Descent for the Sake of Ultimate Ascent


Ultimately, the main intent of exile is not to punish, but to refine and purify the Jewish people so as to make them worthy recipients of the revelations of Divinity which Mashiach will bring about. As is explained in Chassidus,2 “The ultimate intent of the descent and exile is to prepare for a great ascent, when, in the Days of Mashiach, the light of G‑d will radiate manifestly.” Now, during the exile, we need to prepare “vessels” — receptors — for these revelations.

This sequence enables us to understand why, in response to the question of the Baal Shem Tov, “Master (i.e., Mashiach), when are you coming?”, the answer was, “When your wellsprings will be disseminated outward.”3

For the light within the teachings of Chassidus is the vessel which can receive the revelation of Mashiach — and when the vessel is complete, the light will be revealed.

Igros Kodesh (Letters) of the Rebbe Shlita, Vol. I, p. 216

Seeking Sparks (i)

“The only reason for which G‑d exiled the Jewish people among the nations of the world was that proselytes be added to them.” So teach our Sages.4

But were there in fact so many converts in the course of the exile? Rather, the Sages were alluding to a different task — the task of sifting and refining the materiality of this world, and elevating the sparks of holiness that are to be found within it. A convert is someone who was first distant and later came close; so, too, these sparks were first subject to the impure rule of kelippah, and through man’s spiritual labors of refining and sifting materiality they are brought ever nearer to the realm of holiness.

It will be noted that the Sages spoke of proselytes being added, implying that the Jewish people are augmented by their incorporation. So, too, these sparks derive from such an exalted source that when they are sifted out from the material things in which they are embedded, and are elevated and restored to that original source, the divine light that is thereby diffused is of augmented intensity.

Sefer HaMaamarim 5702 [1942], p. 69

Seeking Sparks (ii)

“One of you is exiled to Barbary, one of you to Samatria; to Me it is as if you were all exiled.”5

What can this mean? How can the exile of a solitary Jew scour the entire House of Israel of its sins?

The main function of the exile is not to serve as a punishment for the Jewish people’s misdeeds, but to make possible the divine service of sifting and refining the physicality of this world, and elevating the divine sparks concealed within it. Therefore, when even a single Jew finds himself in a particular country, and G‑d prospers his efforts at elevating all of its divine sparks, he is fulfilling the function of the exile: he is preparing that land for the coming of Mashiach.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 1016

Seeking Sparks (iii)

As has been stated elsewhere, the purpose of the exile is to provide the framework for the divine service that consists of sifting and refining the materiality of this world, and elevating the sparks of holiness that are entrenched within it. The question thus arises: How would this have been attained if the Jewish people had not sinned and had not been banished from their land?

And the answer: In such a situation, the sparks would have been reincorporated in the realm of holiness of their own accord, just as a mere candle loses its separate identity when it joins a major flame. To take a historical instance of this: all the nations of the world came to listen to the wisdom of King Solomon.6 Likewise, in time to come, G‑d promises that7 “at that time I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G‑d and serve Him with one purpose.” And in similar vein it is written,8 “Nations shall walk by your light” [i.e., by the light of the Jewish people].

Torah Or, Bereishis 6a

Seeking Sparks (iv)

The ultimate purpose of the exile is that the “288 sparks” that (so to speak) fell into this material world from the World of Tohu (i.e., the realm of Chaos) be discovered, rectified, and restored to their original state.

Now is it not unthinkable that in the course of this long exile these sparks have not yet been refined?

The explanation is as follows: The sparks that originally “fell” into the World of Atzilus were 288 in number. However, when they descended into the less spiritual World of Beriah, each of them divided into many lesser sparks; as their light was further veiled and they descended further into the even more obscure World of Yetzirah, they subdivided further; and in the even lower state of being called the World of Asiyah they were divided into tens of thousands.

And this is why the exile is so prolonged: the task of rehabilitating this vast number of exiled sparks has yet to be completed.

Or HaTorah, Bereishis 2264

Elevating and Refining the Seventy Nations

“The Holy One, blessed be He, acted charitably towards His people by dispersing them amongst the nations of the world.”9

This dispersal enables the Jewish people to elevate and refine all the seventy nations, by means of the Torah that they study and the commandments that they fulfill wherever they are scattered.

And this is why we find that when Mashiach appears, all the nations of the world will gather around him, as it is written,10 ולו יקהת עמים — “He will have a gathering of nations.”

Toras Chayim, Shmos, p. 335b

Purifying the Lands of the Gentile Nations

Why is it that the Jewish people have been scattered throughout the whole world, including the remotest islands? And why does it happen that individual Jews here and there lose their way, and find themselves tramping from township to township?

