Egypt took place so that Israel could carry out their divine mission to repair the world, i.e., to clarify the holy sparks and elevate them to the Creator. But now, they would need the power of the Torah to protect them on their mission. Therefore, they were commanded afterwards to count fifty days to purify and sanctify themselves in order to receive the Torah through Moses at Sinai. The Torah would endow them with the power to continue their mission of refining the holy sparks, even if they fell into the deepest depths of the klipot and the Sitra Achra—the fiftieth gate of impurity.

Before the giving of the Torah, if Israel had descended into the 50th gate of impurity in Egypt, they would have remained there, God forbid. Since they lacked the Torah, it was critical to extract them in great haste, before they fell completely into the depths. The situation was completely different after they received the Torah. Nothing now existed to restrain or inhibit them from entering into the deepest abyss to extricate the fallen sparks, and restore them to their holy source.

The Torah possesses tremendous power that serves as a shield and partition for us. Whatever exile, trouble, or torture we go through, we will always be connected on high and have the ability to refine countless sparks every day, in any conceivable place. Little by little, the stature of the holy Shechina is built, and now that we have the Torah, there is nothing to fear. This gives us an indication of how much we need to strengthen and encourage ourselves in Torah learning. Because of this protection, it is written that the final redemption will not be rushed. There will be no need whatsoever for a hasty redemption since we are completely protected by the Torah in our mission of refining the final sparks.[6]

Translated and adapted from Shaarei Tzaddik, Letter 22.

1. As explained in all the holy books, in particular those of Rebbe Nachman and his student, Reb Noson.

2. II Samuel 14:14.

3. As our sages comment on the verse, “Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead of him…” (Genesis 46:28).

4. As it is written, “Come, let us deal wisely with them…” etc. (Exodus 1:10)

5. Shemot Rabba 15.

6. Thus it is written, “In returning and rest shall you be saved.” (Isaiah 30:15)