Punishment or Wrongdoing?

It is stated in the Torah that [one of the punishments for national wrongdoing is that] "G‑d will return you to Egypt in ships…and you will be sold there to your enemies as slaves and handmaidens, and no one will buy" (Deut. 28:68). Why is causing us to return to Egypt a punishment? The Torah does indeed tell us that "you shall see them [the Egyptians] no more" (Ex. 14:13), but is going against the Torah's command a punishment? The exile of Egypt to the upper tip of the yud, which outweighs them all…

Also, why did G‑d say this about Egypt, but not about other exiles? Why is He against our returning to Egypt, but permits us to travel to Babylonia or Media?

Further, why do our Sages normally speak of only four exiles - Babylonia, Media, Greece, and Edom - as in the verse "And behold, a dark fear…" (Gen. 15:12) but the exile of Egypt, which was more severe than any of these, is not mentioned together with them? [i.e. when discussing Abraham's vision of the future of his descendants: "'And behold, a great, dark fear fell upon him'. 'Fear' refers to Babylonia…. 'dark' refers to Media…. 'great' refers to Greece…. 'fell upon him' refers to Edom'" (Bereishit Rabba 44:17).]

Finally, why is the exodus from Egypt mentioned in the Torah so many times?

The Answer

The four exiles correspond to the four letters of the name Havayah, and the exile of Egypt to the upper tip of the yud, which outweighs them all and is greater than them.

The four letters of the name Havayah correspond to chochma, bina, the middot, and malchut, respectively, while the upper tip of the yud corresponds to keter, the source of them all. The super-conscious is more powerful and its rectification therefore more crucial than all the other powers of the soul.

Therefore it is mentioned repeatedly [in the Torah] and is not mentioned together with the other [exiles], for it is in a class by itself. The purpose of exile is to elevate the fallen sparks of holiness…

Now, the purpose of exile is to elevate the fallen sparks of holiness that [were scattered all over the earth and] were mixed in with evil due to the sin of Adam. This is the meaning of the verse, "There is a time when a man overcomes another man to his detriment" (Ecclesiastes 8:9), meaning that the "evil man" overcomes the "holy man" to his own detriment, for the fact that he oppresses Israel and rules them allows Israel to totally extract from him all the sparks of holiness within him.

"Evil man" and "holy man" here mean the forces of evil and good. Just as in the vision of Ezekiel the array of divine attributes flowing into Creation had the form of a man - and the anatomy of terrestrial man reflects this organization of forces, so are the forces of evil arranged in the human form.

And wherever they go, the Shechinah goes with them, in order to elevate her component parts.

The Divine Presence accompanies the Jewish people in their exile, in order to reconstruct herself out of the fallen sparks of her shattered self.

That is why we are commanded not to return to Egypt, but are not so prohibited with regard to other nations [that have oppressed us], for we have not yet elevated all [the divine sparks] within them.

"And they emptied out Egypt", meaning that during the Egyptian exile the Jewish people elevated all the divine sparks that inhered in that culture and country.

This is why the punishment for wrongdoing is that G‑d "will return you to Egypt in ships". Since Egypt corresponds to the upper tip of the yud, and there remain divine sparks to elevate in the other lands, which are compared to Egypt like the body is to the head, Israel must return to Egypt.

By returning to Egypt, the general exile, Israel can then proceed to elevate whatever sparks remain in the derivative exiles of the other nations.

But as to Egypt itself, "no one will buy". When there were sparks of holiness embedded within them they desired to rule over Israel. But since Egypt has already been totally refined, it no longer has any desire to enslave Israel. Therefore, they will not want to buy them as slaves.

Babylonia corresponds to the head, as it is written: "You are the head of gold" (Daniel 2:38). Media and Persia correspond to the two arms, Greece corresponds to the body, and Edom and Ishmael correspond to the two legs. This is why the latter two exiles are long. The Arabs…will rule over the Jewish people for a time concurrent with the exile of Rome…

The present exile is seen as an extension of the Roman exile (Edom is Rome), since culturally and legally, Western civilization shares the values and worldview of ancient Rome. A subset of this exile is that of Ishmael, the Arabs, who are seen as an antithesis of Roman civilization and values, and who will rule over the Jewish people for a time concurrent with the exile of Rome.

This is also why our Sages refer to the final stages of the exile as "the heels of the Mashiach" (Sota 49a) for in that time it will be necessary to elevate [the divine sparks] that have become enmeshed in the lowest elements [of these exiles], the feet.

Regarding this body, our Sages said: "The son of David shall not come until all the souls have been emptied out of the Body" (Yevamot 62a) referring to the holiness that has been mixed in with the evil of the "evil man" mentioned above.

The usual meaning of this saying is that all the souls waiting in their spiritual storehouse (known as the "Body") must be born into this physical world at least once in order for Mashiach to come. Here, it is being interpreted to mean that all the divine sparks ("souls") must be elevated and thus emptied out of the body representing the exiles of Israel.

Now, as we said, Egypt outweighs all the other exiles for it corresponds to the tip of the yud and transcends the rest of this "body". Therefore, when the Mashiach comes and the process of elevation and refinement of the sparks will be completed, "death will be swallowed up forever" (Isaiah 25:8) and the sparks will be totally elevated as they were in Egypt. About this time it is written, "As in the days when you went out of Egypt I will show him wonders".

[Translated and adapted by Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky from Likutei Torah and Sefer HaLikutim, parashat Ki Teitzei; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard." available at Kabbala Online Shop]

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.