The underlying intent here is that they should purify the gentile lands, whose atmosphere is impure.11 For within the heart of every single Jew there is a simple faith which, though it may be dormant, is capable of purifying that impurity.

Keser Shem Tov, Hosafos, sec. 137

A Dwelling Place Among Mortals

“And this is the offering that you shall take from them: gold, silver and copper,... reddened rams’ skins....”12

The Midrash13 explains that gold represents Babylon; silver represents Medea; copper — Greece; and the reddened rams’ skins — Rome.

The ultimate purpose of the offerings brought for the Tabernacle was that a dwelling place for G‑d be built among mortals,14 a sanctuary made of material objects. This goal, however, was not attained in its entirety through the building of the Mishkan. It is consummated only during the time of exile, and for this reason the four major exiles are alluded to in the listing of the above offerings.

The underlying explanation for this is that G‑d desires to dwell among mortals in order that His abode be constructed of the lowest conceivable created things.15 This goal could not be achieved through the building of the Mishkan, in which even fleshly eyes beheld the Divine Presence: it can, however, be achieved during the time of exile, when the materiality of the world exists in all its intensity. When one transforms this into a dwelling place for G‑d, the lowest rungs of the universe are elevated.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, p. 293

A New Light Revealed (i)

If the exile meant nothing more than atonement for sins, it should have become progressively less severe, as each successive period brought partial atonement. In fact, however, we observe that the exile is becoming ever more intense, while G‑d’s presence is becoming less and less manifest. The earliest days of the exile were illuminated by giants of the spirit, the tannaim; they were succeeded by the amoraim; and in the generations since that time the divine light has become more and more heavily veiled.

It is therefore obvious that the exile has an additional, inward content.

The innermost function of the exile is the ultimate revelation of a new light. The greater the divine focus on this new revelation, the more is the [present] flow of divine light deferred. (This concept is explained in passage (ii), below.) Hence, the greater the divine focus on the future Redemption, as we draw ever closer to the coming of Mashiach, the denser does the exile become.

Ibid., Vol. II, p. 361

A New Light Revealed (ii)

The above-described inner content of the exile is explained in the teachings of Chassidus by means of the analogy of a mentor and his disciple.

Picture a teacher transmitting a concept to his disciple. If, in the midst of his exposition, a new thought is born in his mind, he must immediately deflect his attention to this new inspiration, lest it vanish. [Paradoxically,] it is his intense and deepseated love for his disciple that impels him to focus on the new inspiration and to absorb it, in order to be able to share it eventually with his disciple.

Now, the more exalted this new concept, the more completely will he have to divert his attention to it — even to the point that his waiting disciple will feel that he has been forsaken, and relegated to a state resembling exile or destruction.

In truth, however, only in outward appearance is this a state of exile or destruction; ultimately, this very state is the pinnacle of revelation. Indeed, the very fact that the mentor is willing, for the sake of his disciple, to divert his attention from him in order to absorb the new concept, proves how precious that new idea is — to the point that it is even worth producing a moment of exile or destruction in the mind of the disciple, so long as he will ultimately be able to illuminate his mind with his new perception.

The greater the temporary obscurity, therefore, the more completely does it prove how great is the promised revelation.

* * *

The above model enables us to grasp the inner meaning of the present exile. Even though what presents itself to all external appearances is exile and destruction, when perceived from within this is the pinnacle of revelation — for the imminent revelation of the future Redemption warrants a transient experience of exile and destruction.

Op. cit., p. 360

A New Light Revealed (iii)

Our Sages record16 that when the alien invaders burst into the Holy of Holies, they observed that the two golden cherubim were facing each other. This would appear to contradict a different teaching of the Sages,17 to the effect that when the Jewish people fulfilled G‑d’s will, the cherubs faced each other, and when they did not, [as at the time of the Destruction of the Beis HaMikdash,] the cherubs faced outwards.

This paradox may be understood as follows. The entire concept of exile exists only from an external point of view, whereas from its innermost perspective it is the ultimate sign of revelation, as explained in passage (ii), above. This is why in the Holy of Holies, the place of ultimate truth, the cherubim continued to face each other, even at a time such as the above.

Loc. cit.

A New Light Revealed (iv)

“Now this ultimate perfection of the Messianic era and [the time of] the Resurrection of the Dead, meaning the revelation of [the infinite] Ein Sof-light in this physical world, is dependent on our actions and [divine] service throughout the period of exile.”18

Let us consider: Why should this future revelation depend on the divine service that is carried out specifically in the time of exile?

Observing the Torah’s commandments draws down divine energy in such a manner that it transforms the materiality of the world. (I.e., the world does not merely remain a static recipient, to which an increased measure of divine light is now added.) For, since the ultimate intent underlying the creation of the universe is that the Jewish people reveal the G‑dliness within it by means of their Torah study and their observance of the commandments, this implies that from its innermost core the universe itself demands (so to speak) that its ultimate purpose be realized.

