"It came to pass, as they approached Egypt, that [Abraham] said to his wife Sarai, "Behold, please [in Hebrew, 'na'], I realize now that you are a good-looking woman. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife', and they will kill me, allowing you to live. Say, please, that you are my sister. They will then be good to me for your sake, and enliven my soul through your efforts.'"" (Gen. 12:11-13)

Holy sparks…can either be redeemed, or further scattered, depending upon the actions of each generation….

Is it possible that he never saw her before? Rather, Abraham was a "chariot" for the Divine, and his thoughts were constantly bound to the Root of Thought. All that time he never saw her, for his thoughts never connected to physical vision. Thus, he did not recognize [her beauty] until now. Only when he went to Egypt does it say: "And Abram descended to Egypt" - he descended to his prior level. This is because the wicked people in the time of the Great Flood cast the aspect of Torah and thought down into the impure shell of Egypt.

The scattering of holy sparks that occurred in the Shattering of the Vessels before Creation can either be redeemed, or further scattered, depending upon the actions of each generation. The sins of the generation preceding the Great Flood cast down many holy sparks into the degenerate nation of Egypt. This is the Kabbalistic reason for the exile of the Jewish people there - to redeem the fallen sparks. Likewise, Abraham, several generations earlier, also went to Egypt to achieve this.

Thus, Israel had to descend there to collect the sparks and unite them as before. For the Egyptians were filled with lust, whose root is the World of Love, and it fell to Egypt from the Torah, which is the aspect of love [chesed] as it is written: "And the Torah of Love is upon her tongue" (Proverbs 31:26).

From the nature of the "impure shell" (kelipa) that conceals the spark, the essence of the spark can be discerned. In physical desire is a spark of love of G‑d. In mortal fear is a spark of the fear and awe of the Divine.

Israel, however, did not descend into lust, as the verses testify:

"HaReuveni [the family of Reuben], HaShimoni [the family of Simon]…" - the letter hei on one side, the letter yud on the other. (Midrash Shir HaShirim 4:24, on Num. 26)

The letters yud and hei spell out G‑d's name. G‑d was testifying that even in Egypt they did not fall into licentiousness and lose their connection with Him. Thus, they were able to uplift the fallen sparks of divine love.

Thus, they were able to raise the fallen love to its root….

And thus, they were able to raise the fallen love to its root, and to the Torah, which is called "love". And for this reason, they could receive the Torah immediately, in the Third Month [after the Exodus], because they had redeemed the aspect of the Torah that had been in exile.

However, in the time of Abraham, the redemption of the sparks had not been completed. Therefore, when Abram went to Egypt and descended from his level, he started to have thoughts that reflected the Shattering of the Vessels, as it says: "For a tzadik falls seven times, and rises again…" (Proverbs 24:16).

The meaning of the above verse is that a tzadik falls in the aspect of seven, which are the seven types of thoughts that fell from their source [corresponding to the seven supernal attributes, or sefirot, from chesed to malchut]. But, because he is a tzadik, he rises and unites the thoughts with their root in the Source of Thought, which is called chochma, the aspect of "My sister". Thus, his service is considered even higher.

Illicit thoughts pertain to others, whereas idolatrous thoughts reflect upon oneself….

Therefore, Abraham said: "Behold, please, I realize now…" - that I have fallen from my level, so much so that I realize - "…that you are a good-looking woman" - which I did not see before. And he had thought how one escapes from this - from Egypt - by saying that "you are my sister", i.e. by clinging to the aspect of "My sister", which is the Supernal Wisdom. Then the thought that is in Egypt which came not to disrupt him, but to be elevated to its source, to serve G‑d [will be redeemed]. And this is "They will…enliven my soul through your efforts".

[Me'or Einayim, Lech Lecha]

* * * * *

The world "na" [meaning "please"] represents the descent of malchut fifty levels from the life-force, which is the letter alef. It yearns to return and draw close to the alef again.

The Hebrew letter nun has the numerical value of fifty, and represents the lowest level of the sefirotic structure. If the sefira of bina is counted as one, and each of the seven lower sefirot are comprised of seven, then malchut of malchut is the fiftieth level down. Being the first letter of the alphabet, alef represents the highest level. The world "aluf" also has the meaning of "Master", as in the term "Alufo shel Olam", the "Master of the World". This implies the supernal Source of vitality.

Now, before divine retribution strikes, a person will have evil and foreign thoughts, such as licentiousness or idolatry. The difference between them being that illicit thoughts pertain to others, whereas idolatrous thoughts reflect upon oneself. It depends upon the type of death penalty that is coming from heaven.

This thought is repaired when one realizes that a spark of the Shechinah is within it (within the impure shell) due to the Shattering of the Vessels.

The primordial Shattering of the Vessels, which scattered sparks of holiness into all things in this world, including dark and negative thoughts and situations.

One must commiserate with the Shechinah….

Furthermore, one must commiserate with the Shechinah. Then he will feel fear and trembling, and "all the workers of iniquity will be disbanded". A unification will occur between "fear" and "awesome" ["yirah v'norah"], and the person will be delivered from death.

This explains the verse "Behold, please, I realize now that you are a good-looking woman…" - because he [suddenly] had illicit thoughts, he feared that "they will kill me" [that he was deserving of death from heaven].

The Zohar connects the phrase: "Say, please, that you are my sister" to the verse, "Say to wisdom, you are my sister" (Proverbs 7:4) based upon the extra word "you", teaching that a person must share in the pain of the Shechinah, which is called "my sister". Through this, "they will enliven my soul through your efforts" [his soul will be saved from death].

This explains the verse, "If you deal with me thusly [in Hebrew, 'kacha']…."(Num. 11:15) For in the Kedusha of "keter" [the recitation of Kedusha in the Additional Prayer of Shabbat] one should concentrate on the name spelled chaf chaf hei - the initials of "Keter Khol HaKetarim" ["the Crown of All Crowns]. This is amazingly effective for uplifting souls from the depths [of the impure shells].

[Toldot Yaakov Yosef, p. 29a, 109a]
Reprinted with permission from www.baalshemtov.org