Monday, 31 March 2008


There seems to be a contradiction within the Torah (Chumash) itself concerning the length of the exile the Jews experienced in Egypt. In one Passuk, in the book of Bereishis, it seems to indicate that the exile lasted a period of 400 years. Whereas in another Passuk, in the book of Shemos (dealing with the Egpytian bondage) it is clear that the exile lasted a period of 430 years. We might think that, in the usual way of the Torah, a third Passuk might come about to reconcile the two views, and yet we hear of nothing that can adequately resolve this contradiction.

In fact, if anything, we do have a clear mention of the exile having lasted a total of 400 years from another external source. This final reference is perhaps the ultimate source of history – namely the Haggadah Shel Pesach. More than this, the Haggadah indicates that Hashem had actually calculated the end of the exile to coincide with this period of time. And yet, after all these views, it seems that we don’t have a firm grasp of the actual period. Why is there an apparent contradiction within these sources, and why, if anything, does the Haggadah quote an anonymous source adding additional details, when it seems the original two sources are contradictory enough?

Two sources clearly indicate 400 years, and a third source indicates 430 years. Which are we to follow? And which of these is the correct period of time? And were the Jews actually in the Egyptian Exile for 400 years, or is there perhaps a hint somewhere within the above sources, that the exile may have been shorter? An in-depth study of each of these sources will clearly indicate that none of them contradict any of the others, and in fact, even that that we consider as being 400 years of slavery was far from that.


Our first indication of the period of exile that the Jews were to undergo i.e. their first of four exiles, was told to Avraham Avinu at Bris Bein Habesarim – The Covenant Between the Parts. Avraham had just made an extremely close connection with Hashem and had been promised by the Creator of the world that his descendants would continue the heritage which he had taught, and would ultimately inherit the Land of Israel. Avraham wished to know if indeed this would be so, and so “challenged” Hashem by asking for a proof from Him. The Passuk reads as follows:

בראשית פרק טו

(יג) וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה:

“And (Hashem) said to Avram. You shall surely know (that this promise will be fulfilled) for your seed will be strangers in a land not theirs, and they (another nation) will enslave them and afflict them 400 years.”

The verse is clear. Hashem informs Avra(ha)m of the exile to be imposed upon his descendants. This was the Egyptian Exile. It was to last a total of 400 years.


However in the book of Shemos (Exodus) we find a verse that seemingly contradicts the time of the exile. Here in telling about the actual length it states as follows:

שמות פרק יב פסוק מ

וּמוֹשַׁב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יָשְׁבוּ בְּמִצְרָיִם שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה:

“And the dwelling (time) that the children of Israel were in their stay in Egypt was 430 years.”

An apparently clear contradiction that the Bnei Yisrael remained in Egypt for 430 years. A clear discrepancy of 30 years against the very promise that G-d himself made with Avraham. How could this be?


In the Haggadah of Pesach, the following paragraph is said shortly after the 4 sons:

בָּרוּךְ שׁוֹמֵר הַבְטָחָתוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל. בָּרוּךְ הוּא. שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא חִשַּׁב אֶת־הַקֵּץ, לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמָה שֶּׁאָמַר לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִֽינוּ בִּבְרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּֽאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹֽעַ תֵּדַע, כִּי־גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ, בְּאֶֽרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם, וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה: וְגַם אֶת־הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי. וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ, בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל:

“Blessed is the One who guards his promise to the Bnei Yisrael. Blessed is He. For the Holy One Blessed be He calculated the end to do just as he said to Avraham our father at the Covenant Between the Parts. Like it says: “And he said to Avram (that this promise will be fulfilled) for your seed will be strangers in a land not theirs, and they will enslave them and afflict them 400 years. And also the nation that will do the enslaving, I will judge. And afterwards, they will go out with great wealth.”

Although in the Haggadah, we can often identify exactly where the source of it is, this particular paragraph has no source. It is not in the Tanach. It is not in the Talmud, and it cannot be traced to any direct authentic Torah source. Yet we well know the truth of it (to be discussed later.)

In this source of the Haggadah, we clearly see that the famous verse of the Covenant Between the Parts is quoted, and that the exile was to last for 400 years. All is perfect, except for some strange wording within the paragraph. “…the Holy One Blessed be He calculated the end…”

Why are these words added, and what is their purpose? Hashem calculated the end. What does it mean that Hashem calculated the end? Surely He already knew the end, and no calculations were necessary. After all, it was either 400 years, or 430 years. It surely could not have been anything else. Or could it?! And perhaps herein lies the clue to our understanding of the different parts of exile that the Jews underwent during that period of suffering.


