Egypt is likened to a womb from which the collective Jewish Soul emerged on its path to maturity. This parasha begins:

And these are the names of the sons of Israel coming to Egypt, with Jacob, each man and his household came. (Ex. 1:1)

Inasmuch as there are seventy facets to the Torah and one of these is [verbal] allusion [called in Hebrew, "remez"], [we will expound this verse in this manner]. The descent of the Israelites into Egypt alludes to the embryo while still in its mother's womb, in between those straits.

Just as the body possesses 248 limbs and 365 sinews, so does the soul….

The Hebrew word for "Egypt", "Mitzrayim", literally means "straits" or "confinements". It is therefore an allegory for the confinement of the soul as it leaves its native milieu in heaven and descends into the confinements of physicality, constrained to experience reality within the parameters of time and space.

The phrase "in between the straits" is paraphrased from Lamentations 1:3.

With this [association] we can interpreted the phrase "And these are the names of the sons of Israel" as referring to the faculties of the soul, for just as the body possesses 248 limbs and 365 sinews, so does the soul, these being the faculties of the soul "who came to Egypt".

If we take "Israel" to refer to the soul itself, the "sons of Israel" are the extensions of the soul, its intellectual and emotional faculties. The soul, or at least that part of it that is invested in the body, is conceived of as being "tailored" perfectly to the body. (Actually, since the soul comes first, the opposite is the case: the body is constructed so as to clothe the body perfectly.)

"…with Jacob" refers to the fact that they enter the child when it is still inside its mother's womb, "with Jacob", who is the Yetzer Tov.

It is explained elsewhere (Sanhedrin 91b) that the child is born only with the Evil Inclination, and the Good Inclination initially enters only beginning at the circumcision (or at birth, in the case of a girl) and fully at the bar- (or bat-) mitzvah. But as Rabbi Eliezer Nannes (of blessed memory) told my wife, the divine soul, together with the Good Inclination, is indeed present at birth, but only becomes manifest gradually, as the child is educated in the ways of the Torah, culminating at the bar/bat-mitzvah.

The verse continues "…coming", rather than "who came" [in the past tense], because G‑d "forms the spirit of man within him" (Zachariah 12:2), as is explained in the Zohar (II:94b), meaning that the more a person continues to mature [spiritually], the more his soul enters [and manifests] within him.

There is no artist like our G‑d

It is thus stated there (Samuel I 2:2): "There is none holy as G‑d…" [meaning that] even though Israel are holy, the are not intrinsically holy. Rather, G‑d sanctifies them. This is the meaning of [the continuation of this verse:] "…for there is none other than You," [meaning:] His holiness is not derived from others, but is intrinsic, while Israel's holiness is [not intrinsic, but rather] derived from none other than Him.

[This verse continues:] "…and there is no rock like our G‑d." Our sages interpreted this to mean "There is no artist like our G‑d." (Berachot 10a; Megilla 14a )

The Hebrew word for "rock", "tzur", is cognate to the word for "artist", in Hebrew ,"tzayar".

For someone who draws a picture [of a person] on paper cannot [at the same time] draw internal organs, such as the stomach, intestines, heart, liver, or spleen, while G‑d does not only this but draws the form of another [person] inside the abdominal cavity, i.e. the embryo inside its mother's womb. And inside the embryo are more internal organs as well as its spirit.

The soul's faculties enter little by little….

This is the meaning of the verse, "He forms the spirit of man within him", implying that the more the embryo develops and grows, the more the soul enters it. Our verse therefore says "coming into Egypt" [in the present, indicating an ongoing process of entering], for the soul's faculties enter little by little.

Afterwards, at birth, when [the embryo] has become a person, i.e. a fully developed body, [the Torah can refer to] "each man and his house", referring to the body, which has become a "house" for the soul.

[The next word,] "came", indicates that at birth all the soul's faculties full enter the body.

After listing the sons of Jacob and describing how they all died off, the Torah continues:

"And a new king arose over Egypt…" (Ex. 1:8) This refers to the evil inclination, who is the "old and foolish king". (Ecclesiastes 4:13; Kohelet Rabba 4:9)

The verse from Ecclesiastes reads: "A poor and wise child is better than an old and foolish king." The Midrash expounds: "The 'poor and wise child' is the Good Inclination. Why is it called 'a child'? Because it only pairs up with a person from the age of thirteen on. And why is it called 'poor'? Because not everyone listens to it. And why is it called 'wise?' Because it teaches people the upright path [in life]. The 'old and foolish king' is the Evil Inclination. Why is it called 'a king?' Because everyone listens to it. And why is it called 'old'? Because it pairs up with a person from birth until his old age. And why is it called 'foolish'? Because it teaches a person the evil path, until he no longer knows how to be careful, and he doesn't know how much pain and suffering come upon him [for following it]."

Thus, relative to an individual's experience of them, the Good Inclination is "younger" than the Evil Inclination.

"…over Egypt" means when the person is in the womb.

We thus see that the Arizal teaches that the Good Inclination actually precedes the Evil Inclination in utero. The Evil Inclination, even in utero, is called "a new king [who] arose over Egypt", i.e. who usurped the rulership over the embryo from the Good Inclination, so that at birth, it is the sole conscious source of motivation.

"…who did not know Joseph." This refers to the Holy One, blessed be He.

The Evil Inclination is conscious only of the reality of this world.

"And he said to his people…," i.e. to the powers of impurity -

"…'Behold, the people of the children of Israel…," i.e. the faculties of the soul -

"…are more numerous and powerful than we are." So what did he do? [He enslaved them - ]

"And they built store cities for Pharaoh…," i.e. for the Evil Inclination.

