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(5734) Baal HaTurim (Beg. of Parsha) - The seventeen best years of Yaakov were in Egypt  



1. The Rebbe Rayatz tells us:

“When the Tzemach Tzedek was a young boy and learned the verse (Gen 47:28):

“And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years”,

his teacher explained, according to the commentary of the Baal HaTurim:

“The seventeen best years of Yaakov’s life were in Egypt”.

When The Tzemach Tzedek came home from Cheder, he asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe:

‘How was it that Yaakov Avinu, the choicest of the Avot, could have, as the best years of his life, the seventeen years that he spent in Egypt, the depraved land?’

The Alter Rebbe answered him:

‘Yaakov sent Yehuda ahead of him to Yosef, so that he might direct him to Goshen’.

The Midrash explains the above verse, and it is cited by Rashi, that “R’ Nechemiah says: it was to prepare a house of study from which would emanate Torah, and where the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study”.

(And the words) “So that he might direct him to Goshen” means that when one studies Torah, one comes close to G‑d. And (therefore) it was the level of “and he lived/Vayechi” even in Egypt” (that even in Egypt one “lives/ Vayechi”).

2. The stories of our Holy Rebbe’s, in general, and specifically those that were transmitted by them in order to be publicized, are, as is known, precise in all of their details.

In other words, this is both with regard to the understanding of the subject of the story - where each detail is relative and aids in the understanding of the entire aspect, as well as with regards to the lesson (להמוסר־השכל) of the story, where each detail has, hidden within it, a lesson in Avodat HaShem.

The same is in our case:

This precision includes even the question of the Tzemach Tzedek. For even though he asked this, in his youth, nevertheless, since it is a detail in the story that was transmitted to us through our holy Rebbes, therefore there is certainly, even in this, a substantial matter, and (therefore ) also a lesson in Avodat HaAdam. This is especially so according to the Talmudic dictum: “Every pumpkin is known from its stalk” (בוצין בוצין מקטפי׳ ידיע) (Note: meaning that as soon as it begins to emerge from the stalk, one knows what it will become. This also can be applied to a Torah scholar).

Another point in this is:

The explanation of the Alter Rebbe was said to the Tzemach Tzedek, while he was still small. From this it is understood that the lesson of the story has a relation to everyone – even to those that are still at a “small” level in their Avodat HaShem.

3. At first glance, there are many details that are not understandable in the subject matter and in the flow of the story:

  1. The explanation of the Alter Rebbe does not contain, seemingly, a sufficient answer to the Tzemach Tzedek’s question. For his question was how was it that the best years of Yaakov’s life were the seventeen years that he dwelled in Egypt? Yet the answer of the Alter Rebbe was that through Torah study, it is possible, even in Egypt, to attain the level of “living/Vayechi“. However, this still does not provide a reason why “And Yaakov lived in . . Egypt” was in a manner that it is the choicest of the years of one’s life.
  2. Since the Tzemach Tzedek, was then, of an age that, he was only able to hear the explanation of the Baal HaTurim from his teacher, why did the Alter Rebbe, cite the homily of the Sages on the verse “So that he might direct him to Goshen", from the “Midrash – cited in Rashi” and not from Rashi itself? One must therefore say that, even though the answer to the question is also cited in Rashi (which is why he mentions Rashi’s commentary in the answer) that nevertheless, there is an additional lesson that is in the addition of the Midrash.
  3. In Rashi it cites from the aforementioned statement of the Sages that it was: “to prepare a house of study from which would emanate Torah. Yet the Midrash adds: “and where the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study”.

One must understand:

The intent of the Alter Rebbe was to explain how the best years of Yaakov were in Egypt. What is added though the aspect that the “where the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study”?

4. This can be understood by prefacing an additional explanation in the question of the Tzemach Tzedek:

Seemingly, one need not be puzzled by the essential matter, that the best years of Yaakov were specifically his last seventeen years that he was together with Yosef. For it is understood and simple that the main happiness of Yaakov, “the choicest of the Avot“, was through that which he saw that Yosef was alive and conducting himself as befits his son, standing in righteousness even after he had remained so long in Egypt.

And this is also understood from Rashi’s words in the explanation of the story of the Scripture.

