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From: "Yeshivat Har Etzion's
Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash"
Subject: INTPARSHA61 -15: Parashat Bo
YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
The Sojourn in Egypt
By Rabbi Michael Hattin
The last plagues rain down on Egypt, the first born of the Egyptians are slain, and Pharaoh's resolve is finally shattered. The people of Israel, huddling in their hovels as the night of terror unfolds, calmly consume the Paschal Lamb and recount God's deliverance. Rising before daybreak, his fitful sleep punctured by fearful screams that reverberate through the august halls of his palace, Pharaoh summons Moshe and Aharon and bids them go. As the day of redemption dawns, the Egyptians impatiently drive the Hebrews out, and they journey forth to freedom.
"Bnei Yisrael traveled from Raamses to Succot, numbering some six hundred thousand men, besides the children. Also, a great mixed multitude left with them, besides immense herds of sheep and cattle. The people baked the dough that they had taken forth from Egypt into unleavened cakes of matzot, for it did not rise. The people had been thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, nor had they time to prepare provisions. The people of Israel had dwelt in Egypt for a period of four hundred and thirty years. It thus came to pass at the conclusion of four hundred and thirty years, on this very day, that all of the legions of God left the land of Egypt. It had been a night of vigil for God to take them out of the land of Egypt. This night remains a night of vigil to God for all of Bnei Yisrael, for all generations" (Shemot 12:37-42).
In our mind's eye, we see the people of Israel haltingly journeying forth, still clothed as slaves, but with the proud bearing of vindicated free men. No longer burdened with bricks and mortar, they now are laden down with their worldly possessions, and with vessels of gold and silver from their frightened former hosts. The Israelites press forward, accompanied by huge herds of sheep and cattle, now forming a bleating, bellowing, and braying mass. Their erstwhile taskmasters look on incredulously, as the disorganized throngs wind their noisy way through the thoroughfares, to impressively gather as one at the city outskirts. Finally, the interminable nightmare of enslavement and bondage draws to a climactic close, as over four centuries of exile are concluded.
The Length of the Servitude - A Chronological Difficulty
According to the Torah's account, "the people of Israel had dwelt in Egypt for a period of four hundred and thirty years." Lest the reader be taken aback by this unusually large number, the Torah repeats in the very next verse that "it thus came to pass at the conclusion of four hundred and thirty years, on this very day, that all of the legions of God left the land of Egypt." How difficult it is for us to imagine a period of state-sponsored enslavement extending over so many generations, with children, grandchildren and great grandchildren born into a hopeless future of backbreaking drudgery, endless toil and premature death! Surely no one can fail to appreciate the tragedy and injustice of that experience, for the Torah makes it abundantly clear that the enslavement in Egypt was characterized by suffering, anguish and distress. The stated period of four hundred and thirty years, however, is
difficult to corroborate, for elsewhere the Torah indicates that the period of enslavement could not possibly have extended for so long. The commentaries strive to reconcile this number with the rest of the chronology that the Torah provides concerning this event, and we shall examine a number of their attempts.
Let us begin by demonstrating, as both Rashi (11th century, France) and the Ibn Ezra (12th century, Spain) did, that the sojourn in Egypt could not have lasted for much more than two centuries. According to the list provided in Parashat VaYigash, towards the end of Sefer Bereishit, Yaacov's extended family of children and grandchildren that descended to Egypt at Yosef's invitation, numbered seventy males. Counted among this group were Levi and his three sons Gershon, Kehat and Merari (Bereishit 46:11). Kehat, of course, as the genealogy list in Parashat VaEra indicates, was the grandfather of Moshe: "These are the names of Levi's descendents according to their birth, Gershon, Kehat and Merari. Levi lived for one hundred and thirty seven years.Kehat's sons were Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron and Uziel, and Amram lived for one hundred and thirty three years.Amram took Yocheved his aunt as his wife, and she bore him Aharon and Moshe. Kehat lived for one hundred and thirty seven years" (Shemot 6:16-20). The passage concludes by noting that "Moshe was eighty years old, and Aharon was eighty three years old, when they commenced speaking to Pharaoh" (Shemot 7:7).
Thus, if Kehat himself was counted among those that descended to Egypt, we may use his life span as the starting point for the sojourn in exile. Let us assume that Kehat was a young child when Yaacov and his children relocated. Simple arithmetic yields a period of two hundred and seventy years for the combined life spans of Kehat and his son Amram (133 +137 = 270). Moshe, Amram's son, was eighty years old when he undertook his charge to free the slaves, and not much more than a year elapsed from the time that he first stood before Pharaoh until the Exodus. Therefore, we can account for approximately three hundred and fifty years (270 + 80 = 350). This number, of course, assumes the rather unlikely scenario that both Kehat as well as Amram did not have offspring until the final year of their lives! In all probability, we must subtract quite a few years from our total to account for the overlapping life spans of the three, as well as for the fact that Kehat may have been a grown man when the family went down. In any case, it should be quite obvious that we cannot account for a period of four hundred and thirty years for the sojourn in Egypt, as the above texts clearly stated, and we must therefore look elsewhere for the starting point of the computation.
The Covenant Between the Pieces - "Four Hundred Years"
Fortunately, there is another textual source that provides us a clue to unravel the confusion, and it concerns the Patriarch Avraham. Recall that in a shadowy vision that unfolded as the day waned and darkness fell, God indicated to him that his descendents would be enslaved in a land not theirs, but would eventually emerge from the encounter a triumphant people. In this 'Covenant Between the Pieces,' God swore an oath to the aged progenitor that his children would in fact possess the land of Canaan. The narrative states: "As the sun was setting, a deep slumber fell upon Avraham, and a great, dark and fearful gloominess seized him. God said to Avraham: 'You shall surely know that your offspring will be sojourners in a land not theirs, they shall be enslaved and oppressed, for four hundred years. The nation that they shall serve I will judge, and afterwards they shall go forth with great substance. You
shall be gathered to your ancestors in peace, and shall be buried after old age. The fourth generation shall return to here, for the iniquity of Amorite is not yet full'" (Bereishit 15:12-16).
According to this text, Avraham's descendents are to be sojourners for a period of four hundred years, and are to be enslaved and oppressed during that time. But to which descendents does the Torah refer? Does it speak of Avraham's distant descendents, such as Kehat, Amram, and Moshe? Or can we perhaps understand it as a reference to Avraham's immediate descendent, namely his own son Yitzchak? There is as well an inherent ambiguity concerning the 'four hundred years.' Does this phrase modify the first part of the verse ('You shall surely know that your offspring will be sojourners in a land not theirs.for four hundred years') in which case it describes the period of 'sojourning'? Or does it instead modify the second part of the verse ('they shall be enslaved and oppressed, for four hundred years'), in which case it describes the period of 'enslaveand oppression'?
The traditional sources, though mindful of the verses in Parashat Bo that speak of a period of four hundred and thirty years, nevertheless remain cognizant of the fact that this time period is an impossibility if we start the count from the actual descent to Egypt. This is particularly so when we recall that the sojourn in Egypt did not at all
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