In order to understand any area of Torah properly, it is not sufficient to read only the original text. We need something additional to the text that will help us uncover the true meaning of the text. Although there are many depths to Torah, it is still impossible to work through any part of it without the help of the foremost commentator who clarifies all parts of Tanach with a simple, insightful and clear meaning. This is Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040-1105.) It is through his words that the above discrepancies will be reconciled to indicate that neither of our verses was contradicting the other, but rather, perhaps, elucidating exactly how they are all saying the same thing.

Rashi (Bereishis 15:13) in speaking about the promise made to Avraham, says the following:
רש"י בראשית פרק טו

(יג) כי גר יהיה זרעך - משנולד יצחק עד שיצאו ישראל ממצרים ארבע מאות שנה. כיצד, יצחק בן ששים שנה כשנולד יעקב. ויעקב כשירד למצרים אמר (להלן מז ט) ימי שני מגורי שלשים ומאת שנה, הרי מאה ותשעים, ובמצרים היו מאתים ועשר כמנין רדו, הרי ארבע מאות שנה. ואם תאמר במצרים היו ארבע מאות, הרי קהת מיורדי מצרים היה, צא וחשוב שנותיו של קהת, ושל עמרם, ושמונים של משה שהיה כשיצאו ישראל ממצרים, אין אתה מוצא אלא שלש מאות וחמשים, ואתה צריך להוציא מהן כל השנים שחי קהת אחר לידת עמרם, ושחי עמרם אחר לידת משה:

בארץ לא להם - לא נאמר בארץ מצרים אלא בארץ לא להם, ומשנולד יצחק (להלן כא לד) ויגר אברהם וגו', וביצחק (שם כו ג) גור בארץ הזאת, (תהלים קה כג) ויעקב גר בארץ חם, (בראשית מז ד) לגור בארץ באנו:

“FOR YOUR SEED WILL BE STRANGERS: Since the birth of Yitzchak until Yisroel (the Jewish people) went out of Egypt there was 400 years. How can that be? Yitzchak was 60 years old when Yaakov was born. And Yaakov, when he went down to Egypt (in answering Pharaoh as to his age) said (Bereishis 47:9) ‘the years of my sojourns are 130 years.’ Behold (altogether) are 190 years. And in Egypt there were 210 years as in the same amount as the Gematria of the word “Redoo” (meaning: Go down [to Egypt]) Behold, there are a total of 400 years.

“And if you say that they were in Egypt for 400 years proper (as in being enslaved for that entire time,) behold, Kehas (the son of Levi, and the grandfather of Moshe) was of those who went into Egypt. Go and count the years of Kehas and of Amram (the father of Moshe) and the 80 years of Moshe (his age) when they went out of Egypt – and even then, you will only find 350 years. And still, you need to subtract from them all the years that Kehas lived after the birth of Amram (i.e. the overlapping years,) and the years of Amram after the birth of Moshe (that were also overlapping.)

“IN A LAND NOT THEIRS: It does not say in the land of Egypt (i.e. that they were in Egypt all 400 years,) but rather in a land not their own. And from the birth of Yitzchak (further 21:34) ‘And Avraham sojourned…” and with regards to Yitzchak (further 26:3)‘sojourn in this land,’ (Tehillim 105:23), ‘And Yaakov sojourned in the land of Cham,’ (Bereishis 47:4) ‘to sojourn in the land, we have come.’


Rashi (Shemos 12:40) comments on the actual length of the exile and says as follows:

רש"י שמות פרק יב פסוק מ

(מ) אשר ישבו במצרים - אחר שאר הישיבות שישבו גרים בארץ לא להם:
שלשים שנה וארבע מאות שנה - בין הכל משנולד יצחק עד עכשיו היו ארבע מאות שנה. משהיה לו זרע לאברהם נתקיים (בראשית טו יג) כי גר יהיה זרעך, ושלשים שנה היו משנגזרה גזירת בין הבתרים עד שנולד יצחק. ואי אפשר לומר בארץ מצרים לבדה, שהרי קהת מן הבאים עם יעקב היה צא וחשוב כל שנותיו וכל שנות עמרם בנו ושמונים של משה, לא תמצאם כל כך, ועל כרחך הרבה שנים היו לקהת עד שלא ירד למצרים, והרבה משנות עמרם נבלעים בשנות קהת והרבה משמונים של משה נבלעים בשנות עמרם, הרי שלא תמצא ארבע מאות לביאת מצרים, והוזקקת לומר על כרחך, שאף שאר הישיבות נקראו גרות, אפילו בחברון, שנאמר (בראשית לה כז) אשר גר שם אברהם ויצחק, ואומר (שמות ו ד) את ארץ מגוריהם אשר גרו בה, לפיכך אתה צריך לומר כי גר יהיה זרעך משהיה לו זרע. וכשתמנה ארבע מאות שנה משנולד יצחק, תמצא מביאתן למצרים עד יציאתן מאתים ועשר שנה, וזה אחד מן הדברים ששינו לתלמי המלך:

“THAT DWELT IN EGYPT: After other dwellings, since they had dwelt as strangers in (other) lands that were not theirs.