(after Yaakov was given the tidings that “Yosef is alive etc.“, “His heart stood still etc.”, so much so that “he saw the wagons . . and the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived“)

For specifically when Yaakov saw the wagons/Agalot, then his spirit was revived. For it was the sign that he gave to him when they were studying the “He Yosef gave them as a sign - the subject that he was studying at the time . . the heifer/agalah whose neck is broken. This is what is said: ‘And he saw . . that Yosef had sent.“

Thus the main happiness of Yaakov and its completeness came when he saw Yosef standing in a lofty spiritual condition and that his Torah study and that his righteousness were steadfast as before. And this is also what Yaakov said to Yosef when he came to Egypt: “Now I can die; after I have seen your face that you are alive“, for

(does it mean that specifically when he saw his face that it proved that he was alive?, but rather it)

the intent of this is regarding his righteousness and his spiritual life, that Yaakov saw in Yosef s face, and this was the primary cause of his happiness.

From this it is understood that the happiness of Yaakov, when seeing Yosef s face, was an extremely lofty happiness and joy (שמחה ועונג נעלה ביותר), specifically when this occurred in Egypt, the depraved land (ערות הארץ) – for it was like the advantage of light that comes, specifically, from the darkness (כ יתרון האור מתוך החושך).

And since this is so, the question of the Tzemach Tzedek and also the elaborate answer of the Alter Rebbe – requires explanation.

5. The explanation of this is:

“Egypt” is from the word constraints and boundaries (Meitzarim v’Gevulim) – a land that does not allow room for the revelation of G-dliness, which is without boundary (הבלתי בע׳׳ג).


It is the “depraved land” - a place of sin, and Klipot that conceal and hide any aspect at all, of G-dliness.

The purpose of the Avodah of a person is to go out of these limitations and boundaries. In other words that he feel within him, the G-dly revelation, which is without boundary. For through this, he will rise up to serve G-d without any measure or boundaries.

And this is the point of the question of the Tzemach Tzedek to the Alter Rebbe:

Indeed, while it is true that, specifically in the last seventeen years, Yaakov came to such a lofty spiritual happiness and joy, that he had not attained until then. However, on the other hand, his descent to Egypt, to the constraints and boundaries of the “depraved land”, effected a concealment and hiddenness (or at least a limitation) to the purpose and completeness of his Avodat HaShem – which is to completely go out of the boundaries of the world, but rather to feel G-dliness which is above nature. And because of this, how is it possible to say that the years of his life and his Avodah in Egypt, were called the best of his years? Especially compared to his years in the Eretz Yisroel – a place conducive to the holiness of a pure offering - the Holy of Holies (עולה תמימה — קדש קדשים).

On this the Alter Rebbe answers that Yaakov “prepared a house of study“ in Egypt, and that through Torah, even in Egypt the condition was in a manner of “Vayechi“ (living/געלעבט) . For through Torah study, that lifts the person, who is studying, above all measure and boundaries, is it possible to rise up, even in Egypt, to the level of “Vayechi” – true life.

And the reason is:

The Torah is rooted in G-d’s Essence. Therefore, just as G-d’s essence is above all spatial extremes of above and below, so too is the Torah. For even as it is descended below, in all of its manifestations – even when it has “travelled and descended . . until it clothed itself in corporeal substances and in things of this world“ - nevertheless it remains in a level of without limitation (בלי גבול).

Therefore, through the power of studying and connecting to Torah,

by which one can unite with it with a wondrous unification etc., - namely to be really united and one with it in every aspect –

it can lift the person from all worldly measurements and boundaries of the world, to nullify the concealment and hiddenness of “Egypt/constraints”.

Therefore, since “(Yaakov) sent Yehuda ahead of him etc.“ – meaning that he prepared a house of study which would emanate Torah, his coming to Egypt was not a descent in his Avodah, for he was not given under the constraints and boundaries of the land of Egypt.

Therefore it is possible that the best of his years were (also) when he lived in the land of Egypt.

6. To explain how specifically these years were the “best” of his years – the homily of the Sages is cited (on the verse “so that he might direct him to Goshen“ ) from the Midrash with the addition: “and where the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study“ (as aforementioned par 3).

The explanation is:

In that verse and the aspect that the Tzemach Tzedek asked of, when he was a child – he explained when he became older:

The Tzemach Tzedek writes:

‘And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years. Seventeen is the numerical value of the word “good/tov”. This means that through the seventeen years of Egypt, he merited to attain the level of ‘Vayechi’ – (namely) to see good, for the advantage of light is drawn from the darkness”. (זכה ליתרון האור הנמשך מן החשך)

In other words, that through the descent to Egypt, he merited to the advantage of light that is drawn from the darkness.

7. In the statement “the advantage of light that is drawn from the darkness” there are two explanations (or) - manners:

  1.  The place of the darkness is illuminated through the light. And however greater the darkness is– it reveals, that much more so, the virtue of the light and its unlimited power (הבלתי־מוגבל) that can effect even in a place of great darkness such as this.
  2. The darkness itself illuminates, and is transformed to light. Through this an advantage in the light is created. For a lofty level is drawn down into the light, that was not in the light of its own accord.

