Pyramids in Egypt
Pyramids in EgyptFlash90

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In the Covenant Between the Halves, Hashem told Avraham Avinu that his descendants would be enslaved for four hundred years. Yet the Torah here records that "it was at the end of four hundred and thirty years... that all the legions of Hashem left Egypt." Further, according to Mesoretic calculations, the enslavement itself lasted only two hundred ten years. How can we reconcile these discrepancies?

Rashi details how these calculations are in fact all accurate.

-The time from the prophecy to the exodus totaled 430 years.

-However, the actual onset of the prophecy would begin only with the birth of Yitzchak, Avraham's son through whom the prophecy would be actualized, thirty years later. That term was 400 years.

-The duration of the sojourn in Egypt was only 210 years.

Due to possible confusion in interpreting the prophecy, part of the Tribe of Ephraim believed the 400 years should be calculated from the prophecy itself. Therefore, they rose to escape thirty years before the end of the enslavement. The Philistines killed many of them, and their bones lay in the valley. These are the bones Yechezkel famously prophesied grew flesh and were resurrected.

Nevertheless, the simple reading of the prophetic text puts Bnei Yisroel in Egypt for 400 years. Why did Hashem redeem them after only 210 years? Our commentators explain that the servitude was so intense that the work normally accomplished in 400 years was completed in only 210 years.

Pirkei d'Reb Eliezer goes further. The servitude was mandated only for the days, but the Egyptians made Bnei Yisroel work during the nights as well, thereby almost halving the preordained years of servitude. Whichever way one chooses to calculate, it is Hashem Who made the final calculation so that He could redeem Bnei Yisroel before all hope would be lost.

In his Ner Uziel, Rabbi Milevsky presents a cosmic interpretation to explain what appears to be our difficulty. Citing the Netziv, Rabbi Milevsky notes that the world was created for the sake of the Jewish people. To that end, Hashem orchestrates all the major events in world history as a backdrop for the history and destiny of Bnei Yisroel. Perhaps the most recent example involves the United Nations, an extremely anti Semitic organizations. Yet, in 1948, perhaps due to guilt over the Holocaust, they voted for the establishment of the State of Israel. Hashem gave the UN a purpose. Now that the mission has been completed, many nations consider the UN irrelevant.

But Hashem orchestrates the panoramic view of history. Columbus discovered America and Hashem enabled the establishment of the United States so that centuries later the Jews would find a "goldeneh medinah" to flee to.

In the negative, this is also why Hashem sent the Prophet Yonah to Nineveh. When the citizens of Nineveh repented, they "earned the right" to be the nation to expel the Ten Tribes of Israel.

According to this representation, at the precise moment of the Covenant Between the Halves, Hashem sent a group of angels to the underdeveloped country of Egypt to help it become a superpower that would be able to enslave the Jewish nation. 430 years later, when the Jews left Egypt, these angels, these "legions of Hashem," left with them, and Egypt again became a third world nation.

The Egyptian exile and servitude had a purpose. It was meant to sensitize Bnei Yisroel to the stranger among them and to those who would be their servants/slaves in the future. It would generally take 400 years to attain this level of sensitivity, but by doubling the pain and the workload, Hashem telescoped the time needed for these lessons so that He could redeem us after only 210 years, writes Rabbi Mordechai Ezrachi. Moshe does not understand this, and wonders why the situation has worsened since he approached Pharaoh. But Man cannot fathom Hashem's mind.

The Shvilei Pinchas leads us in a different direction. Basing his interpretation on the words of the Shelah Hakodosh, Rabbi Friedman notes that in fact the countdown of 400 years began with the revelation to Avraham Avinu. Thirty years were added as a punishment for the thirty years Yosef suffered after his brothers sold him to Egypt. The lesson Bnei Yisroel was meant to learn was that Bnei Yisroel is one, united people who care for each other and do not abandon any one of them.

Ephraim felt that since they were not involved in the sale of Yosef, they needn't wait the extra thirty years in servitude. But Yosef himself, the father of Ephraim, was partially responsible for the enmity that precipitated his sale. Had he not reported negatively on his brothers, they would have hated him less and not have sold him. Further, the Bnei Ephraim were separating themselves from their brothers' suffering just as the tribal patriarchs had not listened to Yosef's suffering cries when they threw him in the pit prior to his sale. Perhaps most egregiously, they did not take the bones of Yosef their grandfather with them, as Yosef had commanded before his death. Nor did they wait for the code words the Redeemer would use, "Pakod pakaditi/I have surely remembered."

By abandoning their enslaved brothers, these Bnei Ephraim were reenacting the sale of Yosef, albeit in reverse. They had not learned the one lesson required for redemption. They had not learned to feel that all Bnei Yisroel were equal, and they must show kindness to each other to rectify the enmity between the brothers and Yosef. And when they didn't take Yosef's bones with them, they merited not only death, but also the scattering of their bones.

