"Joseph had been taken down to Egypt." (Gen 39:1)

Egypt was a place where G‑dliness was drastically concealed. It was therefore unlikely that the Jewish people could survive the Egyptian exile spiritually intact. They would find it nearly impossible to fulfill the purpose of their exile, which was to elevate the sparks of holiness that were embedded within Egypt. And in fact, they were nearly at the point of no return when G‑d saved them from Egypt.1

G‑d therefore arranged for Joseph to descend to Egypt first and weaken the evil of Egypt through his rise to greatness there. Because of Joseph's accomplishments, even later generations of Egyptians who lived after his time did not have the strength to overpower and contaminate the Jewish people. On the contrary, the Jewish people flourished there and remained separate from the Egyptian culture.2

Through his holy work, Joseph elevated many of the holy sparks embedded in Egypt. He thereby enabled the Jewish people to complete their task relatively quickly. They remained in Egypt for only 210 years, 190 years less than the full 400 years stipulated in G‑d's covenant with Abraham. Furthermore, through his holy work, Joseph was able to limit the bitterest form of enslavement to only 86 years.

Adapted from Ma'amarei Admor HaEmtza'i, Bereishit, pp. 299-302; Ohr HaTorah, Bereishit, vol. 2, 343b; Sefer HaMa'amarim 5654, p. 107; Sefer HaMa'amarim Melukat, vol. 5, pp. 259-260
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org