The difference between the two explanations is:

According to the first explanation of “the advantage of light from the darkness “, the intent is not that, compared to the light itself there is, in actuality, an existence of darkness (through which, the advantage of the light, is recognizable). For since it is an unlimited light, and therefore illuminates everywhere even in the place of darkness, therefore, at the very onset, it is impossible to attribute to light an existence of darkness. Therefore the intent of “the advantage of light from the darkness“ is from the perspective of the place that is darkness ( without the spreading of the light ). And from the perspective of the person who sees that it is in the realm of light and darkness.

However, according to the second explanation, namely that the advantage of the light is drawn from the darkness itself, there is an existence of “darkness ” even with regard to the light. And the light needs to transform it and through this there also comes the advantage of the light etc.

According to this, it is understood, in our case:

In the explanation of the verse “And Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt“, namely that through the descent to Egypt “he merited to attain the level of ‘Vayechi’ . . that is drawn from the darkness

(And not that while he was in Egypt, a place of darkness, that it was recognizable to others the virtue of his “life” (ה״חיים״ שלו), namely, that his life there was also there at the epitome of loftiness) –

it is understood that this is according to the aforementioned, second explanation.

8. According to this one could say that the Alter Rebbe was precise in adding to his answer from the Midrash: “and where the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study“. For this was in order to allude to this explanation of “the advantage of light from the darkness“.

  • The Avot are the level of Atzilut. (the World of Emanation)
  • And the Shvatim – “from the word ‘drawing’ like the phrase: ‘kochva d’Shavit’ - a shooting star“  (כוכבא דשביט מלשון המשכה כמו) – are the level of Bi’ah (בי״ע - the three lower Worlds: Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah).

Therefore regarding Yaakov himself, compared to his level which is the level of Atzilut (in other words the unlimited light) there is no entity in the darkness and hiddenness of Egypt.

Therefore the Alter Rebbe cites from the Midrash: “(which would emanate Torah) and where the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study“). For since the Shvatim are the level of Bi’ah, the separated worlds (עלמין דפרודא) and a place of darkness, through the Torah study in the land of Egypt, they effected to illuminate the darkness itself which, for them, is considered an entity (בחי׳ מציאות). And through this they transformed the darkness to light and the “advantage of light from the darkness “ was drawn into them, as aforementioned.

And even though the advantage of this light was not in Yaakov, of his own accord – for regarding him, there was no darkness, at the very onset. Nevertheless through this that he “prepared a house of study from which would emanate Torah, and which (through it) the Shvatim would immerse themselves in Torah study“, he effected that even he “merited to attain the level of ‘Vayechi’ . . the advantage of light is drawn from the darkness”.

And this is like the known concept that through the Avodah of Bi’ah, there is added the light of Atzilut.

9. According to this, the reason why the Alter Rebbe did not explicitly say this explanation,

(in the parable that was understood at the age of the Tzemach Tzedek),

but rather, alluded to – is also understood:

The order of Avodat HaAdam must be in a straightforward manner (באופן ישר):

  • Turn from evil (darkness) and
  • do (an Avodah which is in a manner and thing which, at the very onset, is capable and able to be) good (light).

And even though, that through Avodat HaAdam in a manner of tests it –

meaning that when there are obstacles and barriers to fulfilling Torah and Mitzvot, and that he overcomes them and withstands the test – he is elevated to such a lofty level as this, namely that without the test he would not attain it. And more than this that we find in the Avodah of Teshuvah that through this willful transgressions, are transformed into merits,

creates the advantage of light that comes from the darkness (like in the second explanation)

Nevertheless, all this is just “bedieved” – after the fact, namely when he is brought to a place of spiritual danger and he withstands his test, that through this he is elevated by his Avodah with greater strength and vigor, and which is incomparable to his previous level. And similarly, a person who has already sinned, G-d forbid – that through his complete Teshuvah, so much so that “willful transgressions are transformed into merits“ (זדונות נעשו לו כזכיות), he merits to the virtue that the Sages apply: “In the place where Baalei Teshuva stand, not even absolute Tzaddikim can stand there“ (במקום שבע״ת עומדין אין צ״ג יכולין לעמוד שם).

However, a person must not stand in a place of danger. It is forbidden to place oneself, at the onset, in a situation of tests, and in a place that can cause one to come to sin. And certainly not to actually sin with the intention of repenting later on. And not only this, but we pray every day “and do not lead us to temptation“, namely that we should not be brought to this, even from Above.

