"And it came to pass, at the end of two years…." (Gen. 41:1)

Likewise, another verse states, "He makes an end to darkness". (Job 28:3) A limit was set as to how long the world will remain in darkness. For as long as the Evil Inclination is in the world, there is darkness and distress; when the Evil Inclination is removed from the world, there will be no more darkness and distress. (Midrash Rabba, Miketz 89:1)

The mystical writings of the Arizal explain the concept of the extraction of the holy sparks that fell in the time of the Shattering of the Vessels, and how a person must raise these sparks from the level of mineral to vegetable, animal and human.

According to the Arizal, as a consequence of the primordial Shattering of the Vessels, and the subsequent sin of Adam, sparks of holiness became dispersed in all things in this world, on all levels of existence, including mineral, vegetable, animal, and even human. On the one hand, the food chain produces a natural process of elevation, as plants grow from the ground, animals eat them, and man eats animal. However, human beings also can elevate the sparks in the mineral and vegetable kingdoms by consuming them directly, or making use of them in other ways.

Extracting these sparks of holiness from among the kelipot is the purpose of all Jewish actions….

This depends upon how a person uses his life. One who puts the strength he receives from eating into the service of G‑d uplifts the sparks that were in the food. However, a person who eats for physical gratification and does not invest his energy into good deeds, merely traps the sparks on a further level of corporeality. However, if this person helps another person fulfill a mitzvah, then the sparks are uplifted from him as well, and the Divine Presence is reconstituted in the world.

Extracting these sparks of holiness from among the kelipot is the purpose of all Jewish actions, in Torah study, fulfillment of the commandments, and in the mystical intentions of eating.

Each spark found within these lower levels of existence has a complete form, with 248 [spiritual] organs and 365 sinews.

Just as a human being has limbs and organs that are arranged according to a certain pattern1, with the preeminent organ being the head, and moving from there down to the feet, so each holy spark also has a complete spiritual stature. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov speaks about each Torah commandment also as having a "koma shleimah" (literally, a "full stature"), with the "feet" of the commandment represents its lowest aspect, the part of the commandment whose details are least observed, or least fulfilled with enthusiasm.

However, as long as it is on that level, it is imprisoned, with its head on its knees and belly, unable to extend its hands and feet.

A person who has good thoughts and intentions can uplift the spark of holiness….

As long as the spark of holiness, whose source is the human being himself, is trapped within the non-human world, it cannot express itself fully in the service of G‑d. The Baal Shem Tov uses the image of a fetus, doubled over, with its head on its knees. Only when this spark is incorporated in a human being, who serves G‑d, can it attain its full potential state.

A person who has good thoughts and intentions can uplift the spark of holiness from these levels and bring them out to freedom.

This is also the meaning of the Pascal Lamb, which was roasted with its head upon its stomach, in fetal position, to symbolize the slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt, who were not able to achieve their full stature as servants of G‑d until the exodus. (See Derech Mitzvotecha, mitzvah korban Pesach, by the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch.)

This is the greatest way to fulfill the mitzvah of redeeming captives. And since it is the king's son himself who is in captivity, a person who works to free him from his imprisonment will certainly receive abundant reward. Nevertheless, everything follows the Supernal judgment that has set an end to darkness and has determined just how long something will remain imprisoned, when it will deserve to exit, and through whom it will attain freedom. (Ben Porat Yosef, p. 74b)

[Translation and commentary by Eliezer Shore from Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Miketz; Reprinted with permission from www.baalshemtov.org]