However, since this purpose is not perceived in the tangible reality of the world, it follows that from this perspective the G‑dliness that is drawn down into the world comes to it as an addition. This is why the Alter Rebbe concludes the above quotation with the words, “throughout the period of exile.”

As is known, the power of self-sacrifice shines forth more brightly now, during the obscurity of exile, than it did when the Beis HaMikdash stood, because it is the very concealment of G‑dliness that arouses it. But why in fact was the world created in such a way that it takes obscurity19 to bring about revelation? The explanation: In order that the underlying intent of creation should be realized by virtue of the nature of the universe itself, G‑d created the universe in such a way that its ultimate purpose finds expression in it. This means that concealment was built into the universe, in order that it should give rise to a superior revelation, to “the superiority of light [that proceeds] from darkness.”20 This is why the world was created in such a way that it takes obscurity to call forth a superior revelation.

And since this function of G‑d’s self-concealment in the world finds expression in the world itself, it is self-evident that the revelation of G‑dliness here is bound up with the tangible reality of the world.

We can now understand why the Alter Rebbe specified, “throughout the period of exile.” For it is the power of self-sacrifice in the course of the exile that reveals, within the obscurity of the world, the intent underlying the creation of the world, viz., the manifestation of G‑dliness.

This being so, it also follows that it is especially in the period of exile that this revelation of G‑dliness (brought about by the Jewish people’s divine service) is enclothed in the tangible reality of the world.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVII, p. 95

A New Light Revealed (v)

Even when the darkness of exile grows ever thicker, a Jew has no reason to be overawed by it. Quite the contrary: Since he realizes that the spiritual decline called “exile” is a descent made for the sake of a consequent ascent, he intensifies his divine service, and augments the light of his Torah study and observance of the mitzvos — in order to banish or transform the darkness of the exile. In fact it is this very descent, this very darkness of exile, that spurs him on to scale the most exalted heights.

Moreover, the thicker the darkness of exile, the more does it indicate how intense will be the revelation in future time. When the darkness is redoubled, this shows that the future revelation of light will likewise be redoubled.

Hisvaaduyos, 5742 [1982], Vol. I, p. 454

A New Light Revealed (vi)

The innermost intent underlying the exile is that the exile should enable the Jewish people to attain a higher spiritual level than they had attained before it began. In fact spiritual perception in the time of the future Redemption will surpass even that in the time of the Beis HaMikdash.

Hence, even though in practice the Redemption follows the exile, nevertheless, since the entire exile exists only for the sake of the Redemption, from the point of view of the divine intent it precedes the exile.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 183

A New Light Revealed (vii)

The ultimate purpose of the exile is that the Jewish people should climb to a rung higher than the one they had reached in the time of the Beis HaMikdash. It follows, therefore, that the spiritual decline experienced during the time of exile is nothing but a beginning and a part of the ascent which is to follow.

Op. cit., p. 62

A New Light Revealed (viii)

The goal of exile is the lofty revelation in the future which could not be secured in any other manner. Hence, even though exile in itself is no more than a preparation for something beyond itself, viz., the Redemption, from the perspective of the Jewish people the exile in itself — albeit only in seminal form — is one aspect of the Redemption.

Op. cit., Vol. VI, p. 238

A New Light Revealed (ix)

Our Sages teach21 that immediately after the Destruction of the Beis HaMikdash the Redeemer of Israel was born.

This means that not only did the Destruction bring with it the possibility of Redemption (i.e., if the Jewish people had repented immediately), but that immediately after the Destruction there appeared in this material world, in the Land of Israel itself, the beginning of the Redemption — for the Redeemer of Israel was born.

The Destruction was thus a case of “destroying for the sake of rebuilding,”22 undertaken for the sake of the superior perfection of the Third Beis HaMikdash, which will be everlasting. The building of the Third Beis HaMikdash thus began with the Destruction of the Second.

This concept is hinted at in the allusive teaching of our Sages:23 “A lion24 came up...and destroyed Ariel...,25 in order that the Lion26 should come...and build Ariel.”

Those tzaddikim whose comprehensive souls make them the Princes of the Jewish people, and whose eyes are luminous, can see the Redemption within the very exile.

Op. cit., Vol. XXIX, p. 13

Uncovering the Inner Dimension of the Torah

The main intent of the exile in Egypt was that the Jewish people be found worthy of receiving the Torah; as G‑d tells Moshe Rabbeinu,27 “When you have brought the people out of Egypt you shall serve G‑d on this mountain.” In the same way, the ultimate objective of the present long exile is that in time to come, the Jewish people be granted a revelation of the innermost dimension of the Torah.