Therefore, there is no reason to explain to a child, who is still at the age of education, the virtue that comes through dealing with darkness, in order to transform it to light. On the contrary, one must explain to him the Avodah of “turning from evil”.

And therefore the Alter Rebbe did not say to the Tzemach Tzedek, this aspect, except in a hint. Yet afterward, the Tzemach Tzedek himself explained the great virtue that is accomplished through descending into the Galut of Egypt, by the concept of “the advantage of light from the darkness“.

10. The general lesson in Avodat HaShem, by the aforementioned story is:

Even though Yaakov Avinu, when he came to the land of Egypt, merited great happiness and joy, from that which Yosef and his household, conducted themselves, there, also in the proper path – nevertheless the Tzemach Tzedek questioned how it was possible to say that those years where he was in the constraints and boundaries of the land of Egypt should be the ‘best” of his years. In other words, since – the complete purpose of the descent of the soul is, that the person, through his Avodah, at the very onset, must not be in constraints and boundaries. Therefore he should immediately flee with haste from the land of Egypt.

On the other hand:

If one is already found in a place of constraint and boundary and is not able to flee from there – his Avodah is that, in that place, it should be the “best” of his life.

And the order of Avodah, and the lesson how to achieve this, is explained in the answer of the Alter Rebbe:

In simplicity, his answer, was a lesson to those whose Avodah is in the order of “straightforwardness“(בסדר ה״ישר״) – “G-d made man upright”. For even those who, due to the Supernal decree and their mission in this world, find themselves in constraints and boundaries of this world. Even if this is in such places, that in this world itself are the level of “depraved land” – nevertheless they must know that their Avodah is (not just to prevent degradation, G-d forbid, but rather also) to make an abode for G-d in the lower realms. This is the drawing down of G-d’s essence which is without limit, even while they are in the midst of the constraints and boundaries of the “depraved land”. And the advice on how to achieve this is – the Torah. For through Torah study, which is the revelation of the Wisdom and Will of G-d, which is above boundaries and change, the power is given to rise above all the aforementioned constraints and boundaries. And it is not just that the “constraints” do not obstruct him and bring him down, G-d forbid, but on the contrary that it is to merit to the level of “and he lived/Vayechi“ . . (געלעבט/living – true life) in the land of Egypt.

11. However all this is for those who travel straightforwardly (ישר), that through their Avodah in Torah study, they are not placed, at the onset, under the rule of the constraints and boundaries of the land of Egypt.

However, for those who have sinned and sullied and transgressed the path, G-d forbid, where they, seemingly, have already fallen under the rule of the constraints and boundaries of the land of Egypt - how is it possible for them to attain the level of “Vayechi” etc.?

The lesson to this comes from the answer of the Alter Rebbe in the manner of a hint:

One must not lose hope, G-d forbid. For through the Avodah of Teshuvah, which is the striving and the Avodah in the place of darkness itself, not only can one, through this, go out of the place of darkness, but also, that through this, he can accomplish that there be an “advantage of light from the darkness“, in a very lofty manner, as aforementioned.

And since the true virtue in the advantage of light comes from the darkness itself, it is possible that a person, who goes straightforward, could err and say “I will go and perform my Avodah there”.

Therefore, the Alter Rebbe alludes to this this virtue, and does not say it explicitly. For this comes to teach that this is not the straightforward path that a person should choose. But on the contrary, “One who says, ‘I will sin, and then repent’ (האומר, אחטא ואשוב, אין מספיקין בידו לעשות תשובה), will not receive an opportunity to repent. For he falls even from his previous level.

12. And if one should claim: “Why is my portion diminished”? -

For he is not able to reach the “advantage of light from the darkness“ in a lofty manner –

“Just because I go in the straightforward path?”

The Alter Rebbe alludes even to this claim:

Just as was explained above, that from the level of Yaakov himself, he was not relevant to the revelation of “the advantage of light from the darkness itself“, nevertheless through his endeavoring that the “Shvatim immerse themselves in Torah study“, even he will attain the level of Vayechi Yaakov - “And Yaakov lived”, with the epitome of loftiness – “the advantage of light from the darkness itself“.

And similarly, it is in the Avodah of each and every person:

Through dealing with those that are still far from G-d and His Torah, and by drawing them close and influencing them become Baalei Teshuvah, through effecting in the other person, the virtue of Teshuvah – he will have a portion of the virtue of the light of his fellow.

And through all this, we will bring close the coming of Moshiach who will “come to influence the Tzaddikim to return with Teshuvah”.

M’Sichas Shabbat Parshat Vayechi 5732



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