“430 YEARS: In counting everything (all the years) – Since Yitzchak was born until now there were 400 years. Since the time that there was seed to Avraham (i.e. that he had offspring) was fulfilled the promise (Bereishis 15:13) ‘for foreigners shall your seed be’ and 30 years had been since the (actual) decree of the (Covenant) Between the Parts, until Yitzchak was born. [In other words, it was at this point in time that the actual 430 years began since Avraham was already considered to be a foreigner.]

“And it is impossible to say that they were only foreigners in Egypt, since (we know) Kehas was of those who came with Yaakov (into Egypt.) Go (now) and count all the his years, and all the years of Amram his son, and the 80 years of Moshe, (even then) you will still not find them so much (to add up to 400. See Rashi in Bereishis above where Rashi clearly shows the calculation.)

“You must (also) say that there were many years to Kehas before he had gone down to Egypt. And there were many years of Amram that were included in the years of Kehas. And many of Moshe’s 80 years were included in the years of Amram. Behold, you will not find 400 years in their coming down to Egypt. And you are forced into saying this, since (the real point of the matter is that) even the other dwellings (of the Bnei Yisrael) were called “Geiroos” – sojourning, even in Chevron, like it says (Bereishis 35:27) ‘that Avraham and Yitzchak sojourned there.’ And it says (Shemos 6:4) ‘the land of their sojournings that they sojourned there.’

Therefore, you have to say that (the phrase where it says) ‘for your seed will be foreigners’ began at the time when he had seed (i.e. when Yitzchak, the first of his descendants, was born.)

And if you count 400 years from the birth of Yitzchak, you will find, that from their coming into Egypt, until the time of their leaving, 210 years. And this was one of the things that was taught over to Ptolemy the king.” (See translation and bold print to Rashi in Bereishis above.)


Rashi’s comment to the verse in Shemos clarifies for us what he had been discussing all along in his same comment in Bereishis. The two Rashi’s are both necessary and back each other up!

The Jewish people were destined to be slaves to Pharaoh for a period of 400 years. That is clear, and this is the exact promise that Hashem told Avraham at the Covenant Between the Parts. However, even Rashi admits that the actual period of enslavement only began when Yaakov went down into Egypt. Leaving only 210 years of enslavement. The real period of time of enslavement was actually 210 years. And even then, we are taught, that the real oppression only lasted for 86 years.

If so, it seems that there are even further contradictions. Were they enslaved for 400 years, 430 years, 210 years, or 86 years?! And if Hashem made a promise to Avraham that the enslavement was 400 years, then how do we reconcile all these views?

For this, the Haggadah Shel Pesach teaches us the most important line! Hashem calculated the end. In Hebrew the word for “end” is “קץ”. The Haggadah is hinting at something very important. The Gematria (numerical value) of the word “ketz” is 190. Since the Haggadah uses this word with this Gematria, it is coming to teach us something about the number 190 that was related to the original 400. If Hashem calculated the “ketz” it means that He used a method (know only to Him) to change the real duration of the exile. It was supposed to last for 400 years. But because of a change in the decree – due to the attribute of Mercy sweetening the judgment period, 190 years were removed from the original 400, thus leaving only 210 years of real exile!

This is clear. The total time of exile was supposed to last 400 real exile years. But Hashem – in His mercy – and after having ruled harshly – mitigated His judgment removing 190 years, bringing the “ketz”, the end, to a faster conclusion. The exile therefore ended up to be only 210 years.

But how did Hashem manage to make His promise remain, while still shortening the duration of it at the same time?! He had to count the 190 years somewhere. If the promise was to last for 400 years, then 400 years it would last! 190 years cannot just be done away with. This is what the Haggadah is saying. In His calculating those 190 years, he found a valid place to start them off. When would that be? At the very birth of Yitzchak exactly 190 years before! Indeed, Yitzchak was born on 15 Nissan, the exact same day the Jews left!

But if Hashem makes a promise that the Jews will be in exile for 400 years, then that must be, and they must be so! He cannot just make calculations according to any system of illogical thought. And so He does not! As the Pesukim state clearly, that from the time that Yitzchak is born, the Jewish people are in exile!