When Bnei Yisroel were redeemed thirty years later, Hashem took them the long way round so they wouldn't see the bones of Bnei Ephraim, so they wouldn't be discouraged and want to return to Egypt.

TheShvilei Pinchas now pivots to interpret Bnei Ephraim's action positively. In preparing for the Egyptian exile, Yaakov sent Yehudah ahead to Yosef to prepare for the survival of Bnei Yisroel and the Jewish way of life. Within the redemption from Egypt are allusions to the final redemption of Bnei Yisroel. In that final redemption, Moshiach ben Yosef, from the Tribe of Ephraim, will precede Moshiach ben David. The Gemarrah records that there will be a great battle and, due to the sins of Bnei Yisroel at that time, Moshiach ben Yosef will be killed. Even knowing this, Moshiach ben Yosef goes ahead to prepare the way for Moshiach ben David.

In this interpretation, Bnei Ephraim were following in the footsteps of Yosef and Yehudah, and modeling the path of Moshiach ben Yosef. Just as Yosef preceded Bnei Yisroel into Mitzrayim, and sent Yehudah Goshnah, so will Moshiach ben Yosef go ahead of Moshiach ben Yehudah/David, both equaling 358. We pray that the time of Moshiach ben Yehudah come quickly, before Moshiach ben Yosef dies for the sins of the generation. However, even though their motives were altruistic, the Bnei Ephraim were still members of the kllal, and had no permission to separate from the rest of the nation. Yosef did not choose to go down to Mitzrayim; Hashem had arranged his descent.

If we do teshuvah and merit the coming of Moshiach before the deadline, there will be no need for the suffering and the battles that will kill Moshiach ben Yosef to arouse us to do teshuvah, quotes R. Leff, We are so deeply immersed in the physical world, that it is difficult to create the harmony between the physical and the spiritual world, a state that the coming of Moshiach will ultimately bring. In that vein, it is important to eat the three Shabbat meals, for in doing so and focusing on elevating the physical eating experience to a spiritual level, to enhance the joy of Shabbat because Hashem has so commanded, we protect ourselves from going through the pains the Pre Messianic Era presages.

Rav Zeitchick in Ohr Chodosh brings another dimension to our exile in Egypt, a dimension related to our earlier idea. He notes that the prophecy to Avraham Avinu was very general. The country we would be strangers in and the nation that would afflict us was not specified. It could have been a relatively benevolent nation who would afflict us in a manner that Sarah Imenu "afflicted" Hagar. But Hashem sent us down to Egypt, to such suffering and actual slavery, so that we would see each other as equals and as a united whole. This would be the remedy for the children of Leah seeing themselves as superior to the children of the maidservants. Hashem's goal was that when Bnei Yisroel would be redeemed, they would sit around the table together, eating the korban Pesach/Pascal sacrifice, all having experienced servitude, all reciting together, "Avadim hayinu/We were slaves..."

But we had a sense of arrogance and privilege. Hashem wants humility, Hashem wants teshuvah. The medrash says that, later in our history, as the exiled Bnei Yisroel cried by the Rivers of Babylon, Yirmiyahu told them that had they humbled themselves once and cried but once in teshuvah, in seeing their fellow Jew as an equal, they would not be crying now.

The Nazis y"s taught us the same lesson. It didn't matter what denomination, what "tribe" you identified with. To the Nazis, all Jews were equal. The German Jews may have considered themselves more German than Jewish, and looked down on their fellow Jews in other countries. The Jews of Poland and the other European countries always sensed that they were Jews first, always in danger from their compatriots. In the end, all Jewish blood was equal. No Jew should feel superior to another Jew.

We were going to the land called Eretz Canaan/The Land of Hachnaah/ of surrender [to Hakodosh Boruch Hu], writes the Netiviot Shalom. It is a land for the humble. Mitzrayim was the smelting pot to remove the impurity of arrogance from our midst, to create the achdus/unity that our Father desires among His children, and the chesed/kindness that they will show one another. That sense of superiority that the sons of Leah had shown to the sons of the maidservants was now evident in the attitude of Bnei Ephraim who were raised as privileged sons of Yosef in Egypt. That arrogance is what doomed them.

The Gemarrah says that Moshiach will come in a generation that is either completely righteous or completely guilty. Rabbi Bik explains that the Gemarrah doesn't mean that all Jews will be steeped in sin. Rather, it means that each Jew must look toward himself. He must not point a finger at the inadequacy of the other, but should look at himself only. When he does so, he will realize that he is a sinner in need of improvement and he will accept his fellow Jew as righteous. When all Bnei Yisroel accept each other as righteous and see themselves as the imperfect ones, we will bring Moshiach, may it be speedily, in our day.