“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt …”
The great mountain stood out in splendor from the shadowy valley below. Its peak raised in glory and crowned with the high walls and golden towers that surrounded the royal city within. With the rising of the sun each morning its first rays would land upon the whiteness of the walls and the city above would seem to rise in flames. The farmers in the valley below would be blinded by the breathtaking sight each time they would raise their eyes to catch a glimpse of this awesome spectacle.
In the city above, life was bustling in full force with activity. Apart from the royal family, the city’s residents consisted exclusively of nobles, members of the royal court, ministers and their families. The entire atmosphere was graced with a spirit of alacrity and liveliness, and an aura of determination and intensity could be tangibly felt in the air. People could be constantly seen scrambling from place to place with the expressions upon their faces making it evident they were fully aware of their value and the importance of their duties.
At the foot of the mountain in the valley below was another city. Nothing about it had any resemblance to the majestic city above. A cloud of darkness seemed to constantly hover above it and the mountains cast their shadows heavily upon its streets and the many houses that stood cramped on top of each other in seeming humiliation and shame. Its inhabitants where simple farmers and laborers who toiled from dawn to dusk, spending their days amongst the livestock and clumps of earth in the field or in the noisy factories. They never had a spare moment for anything other than work and toil. Nothing special was waiting for them on the horizon. They simply lived for nothing other than to not die.
One day a great war erupted and the king led his troops into battle against his enemies. The raging battle continued in a fury day after day, and their hope for victory began to dwindle. The king’s son fell captive to the enemy and spies had managed to infiltrate themselves amongst the king’s men.
Suddenly the village men grabbed their work tools and threw themselves bravely into the heat of the battle. They had no real weapons food or uniforms, yet they fought with great courage and determination. At first the enemy took no notice of them, but in the end it was specifically those downtrodden farmers and workers who led them to victory, rescued the king’s son and returned the kingdom to its state of glory.
From then on, the city at the foot of the mountain became something special. Its inhabitants remained simple farmers and workmen, yet some drastic change took place there. A spirit of life began between the congested houses. The very same spirit of life and energy that once could be found only at the top of the mountain now expelled the cloud of darkness and graced the city below with its presence. The people’s eyes shone with fiery enthusiasm and their hands seemed to perform their work in the way of royalty. The King came down to the people and showed them his shining countenance with warmth and love and the simple farmers experienced for the first time a taste of satisfaction and importance … a taste of “And he lived..”(Beraishis 47;28).
A simple but honest look at the world will bring anyone with even a drop of da’as in his head to the conclusion that there isn’t really anything worth striving for in this world.
So much pain and anguish comes with every ‘piece’ of this world. So much suffering, emotional stress and loss. Can they really deceive us about anything in this world and tell us ‘this is really worth investing our efforts in’? Does life not pass by like a fleeting shadow and take with it the result of years of toil into the past?
The only thing left to search for in this world is Hashem. Without him nothing here in this world is of any true meaning, just a heap of illusions and nonsense, false advertisements and disappointments. Yet, when we find and reveal Hashem in the world then there is no place as wondrous and true as this world, as full of liveliness and reality.
For in truth this is what the world was created for – for the man that will toil, search and seek out in every way possible to reveal more and more Hashem’s Godliness and to fulfill “And you shall cleave to Him” (Devarim 10;20).
As long as the focus of one’s life does not revolve around this point, it cannot be truly called ‘life’, but rather a long process of dying. However, in order to be able to live this wonderful life and to find Hashem in everything in the world, it is necessary to break all physical desires, lowly drives and be involved in Torah and avodah with tremendous consistency.
In this way, one chooses good and true life, ascends the mountain and enters into the palace to join the king’s men who are truly content and full of life.
How to draw the life that is on the mountain down into the valley:
But what can one who was born down in the valley do? His life doesn’t bring him up to the mountain top … his feet seem to slip and stumble each time he tries to ascend … he has been battered by the stones of trials and tribulations – he has been scarred by the hardships of life. His prayer is not comparable to the song of the king’s men and his Torah doesn’t contain even the slightest hint of a scent of love and fear of heaven. When he rises each morning, looks at himself and sees each day the very same negative character traits that have clung to him so strongly, the pit of despair and sadness threaten to engulf him eternally. Has the right to ‘live’ been denied for such a person…?