How do we reconcile the fact that they were not enslaved in Egypt for 400 years? No reconciliation is necessary. The promise the G-d made to Avraham was that they would be oppressed for this period of time, and not that they would be physical slaves in Egypt for this period of time. Although the promise may have indicated a possibility of being physically enslaved in Egypt for this period of time, it had a leeway manner of describing the enslavement. The enslavement did not have to be entirely under Egyption sovereignty. And because Hashem mitigated judgment with kindness, the oppression ended up being wherever the Jewish people found themselves in exile.

This period of time lasted a total of 400 years. Since even from the birth of Yitzchak, who was born in a land not owned by him i.e. Eretz Kenaan. While the land was eventually to become the property of the Jewish people (as it was so destined from the beginning of creation, see Rashi to Bereishis 1:1), at the time of Yitzchak’s actual birth, other people inhabited and owned the land. And since it was that Yitzchak did not own it, it was already considered that he was in a state of exile! Thereafter, all his children and grandchildren were also in a state of exile even up and until Yaakov physically entered the Land of Egypt. That total period of time lasted 190 years. Thereafter, the Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt proper for a period of 210 years.

Thus, Rashi together with the Haggadah – answers all of our questions. All but one! Why then in Shemos, does it in fact say that the Bnei Yisrael were in exile for 430 years? Even if we go in accordance with all of Rashi’s explanations, that we can begin counting from the time that Yitzchak was born – and that he too was in exile, still that gives us only 400 years. What happened to the extra 30 that this Passuk teaches us actually existed?

By using the same “logic” that Rashi teaches regarding the exile of Yitzchak, being that he was in a land not his own, and therefore we could begin counting from his birth – so too can we extend that to Avraham.

From the time that Hashem makes the promise to Avraham (at the age of 70), 30 years before the birth of Yitzchak, Avraham is already considered a sojourner in a land not his! (Likewise see Bereishes 35:27) that Avraham was only a sojourner, never an owner, never a claimant to the property he was on. In such an instance he was truly in exile.

The Gemara in Megilla 9b teaches that in fact, because the Bnei Yisrael knew that they were to be in Egypt for 400 years, and since many of the tribe of Ephraim already began their counting of these years from the time of the Bris Bein HaBesarim, they left Egypt 30 years before everyone else, anticipating that the time of the redemption had arrived. The Gemara says that they were killed. It is true that the exile lasted 400 years – but that was only to begin from the birth of Yitzchak. Then, when the Passuk in Shemos teaches us that the entire exile lasted 430 years, it means to include the years of Hashems promise to Avraham at that time – 30 years before the actual birth of Yitzchak. Yet in truth, Hashem promises Avraham that it was only his descendants who would be enslaved for 400 years. Therefore the calculation of the 400 years was only to begin at the birth of his son Yitzchak – even though in accordance with Shemos, the total real enslavement began with Avraham 30 years before!

Because of these apparent difficulties and discrepancies, to anyone not focusing on the intricate depth of the discussion, it would seem that the Torah contradicts itself. It would seem therefore, that possibly the author was not G-d (Chas VeShalom) and that a human wrote according to his own will, making mistakes as he went along. The truth is that each figure of years was carefully chosen to describe different parts of the exile, from Avraham, to Yitzchak, to Yaakov – and to his children etc. None were contradictory, but merely explaining different aspects of exile.

Since this was the case, the Gemara describes a miracle that occurred in the days of King Ptolemy. The king had requested 70 of the leading sages to translate the Torah for him, so that he could understand it properly. Naturally, by human translation, everything would come out in a contradictory way – proving to the king that the Torah was fabricated by man. The Gemara states that Hashem caused a miracle and that all the sages translated the Torah exactly the same – to indicate it’s authenticity. But for one thing. On certain occasions, where the Torah is difficult to understand, and would not be understood correctly by everyone if it was not made absolutely clear, a miracle occurred and Hashem made it that all the sages wrote a translation which was not exacting to the meaning of the Hebrew words, yet each of them wrote the exact same words.

It was in this very place – with regards to understanding the length of the Egyptian exile, that one of those miracles occurred. The sages all translated this very verse as follows: “And the habitation of the Children of Israel which they dwelled in Egypt and in other lands was four hundred and thirty years.”

The sages thereby resolved all possible contradictions that could come about. The exile was indeed 400 years long, as it began with the birth of Yitzchak. It was also 210 years long, because that is when they entered into Egypt. But above all this, it was still 430 years long, because even the journeys of Avraham were included. And those journeys began 30 years before Yitzchak was born – right at the moment when Hashem made this very promise of exile to Avraham himself.

We should merit that just as Hashem mitigated all His judgements with mercy in making the Egyptian exile so much shorter than His original promise, so too should He calculate our ketz bringing the real and ultimate redemption to be immediately.

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