The word "Pharaoh" is composed of the same letters as is the word for "the neck" [in Hebrew, "ha-oref"].

"Pharaoh" is spelled: pei-reish-ayin-hei.

"Ha-oref" is spelled: hei-ayin-reish-pei.

The "store cities" are the body, [which the evil inclination seeks to orient toward materialism] so that it serve as a means for the Evil Inclination to strengthen itself.

If…the child is not educated properly, the manifestation of his or her divine soul will be stunted….

"…Pithom…" refers to the mouth, for it is there that all the sensual lusts of eating and drinking, which strengthen the Evil Inclination, [are expressed]. Thus, the word "Pithom" can be seen as formed of the words for "the mouth of the abyss" [in Hebrew, "pi- tehom"], for [the Evil Inclination] says "Give! Give! [More] to eat and drink!" (Proverbs 30:15) And the abyss swallows without end.

"…and Raamses" can be seen as formed of the words for "an evil stomach" [in Hebrew, "ra meses"]. The stomach digests the food, and it thus acts as an evil stomach.

The stomach fills the mind with sensations of satiation and complacency, making the person insensitive to spirituality.

"But the more they…", i.e. the powers of impurity and the Evil Inclination, "…afflicted them…", i.e. the powers of the soul, "…the more they multiplied and the more they spread forth", for the more the body develops, the more the soul manifests itself within it, as we have stated.

Despite the Evil Inclination's hold over the body, the divine soul and the Good Inclination gradually manifest themselves as the person grows up. Ideally, the child receives a proper Jewish education, so by the time he or she has reached the age of bar- or bat-mitzvah, he or she has learned how to control the evil inclination. The divine soul is then fully manifest in the body and the child is therefore obligated to perform all the commandments.

If this is not the case, however, and the child is not educated properly, the manifestation of his or her divine soul will be stunted, and its full manifestation will have to wait until later on in life. But nonetheless, the very fact that the body develops is enough to obligate the person to full performance of the Torah's commandments at the age of bar- or bat-mitzvah, for physical development brings with it a minimal measure of spiritual development no matter what. In other words, the normal psychological development and maturity that accomopanies physical development is enough to give the growing child the ability to think for himself or herself and contemplate his or her role in society, and if the child were to use this ability properly, he or she could (theoretically, at least) arrive at the conclusion that G‑d exists, He has a law for humanity to follow, and so forth. Every thirteen- (or twelve-) year old is thus obligated to fulfill the commandments, no matter what.

The exodus from Egypt is analogous to birth….

The exodus from Egypt is analogous to birth. The ten plagues also have their analogues in this context.

The first plague was that of blood, for the womb cannot open without bleeding first; for if the blood would not come out first, the child would choke and drown in the blood, which correlates to the powers of impurity.

Blood issuing from the womb is associated with the powers of impurity since their issuance always causes the woman to focus on herself, and self-awareness is the antithesis of divine consciousness, as we have explained previously.

Next was the plague of frogs. The word for "frog" [in Hebrew, "tzefardei'a"] can be seen as constructed of the words for "a bird of knowledge" [in Hebrew, "tzipor dei'a"]. These are the seventy voices of the woman giving birth, which correspond to the seventy words in Psalm 20, which begins, "May G‑d answer you on the day of pain." [These voices] are thus alluded to by a bird, referring to the [sounds women make like] birdcalls and chirps when giving birth.

[The analogue of] the plague of darkness [is as follows]. It is known that during the first trimester, the fetus is in the lower chamber [of the womb], during the middle trimester, it is in the middle chamber, and during the last trimester, it is in the upper chamber. At birth, it rolls down and dwells in darkness and great pain.

Darkness was the ninth plague.

The plague of the firstborn corresponds to the subjugation of the [Evil Inclination's ancillary] powers of impurity that ruled within the womb. If this would not occur, they would kill the fetus. Even though they made the fetus grow, thus is their way: they descend to entice and ascend to accuse. (Bava Batra 16a)

After having encouraged the fetus to develop with materialistic consciousness, the forces of evil ascend to the heavenly court to accuse it of evil.

Afterwards, at birth, "the first one came out ruddy" (Gen. 25:25), referring to the Evil Inclination.

This verse refers to the birth of Esau, who embodied and serves as the metaphor for the Evil Inclination.

For although all the other powers of impurity are killed off [at birth], the Evil Inclination remains, just as in the plague of the Firstborn all the firstborn were killed off except for Pharaoh, the greatest of them, who personified the Evil Inclination [itself]. Similarly, the Evil Inclination remains with the child, for this is G‑d's intention, that a person should possess an evil inclination. As it is written, "sin crouches at the opening". (Ibid. 4:7)

This verse refers to the fact that although the evil inclination is with a person from birth, "you can overcome it."

This is why the verse [describing the birth of Jacob and Esau] reads, "And the first one came out ruddy," for the first one is the Evil Inclination, who enters the person's [consciousness] as soon as he emerges from his mother's womb; for the Good Inclination does not enter [a person's consciousness] until he is thirteen years and one day old.

[The Evil Inclination is described as being] "ruddy", for it is a shedder of blood.

The Evil Inclination descends to entice, ascends to accuse, and descends again as the Angel of Death to execute the judgment.

Thus, the birth [of the Jewish people, the exodus from Egypt] occurred in the month of Nisan, when of the seven planets - Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon - Mars is ascendant.

Mars is red.

This teaching is continued in the next installment.

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.