This objective underlies the Sages’ interpretation of one of the verses whose plain meaning describes the way in which the ancient Egyptians treated our forefathers:28 וימררו את חייהם בעבודה קשה בחומר ובלבנים ובכל עבודה בשדה — “They made their lives bitter with harsh labor, with mortar and bricks, as well as all kinds of labor in the field.” By relating the above Hebrew words to words of related etymology, the Zohar29 interprets them on the non-literal level of derush, as follows:

“וימררו את חייהם — This alludes to the Torah, which is our life (Heb.: chayim);

“בעבודה קשה — this alludes to a kushia30 asked by a student of Torah;

“בחומר — this refers to the principle of Scriptural interpretation called kal vachomer;31

“ובלבנים — this refers to the clarification (libun) of the law;

“ובכל עבודה בשדה — this outdoor work alludes to the study of the beraisa.”32

We do not have before us a body of unequivocally-defined Halachah; all the laws of the Torah are the subject of debate, some authorities permitting what others forbid. And just as through the labor of the Jewish people with mortar and bricks they were found worthy of being granted the Torah at Sinai, so too, through the clarification of the laws throughout the present exile we will be found worthy of a revelation of the innermost dimension of the Torah, in time to come.

Torah Or, Shmos 49a

* * *

The Rebbe Shlita responds to the above teaching of the Alter Rebbe with the following insight:

By virtue of the crushing severity of the current exile, we will ultimately be shown the luminary that lights up the Torah from within. This connection is hinted at in the phrase33 which specifies that the olive oil for the Menorah in the Mishkan is to be כתית למאור — “crushed for illumination.” And in this spirit the Sages teach:34 “Why have Israel been likened to the olive? — To teach you that just as the olive does not release its oil unless it is crushed, so too the Jewish people [do not repent except through suffering].”

And what is the promised luminary hidden within the Torah? — This is pnimiyus haTorah, its innermost, mystical dimension. This is apparent from the allegorical verse35 in which the beloved one, the House of Israel, says of G‑d: ישקני מנשיקות פיהו — “He will kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.” And Rashi explains: “These are the mystical reasons hidden within the Torah, which will be revealed in time to come.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 488

Your Taskmasters Will Be Charitable

A businessman who wants to double his capital first has to invest it in merchandise, and then, emptyhanded, await his profit. In the same way, only by being dispersed emptyhanded among the nations of the world can the Jewish people ultimately arrive at their great profit — the exalted revelation of divine light which will take place in future time.

A hint of this may be perceived in the verse,36 ונוגשיך צדקה — “Your taskmasters will be charitable.” Oppression by the nations of the world enables the Jewish people to profit — to attain the perfect state of the future, when the dead will be resurrected and all the prophecies of consolation will be fulfilled.

Maamarei Admur HaZaken, Parshiyos, sec. 184

I Will Raise My Eyes

Commenting on the verse,37 אשא עיני אל ההרים — “I will raise my eyes to the mountains,” the Sages say:38 “This refers to Mashiach the son of David.”

“Raising” one’s eyes implies that one ought to contemplate the higher goal of the exile, namely, the superior spiritual state which will be attainable at the time of the future Redemption. If one looks upward in this way, then even when the exile’s last grim stretches of darkness make one ask, מאין יבוא עזרי — “From where will my help come?,” not only is one not overawed by that darkness, but one can even experience manifest joy. This joy is alluded to by the opening words of that verse: שיר המעלות — “A song of ascents.”

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 127

My Righteousness Will Be Revealed

There is a promise in the Book of Yeshayahu:39 “Observe justice and practice righteousness, for My salvation is soon to come and My charitable righteousness will soon be revealed.”

In time to come, the manner in which the exile is in fact an expression of divine righteousness will become apparent. At the present, it is a matter of faith. Since the Sages teach us that40 “The Holy One, blessed be He, acted charitably towards His people by dispersing them amongst the nations of the world,” we believe that this is so. This is not, however, comprehensible. For even after we have considered all the explanations offered for the exile (such as punishment for the people’s sins, sifting scattered sparks of holiness, and so on), numberless ways are open to G‑d; why, then, is there a need for the sufferings of exile?

In future time, by contrast, in place of faith, everyone will palpably see how the exile was an expression of G‑d’s righteousness.

In this sense we can understand the prophetic verse,41 ואמרת ביום ההוא אודך ה' כי אנפת בי — “On that day you will say, ‘I shall thank You, G‑d, for You were angry with me.’ ” This means that in future time, the good that lay hidden in the suffering of exile will be revealed: it will then be understood how it was specifically this suffering that enabled the Jewish people to be found worthy of the divine revelation of the time to come.

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XX, p. 361; Vol. IV, p. 1081