Parshas Vayeishev-Torah Or- The spiritual missions of Yosef and his brothers

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Vayeishev Yaakov Bieretz Megurei Aviv….…”

[Torah Or p. 52]


This Mamar is a treatise based on the first two Mamarim of Vayeishev printed in Torah Or. The first Mamar of this Parsha discusses the verse describing the settling of Yaakov in Eretz Canaan. What is the meaning of the word “Canaan”? Why do we refer to the land of Israel as the land of Canaan? Is this not a derogatory term, mentioning the evil nations? This leads to a discussion regarding the purpose of the descent of the soul below into this world, and how the soul has invested its greatest powers into this world in order to profit on a much larger scale than it is possible to prosper in the spiritual worlds.

The second Mamar discusses the dream of Yosef with his brothers. Yosef dreamed that eleven stalks of grain stood upright and bowed down to his stalk. What is the spiritual meaning of this dream? What was the spiritual difference between Yosef and his brothers? Was he truly on a higher spiritual plane than they were? Did he have a different Avoda in the service of G-d than they did? This leads to deep analysis of the Avoda of Beirurim, the refinement of the Divine sparks. The refinement of the Divine sparks is a topic constantly mentioned in Chassidic teachings. What are these Divine sparks? What has to be refined and elevated? The Divine sparks were lights of G-dliness contained within the vessel of Tohu. When these vessels shattered, the sparks fell throughout all the spiritual worlds. Each world contains a different level and quantity of sparks. The sparks must be reunited with the G-dliness that they came from. This was the Avoda of the Shevatim. However, there are two stages within this Avoda. Understanding this matter leads to the mystical meaning behind the relationship of the Shevatim with Yosef and the interpretation of his dreams.


Explorations of the Mamar:

1.      What is the meaning of the “land of Canaan”? Why the term “Canaan”?

2.      Why did the Neshama descend below into this world? What does the Neshama itself have to gain?

3.      What is the mystical meaning behind Yosef’s dream?

4.      What occurred at Sheviras Hakeilim, and what aspects have to be refined?

5.      Why is the exile taking so long? What more do we have to do?



The Questions

The verse states, “And Yaakov dwelled in the land of his father, the land of Canaan”. The [inner] meaning of this verse needs to be understood. Why does it state twice “in the land of his fathers” and then again the “land of Canaan”? [The fact that his father lived in Eretz Canaan is well known, so why the need for this seeming redundancy of expression? To understand this, one must first introduce the concept of land called Eretz.] The verse states, “I will go before G-d Beartzos Hachaim”. The word “land”, Artzos, is said in the plural. This is because there are two vessels upon which the level of Chaim/life, G-dly vitality, resides. To comprehend this [what are these two vessels], we must first understand why the land of Israel is called in the Torah “Eretz Canaan”. It is puzzling to refer to the land of Israel as “Eretz Canaan,” as Canaan was the son of Cham. What possible praise of Eretz Yisrael could there be in calling it by the name of the son of Cham? Likewise, the meaning of the verse, “The Canaanite will no longer be in the house of G-d on that day” remains to be understood.


All levels of Kelipa in the Torah have a counterpart in Kedusha:

Just like Eisav and Lavan exist in the world below, which is Kelipa, so Eisav and Lavan also exist within the realm of Kedusha. The same applies to the Sar Hatabachim and the Sar Haofim.  Both exist within the realms of Kelipa and Kedusha, as Hashem made a counterpart of Kedusha for every level of Kelipa. The same applies to the three children of Noach. The levels of Kedusha that Noach’s three children represent are three colors of the rainbow: white, red, and yellow, which are very high spiritual levels. However, with the descent of these lights from level to level and from world to world through the Seder Hishtalshlus, this created the Cham of Kelipa below in this world, which was the father of Canaan.


Canaan of Kedusha:

The term “Canaan” means business. It refers to one who buys cheaply and sells for more. He invests large amounts of money into items, losing access to the money in order to make a profit from an eventual sale. The entire purpose of his investment is for the awaited profit, which will be greater than the amount of his original investment. [Therefore, the reason that Eretz Yisrael is referred to as Eretz Canaan is because it is a land of spiritual business. It is a land that allows one to invest sparks of Kedusha into materialistic matters to generate a spiritual profit that is much greater than the original investment.]

The Jewish soul descends to refine the sparks from Kelipa: The above also applies to Neshamos Yisrael. The general souls of Israel are likened to a businessman. They descend into the Kelipa of this world to do business with Kelipa and remove Kedusha from it. Through the descent of the Shechina into the Kelipa, they refine and remove all the sparks of G-dliness from it. This is the meaning of the saying of the Sages, “We were only exiled to Edom in order to add to us Geirim”. The “Geirim” referred to here are the sparks of holiness found within the Kelipa. This removal of the Kedusha from the Kelipa then allows the Kelipa to become completely destroyed, as will occur in the future: “And He will swallow death for eternity,” “And I will remove the spirit of impurity from the world.”