Reb Noson provides the answer for this question based on this week’s parsha: “And Yaakov lived in the land of Mitzrayim for seventeen years.” It is taught that those seventeen years were the best and most tranquil years of Yaakov’s life.
This is very difficult to understand. How could it be that in Eretz Yisrael, the true and appropriate place for Yaakov, he did not have any peace and tranquility and yet in Mitzrayim, the lowliest of all places and on the threshold of the terrible gallus (exile), there he found tranquility and joy?
Reb Noson explains this according to the Rebbe’s teaching (L.M 24). In truth our main task is to ascend the mountain of Hashem, to destroy evil traits, to enter into the gates of holiness and to be a part of the king’s men. This was the avodah in which our holy forefathers and the Tzaddikim of all the generations involved themselves in. They were successful; they ascended the mountain and succeeded in remaining there in the place of holiness. However what should the general masses do, all those who are straggling behind and are not succeeding to climb the mountain?
However, those same Tzaddikim merited to perceive that the true desire of the king is that the bustling life at the top of the mountain should spread throughout the kingdom and that even in the city that rests at the foot of the mountain it should be possible to live such a life and to rejoice with the king.
For Hashem’s will is to rectify the world. Therefore those Tzaddikim toiled to draw this joy and this holy liveliness down so that is should shine on the heart of every Jew – until each and every person, even one who has not yet overcome his evil desires and character traits – even one having done much damage and destruction, can if he truly desires, also live a good life and bring tremendous joy to himself through the keeping of the Torah and the Mitzvos.
For this is the power of the Tzaddik – Yosef – that every Jew ‘anytime that he desires and tries to come close to Hashem, can be joyous and enliven himself with the great power of the Tzaddikim, through believing that each and every point of good that he merits to through each Mitzvah is invaluable. And even the good points of the Mitzvos of the sinners of Israel, are greater than all the pleasures of emptiness and the wealth of the entire world.’
And so, through a person rejoicing in these good points, the joy carries his legs to the top of the mountain and he too merits to truly cleaving to Hashem who is the source of all life.
Revealing the joy from within the concealment:
In light of this and in light of the Rebbe’s teaching (Likutey Tinyana 23) we can understand a smattering about Bnei Yisrael’s descent into the exile of Mitzrayim and about what happens to each person in his own personal exile and suffering.
In short, the Rebbe teaches that the main pleasure of Hashem is specifically when we transform the sadness and sorrow into happiness and joy. For the main rectification of the world is achieved through sifting out the joy and the good from amidst the depths of concealment. For the sin of Adam Harishon and the sins of all the generations caused the good in each Jew to fall captive into the forces of evil, and it is impossible to truly redeem this good except through going down and taking it out of its place of captivity.
For this reason Yaakov and his children went down to Mitzrayim and specifically there, he lived a life of joy and tranquility – ‘For he then perceived completely that the ultimate future redemption will be specifically through this – by way of the Tzaddikim descending into the depths of the forces of evil which are an aspect of Mitzrayim (and all exiles are called by the name of Mitzarayim as is known), and sifting out the holiness from there specifically. All of this is achieved through the abovementioned aspect, for with their great power, they transform the sorrow and grief into joy.’
Yes, the purpose is to ascend the mountain, however, Hashem’s true will is to send you down to the depths, into the sadness and confusion, in order that in that faraway place you should connect to the holiness of Yosef HaTzaddik and transform the grief and sorrow into happiness and joy.
For the main power of rectification is joy, which has the ability to lift a person up to great and awesome heights.
Now, as we prepare to welcome the holy days of Shovavim (the Acronym formed by the first letters of the upcoming Parshiyot) we should strive to ascend the mountain, to merit being amongst those who reside in the chambers of the king. However, together with this we must not forget that the main rectification is specifically at times when our desire is weakened and we have forgotten about what holiness truly is. Then, when we transform the forgetfulness into a new and fresh beginning we will truly merit to: “And he lived…”
You can download the entire Parasha Sheet here: Vayechi 5770