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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5778

Parashat Hashavua: Whats in a Number part II

Harav Yosef Carmel

Last time we started discussion of the apparent contradiction between the depictions of the exile in Egypt as 400 or 430 years and the indications that it was only 210 years. This condensed piece finishes our discussion.

The Rashbam understands the pasuk (Shemot 12:40) as referring to the inhabitance of Bnei Yisrael in Egypt finishing a period of 430 years that began with Brit Bein Habetarim. It did not mean that the whole period had to do with Egypt. The Alshich arrives at a novel explanation based on the fact that the pasuk refers to Mitzrayim and not Eretz Mitzrayim. He says that Mitzrayim does not refer only to Egypt but to all different types of difficulties, based on the etymological associations of the word. The Malbim picked up on the fact the pasuk refers to the exodus of “all the bands of Hashem” and says that since there were heavenly beings that were with Bnei Yisrael in Egypt and since Bnei Yisrael were worked day and night, the time that they needed to stay in Egypt only needed to be, from a calendar perspective, half of the 430 mentioned by the pasuk.

We prefer two p’shat approaches that the Ibn Ezra provides. In his long commentary, he champions, based on several occurrences in Tanach, the thesis that biblical chronology is not limited to historical accuracy and often is presented with deep philosophical or mystical content in mind instead. This is an approach that we find in Chazal as well – see our discussion in Tzofnat Yeshayahu, p. 18 of the preface.

In his short commentary, Ibn Ezra presents another thesis, one which actually has a lot of support in recent archeological finds. The Land of Canaan was in many ways considered an extension of Egypt. Thus, once Avraham came to the Land, and until Bnei Yisrael extricated themselves from under Egyptian rule at the time of Moshe, they could be referred to as living in Egypt. The matter of 210 years in Egypt was the time they spent in the limited geographical country known to us as Egypt.

There have been many letters and seals found throughout crucial cities in Israel that indicate that the local leadership served as vassals to the Pharaohs in Egypt. This includes digs in Dor, near Haifa, and in Gezer. This phenomenon continued actually for hundreds of years (see Melachim I,9:16) and underwent an interesting twist when Shlomo married Paroh’s daughter.

Let us pray that we will merit to live safely throughout our Land and will use our political independence to further our spiritual development in all areas.

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