The advantage of the descent of the soul below:

The same way that the general world is elevated through the descent of the Jewish souls and the Shechina below, similarly the soul of each and every Jew is elevated through its descent into this world. Prior to the soul’s descent into the world and its immersion within the physical body, the soul was connected and attached to its Maker with a fiery love and passion, similar to a flame that burns and desires to leave its wick. Every Jewish soul used to contain a revealed natural love and fear, and when the soul descended below into the physical body this love and fear became concealed and hidden within the physical heart. The soul is now unable to reach the level of love and fear that it contained prior to its descent. This is a great fall for the soul and it remains to be understood what the soul has to gain by traveling below. The explanation is that through the soul’s descent below, it now has the ability to reach a state of spirit that totally gives itself up for the sake of G-d and surpasses even the love and fear that it experienced above. The love and fear that the soul experienced in Heaven was commensurate to its ability of understanding and comprehension. The soul was unable to reach a state of self-effacement and utter nullification before G-d, and hence it did not desire G-d to the point of expiry of the soul. However, in this world below, where the soul experiences a concealment of G-dliness, the opposite is the case. It is able to experience such a passionate desire and longing for G-d that it desires to be completely nullified before Him and leave the constraints of the body. This is similar to the experience of a Baal Teshuvah, who reaches the state of Teshuvah Ilaah that is not afforded to a Tzaddik. 


The novelty:

There are various reasons brought as to why G-d created man; a) So man could build G-d a dwelling place below; b) So man could merit a share in the world to come; c) To benefit man. This, however, only explains how the body and animal soul of the Jew were created for a benefit. It does not explain why Hashem decided to take the G-dly soul, which was already created and living in Eden, and bring it down below into impurity. What gain does the soul receive by so doing? There are various answers brought in Chassidus to tackle this question. At times, it is explained that the purpose of the soul’s descent is to perform Torah and Mitzvos and unite with G-d. At other times, it is explained that the soul descended simply as a sacrifice to refine the body and animal soul and did not descend for a self-gain. Another explanation is that Hashem desired that the soul earn its own “bread of reward” rather than receive it free in Eden, as the Neshama itself does not enjoy a life of reward that is not a result of its work and effort. All the above explanations, however, fail to explain how the soul itself benefits in this lifetime, while inside the body, from its descent. The novelty of this Mamar is that the soul itself gains from the descent, even now while it is within the body, as through its concealment the soul can reach a state of passion of Klos Hanefesh that it could not reach prior. 



Continuation in Mamar “Hinei Anachnu Mialmim Alumim…” [Torah Or p. 56]

Angels, souls, and Elokus shattered by Sheviras Hakeilim:

Sheviras Hakeilim, the shattering of the vessels of Tohu, led to a fall in various spiritual levels, including souls, angels, and sparks of G-dliness. All three of these aspects were affected and damaged by the Shevira. All three aspects broke and descended below.


The shattering of G-dliness-Creation of a feeling of self-existence:

The G-dliness that was broken by the Sheviras Hakeilim fell below into the world of Beriyah and began serving as its source of vitality. The breaking of the vessels caused the G-dliness to be split into smaller volumes, thus creating myriads of pieces of the original form of G-dliness. This is similar to a word that is made up of letters. If the word is “shattered,” each letter becomes its own separate entity. The formation of a multitude of sparks caused the creation of myriads of different forms of creations in Biy”ah [בי”ע], each creation deriving from a different spark, and each creation being different than another. It was this breaking of the vessels and shattering of the lights that served as Hashem’s tool to make the world and its multitude of creations despite His oneness and unity. The lower a spark descended into the world, the more distanced it became from its source, hence increasing its concealment of spirituality. The concealment that is experienced by the sparks is responsible for the feeling of Yeishus, the feeling of self, in all worlds. It lends the creations a feeling of self and a feeling of existence that is separate from G-d.


The creation of myriads of angels:

As stated above, the lower the sparks descended, the more they split and became concealed. The sparks in Atzilus were still on a very high level and hence did not serve as a source for creating angels that feel their self-existence. When the sparks descended to Beriyah, they split and caused the creation of the four encampments of angels and the four animals carrying the Divine chariot. As the sparks descended further, they broke apart even more and created 186,000 levels of angels in the encampment of Michael. The more they descended, the greater the variety of angels that were created, reaching a point in which there exist millions upon millions of angels.


The creation of myriads of souls:

Just as the descent of the sparks caused the creation of a diversity of angels, it similarly affected the diversity and abundance of souls. In the same way that four encampments of angels exist in the world of Beriyah, there are four general camps of souls in Beriyah, corresponding with the four camps that surrounded the Mishkan in the desert and were led by Yehuda, Reuven, Efraim, and Dan. In the world of Beriyah, the soul of Yehuda incorporated all the souls of the camp of Yehuda. When Yehuda’s soul descended to the levels of Beriyah, it split into many particular souls. This same process of descent and splitting of souls likewise occurred for the other three encampments. This descent of the souls caused a breakdown of souls to the extent that the number of particular souls in Beriyah reached a total of 600,000. In the world of Assiyah, these 600,000 souls split into even greater numbers [to the point of there being hundreds of millions of souls]. The level of the soul and its quality was likewise affected upon its descent into the lower worlds. In Beriyah the souls are called Neshama, while in Yetzira the souls are called Ruach, and in Assiyah they are called Nefesh.


