The first verses of parashat Bo read:
And G‑d said to Moses: "Come to Pharaoh, for I have made his heart heavy, and the heart of his servants, that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst, and so that you can tell your children and grandchildren how I mocked Egypt, and about My signs that I placed upon them, and so that you can know that I am G‑d [Havayah]." (Ex. 10:1-2)

We should ask:
1. Why does this verse not read: "that I may place these plagues of Mine in his midst?" Why does it refer to "these signs of Mine?"
2. Why does it read "…in his midst" instead of "upon him"?

[In order to answer this,] know that the four exiles differed one from the other. In one, evil enveloped the "head" of holiness; in one, it enveloped the "torso"; in one, it enveloped the "feet". The common denominator, however, is that in all exiles, evil envelops holiness and conceals it. The allusion to this is in the verse: "The wicked crowns the righteous." (Habakkuk 1:4)

Each exile obstructed a certain aspect of holiness, keeping it from shining and spreading its corresponding level of divine consciousness into the world. By surviving and overcoming these exiles, the Jewish people neutralized the corresponding powers of evil to oppose holiness.

The Hebrew word for "crowns", "machtir", in the verse quoted also means "surrounds", just as a crown surrounds and encompasses the head.

You might think that there are five exiles - Egypt, Babylonia, Media, Persia, Greece, and the present exile - so how can we speak of only four? The answer is that Egypt and Babylonia were equivalent, equally deep and of the same nature. Our sages indicated this by saying "Pishon refers to Babylon" (Bereishit Raba 16:4) [and] "Pishon refers to Egypt." (Rashi on Gen. 2:10) The four the consciousness of divine oneness…

The four rivers that originated in the river that watered the Garden of Eden express the consciousness of divine oneness present in the Garden splitting into the consciousness of plurality that informs reality outside the garden. Thus, they epitomize the idea of exile, i.e. the state of lower consciousness that leaves us with the impression that the world is governed by a plurality of opposing forces. This gives rise to the disorientation and confusion that characterizes the state of exile.

Homiletically, the verse "A river went forth from Eden to water the garden; from there it divided and became four heads" (Gen. 2:10) is taken to allude to the four archetypal empires.

In the Egyptian exile, evil clothed the "neck" of holiness, i.e. the three highest sefirot all at once. In the Babylonian exile, evil clothed the "head" [of holiness], as it is written, "You are the head of gold." (Daniel 2:38) Of this it is written, "Her [i.e. Jerusalem's] enemies were the head," (Lamentations 1:5) meaning that they clothed the [holy] head. Thus, these two exiles were equivalent; that is why they are counted as one.

The Book of Daniel opens with the story of Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, in which he saw a great statue, the various parts of which represented the empires that would dominate the exiles. The head represented Babylonia, the torso and arms represented Media and Persia, the torso represented Greece, and the legs represented Rome.

Media and Persia [clothed] the "arms" [of holiness]; this is why they are counted as two, inasmuch as there are two arms. Greece [clothed] the "torso"; it is therefore counted as one. [In] the present exile [evil clothes] the legs [of holiness], there are therefore two [aspects to it:] Edom and Ishmael, corresponding to the two legs and feet.

The former Roman Empire [Europe and North Africa] was inherited by Christianity and Islam.

This is alluded to in the verse: "…who have defamed the heels of your Mashiach" (Psalms 89:52), since this exile is that of the feet. That is why it is written, "And [the stone] smote the image on its feet." (Daniel 2:34)

This exile is the final one before the advent of the Mashiach. Both Christianity and Islam have corrupted the doctrine of the Mashiach, known to them as the "messiah". The downfall of the whole stature/statue of exile will be a blow to its "feet", i.e. to this final exile.

[To continue with Part 2: The Butcher in the Throat, click here. (Please be forewarned that Parts 2 and 3 of this series are quite difficult and most appropriate for the advanced student of Kabbala.) ]

[Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."]

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.