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Sparks From Egypt
When G-d told our forefather Jacob to go down to Egypt, Jacob’s first act was to send his son Judah before him to establish a yeshiva. Although G-d had promised Jacob that, “I shall go down with you and I shall go up with you,” Jacob nonetheless found it necessary to establish a yeshiva, for yeshivas are the foundation of the Jewish nation’s existence. Those yeshivas founded by Jacob’s sons continued to thrive throughout the difficult years of slavery that the Jews endured in Egypt. In all the history of our ancestors, yeshivas have never ceased to exist. 
In comparison to all other exiles, Egypt was the bitterest exile that the Jewish nation ever experienced:
1) The Jewish people had not yet received the Torah at Mount Sinai, and thus were missing the transcendent inspiration that only Torah study can provide. Even though the Jews studied Torah in Egypt, the Torah that they learned prior to the revelation at Mount Sinai was filtered through their own limited understanding.  At Sinai, the Jews were granted the gift of transcendence – the ability to rise above the difficulties and challenges of physical existence. 
2) The Egyptian exile was the first that the Jewish people had to undergo. Thus, the difficulties they encountered were entirely new and unknown.  During later exiles, difficult as they were, the Jewish people were better able to cope because of their prior experience in Egypt.
3) During every other exile in our history, the Jews had the option to flee to other countries where conditions were not as severe. In Egypt, however, the entire Jewish nation was concentrated in one area, and was persecuted under one regime.
4) Egypt was guarded so closely that it is written that in the entire history of Egypt, no slave ever escaped. It was unthinkable for an entire nation to make its way out of slavery. 
Despite all the difficulties of Egyptian enslavement, the Jewish people continued to study Torah diligently in yeshivas. They withstood great challenges, yet stood strong and maintained their regimen of study. In our generation, we have the freedom and prosperity to enable us to devote greater resources to Torah study. It might seem that in today’s competitive business world, one cannot afford to delve into the holy books and forego the opportunity to earn more income. Yet in Egypt, where living conditions were far more severe, our ancestors remained committed to Torah study and maintenance of yeshivas.  
In one respect, Torah study is easier today than it ever was. The Zohar teaches that during creation, 288 sparks of holiness were scattered throughout the world, and our divine service is to collect and elevate these sparks. In Egypt, the Jewish people elevated 202 of those sparks, and only 86 remained, which were elevated during the long course of the exile. Today, the job of refining the material world has been completed. We no longer have to fight an upward battle against hostile forces in order to study Torah. We not can study Torah with the greatest ease, as we prepare for the revelation of the ultimate Torah of Moshiach.

(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likutei Sichos vol. I, pp. 94-98)

 

 


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