The 288 general sparks become millions of sparks:

Just as the descent of the sparks caused a creation of diversity of angels and souls, similarly it affected the diversity and abundance of sparks of Tohu in each world. Originally, there were 288 general sparks that fell, but as these sparks fell into each world each one broke into myriads of smaller sparks, and those sparks themselves then broke into myriads of even smaller sparks, creating a total of hundreds of thousands of sparks.


Why are the exile and the Avoda of Beirurim taking so long?

Based on the above, it is understood why the exile is taking so long, extending more than 1900 years. It is known that the end of the exile is dependent on the refinement of the 288 sparks of Tohu. When these sparks are refined, Moshiach will come. At first, it seems puzzling that it is taking so long to simply refine 288 sparks. So many generations of Jews fulfilling Torah and Mitzvos have passed, each Jew and each generation refining its corresponding amount of sparks. So why is the job not yet done? Based on the above, it is understood that although originally there existed only 288 sparks, nevertheless as these sparks descended they were broken into hundreds of thousands of sparks. This caused an elongated exile that allowed the Jewish people to fulfill the task of refining each one of these sparks.  The exile is still continuing as these sparks have not yet been refined, and when the job is complete Moshiach will come.


The Avoda of Beirurim necessary to bring Moshiach has been completed:

The above Mamar was given by the Alter Rebbe 200 years ago. The Rebbe stated in Parshas Vayeishev in 1991 that the Avoda of refining the sparks has been completed, and the world is now ready for Moshiach’s coming.



How the refinement is accomplished:

The cause of the destruction and diversity within the sparks was Yeishus, the feeling of self. The stronger the feeling of self became as the sparks descended, the more they split and lost their unity. Hence, a united spark made up of myriads of parts broke down into myriads of individual scattered parts. The method of counteracting this split and reuniting and elevating the sparks back within the unity of Hashem is through drawing down the level of Chochmah below. Chochmah draws down Bittul, nullification, to the sparks and returns them to their unity with Hashem. This is the meaning of Mi Kiamecha Yisrael Goy Echad Baaretz, “who is like the Jewish people that draw down “Echad”, oneness, below.” 


The meaning behind the Shevatim gathering stalks:[1]

In Yosef’s dream, he saw all of the Shevatim gathering stalks. This gathering of stalks represents the above Avoda of Beirurim, refinement of the sparks. The Shevatim would gather the broken sparks [individual stalks of grains] and unite them, thus causing their elevation. This elevation of the Shevatim brought the sparks to the level of Malchus of Atzilus and hence nullified their Yeishus.


The two refinements:

In order to complete the unification of the sparks with G-dliness, the sparks must go through two different levels of refinement and self-subjugation. The first stage is to elevate the sparks to Malchus of Atzilus, hence nullifying their state of self, wants, and desires [i.e. Bittul Hayeish]. This is the Kabbalistic Avoda known as “Haalas Man” [העלת מ”נ]. At this level, however, the sparks are still unable to be united with their source in Elokus as they still have a feeling of self-existence [i.e. Hargashas Hayeish]. The second level of refinement is to draw down the level of Mah, Chochmah of Atzilus, into the level of Malchus that contains the sparks. This brings the sparks to a state of utter and complete self-nullification [Bittul Bemitzius], hence allowing their complete incorporation within Elokus.


The work of the Shevatim versus the work of Yosef:

The souls of the Shevatim were charged with the task of performing the first stage of refinement, and bringing the sparks to Malchus, Bittul Hayeish. They, however, were unable to perform the second stage of refinement, to draw down from Chochmah. This is because the souls of the Shevatim came from Beriyah and were unable to draw from Atzilus. However, Yosef contained a soul of Atzilus and was hence able to accomplish and perform both stages of refinement. Yosef elevated the sparks to Malchus and also drew them down to Malchus from Chochmah. This is the meaning behind the stalks of the Shevatim bowing to Yosef, as Yosef enabled the sparks elevated by the Shevatim to reach a complete state of nullification, which is expressed through bowing.


Lessons of the Mamar

·         The Jewish people as a whole are a single team working on Avodas Habeirurim, refinement of the sparks. Nevertheless, each soul receives its particular Divine task to perform within this Avoda. This perspective creates respect and unity with other segments of Jewry that are different than one’s own. Under interrogation, the Alter Rebbe stated that the Chassidim have the souls of those that serve Hashem through davening while the students of the Gaon of Vilna have the souls of the Torah learners. Each Jew has his own particular task to fulfill.

·         The descent of the soul below is beneficial for the soul itself through its now greater and deeper longing for G-dliness. Listen to your soul’s inner cry and allow it to express itself in its desire to cleave to G-d through the performance of Torah and Mitzvos.



[1] See also Derushei Chasuna of the Rebbe Maharash p. 6-11

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