The enslavement in Mitzrayim and the exit to freedom

[Guest post from R’ Meir Deutsch, with some minor touch ups and additions from me]

We have many dates for what we call ShibudMitzrayim

  • enslavement in Mitzrayim: 430 years from the Brit Beyn Habetarim with Avraham;
  • 400 years from the birth of Yitzhak;
  • 210 years from the arrival of Ya’akov to Mitzrayim.

What we are missing is the several years that the Jew were enslaved and worked Be’Farech, in hard labor. For how many years were they actually slaves?

I used the Hebrew version of the names (i.e. Avraham) and Mitzrayim for Egypt.

Meir Deutsch © All rights reserved

We know that for the bondage in Mitzrayim we have three dates.

Reysh Dalet Vav = 210 years, four hundred years, and the sojourning of the children of Israel who lived in Mitzrayim for four hundred and thirty years.

How do we understand these different time spans? Our sages say

  • the real sojourning of 210 years in Mitzrayim, is from the time Jacob arrived there;
  • 400 years from the birth of Isaac (your descendants will be strangers – was said to Avraham) to the Exodus;
  • and 430 years from the Brit Beyn Habetarim to the Exodus.

Ya’acov comes to Mitzrayim in the second year of the seven years of famine. He remains in Mitzrayim for 17 years until his passing, which is 12 years after the end of the years of famine.

One could ask: why did he not return with his family to Canaan? Was the intention to settle in Mitzrayim or only temporary stay there during the years of hunger? Our ancestors lived in Canaan in tents and moved from place to place; in Mitzrayim they built for themselves houses and settled in the land of Goshen. They were no longer a nomadic tribe. The houses were not built just to be able to put the blood on the doorposts. They were a sign of some permanence.
We have seen the several years of the enslavement in Mitzrayim. We will now try to work out how many years did they actually work B’Farech—in serevitude—in Mitzrayim.

  1. Josef stands before Pharaoh at the age of 30
  2. Ya’acov and the brothers come to Mitzrayim when Josef celebrated his 39th birthday – in the second year of famine
  3. Josef died at the age of 110
  4. Josef lived another 71 years after his father and his brothers came to Mitzrayim
  5. The exodus was 210 years after the arrival of Ya’acov to Mitzrayim
    If we subtract from those 210 years, the years that Josef lived after the reunion with his father Yaakov we are left with 139 years of the children of Israel working B’Farech in Mitzrayim (assuming the enslavement began immediately at the death of Josef and the crowning of a new king who did not know Josef).

Do we have just another date on the bondage of Mitzrayim – The years of hard labour (B’Farech) of 139 years or is there a lesser period recorded? [1]

God promises Jacob that, in exile in Mitzrayim, he will be a great nation.

The Torah tells us that the number of grown up men that left Mitzrayim were: “six hundred thousand men apart from the children and the added Erev Rav… (שמות יב, לד-לה). Rashi explains: men: aged twenty or higher. Our sages say (רש”י שמות א, ז) : VaYishretzu (they multiplied): six in one belly/birth. They came to that conclusion from the many descriptions of births and from VaYischretzu – one Sheretz has many off spring at once.
How many left Mitzrayim? We know that from Ya’acov’s arrival to Mitzrayim until the Exodus we have 210 (רדו) years.
Let’s assume – and this is just an assumption, trying to calculate the large number of the children of Israel in that period of 210 years. Your mileage may differ. Here I assume two wives for each man and two and a half children on average for each wife (actually more births. The two and a half children on average are after the deaths during childbirth, natural mortality, and throwing male babies into the river ). These numbers seem reasonable to me.

Ya’acov had four child-bearing women and three children plus from each on average (we know Rachel had two and Leah had more). As we know, and assume here, the Israelites, including our ancestors, married foreign women. It is logical to adopt this assumption for our calculation:

In a generation of 18 years:

  • Every man marries two women and another woman if one of the wives died.
  • Newborns are half male and half female
  • On average each woman gave birth to only 2.5 children that reached adulthood
  • Ya’acov brings to Mitzrayim 70 souls other than women. So let’s assume 140 women

In the first generation 350 children are born, of which half are male and the other half female.
The 175 males in the second generation marry 350 women and 875 off springs are born. And so on until the middle of the twelfth generation.
The formula is: D = n * (c / 2 * w) ^ d where:
Births in the generation = D
The number of women at the start = n
Number of children born to each woman = c
The number of wives for every man = w
Number of generations = d

At the end of the 11th generation, in the 198th year after Jacob came to Mitzrayim we find by calculation:

  • Part of generation 12 are children under the age of 12
  • Generation 11, part of them are children aged 12 to 20.
  • The generation totals 3.3 million
  • The 10th generation aged 30 to 48 would come to 1.3 million men and women
  • The 9th generation aged 48 to 66 would come to 0.5 million men and women
  • From Generation 9 that survived and reached the time of redemption, Generation 10 and Generation 11 (after deducting the young people under the age of 20), we reach the number – about 600 thousand men aged 20 years and over – actually more if everyone would survive and not die of various causes within the period. However, as I said, I used particular numbers only by way of reasonable illustration.

According to these figures we could have had more males that were thrown into the Yeor and those who died for other reasons.
Part of the 11th generation, and the 12th generation are children. The total number of Jews (not including the extra mixed multitude of Erev Rav) that left Mitzrayim was about 5 million or more.

One can use different assumptions in coming to an approximation. Other assumptions will reach other numbers.
We can conclude. Rabotenu say ששה בכרס אחת . Do they need this interpretation to get to the numbers of יוצאי מצרים ? No, they do not, and I do not think that they suggested it. They came to the conclusion of six in one womb because the Tora says וישרצו and a שרץ has many offspring at once.

This subject was brought up by Fidel Castro when Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau visited him in Cuba. As Castro could not figure out the 600 thousand, Rabbi Lau told him about “six in one womb” (ישראל מאיר לאו – “אל תשלח ידך אל הנער” עמ, 309). He still could not get the numbers and Rabbi Lau pointed out to him the Erev Rav that joined the exodus. I wonder why Rabbi Lau and Fidel Castro did not calculate and reach the number. In all likelihood they had other things to talk about too 🙂

What kind of slaves were the people of Israel. Wealth was measured in those days by how “heavy” a man was in silver, in gold, and in sheep and cattle. We are not told how much silver and gold the children of Israel had in Mitzrayim, but sheep and cattle they certainly had a plenty. When Pharaoh asked them to leave a guarantee/deposit, their sheep and cattle, they responded with no, we are going to worship G-d with our flock. When leaving Mitzrayim they took their livestock: “וצאן ובקר מקנה כבד מאד” (שמות יב, לח). I wonder who was grazing the sheep and cattle when they were working hard in Mitzrayim? Did they hire shepherds? Was Goshen so amenable to natural unaided feeding and care? Did only men labour Be’Farech, whilst females were looking after the flock? What appears here is that the children of Israel were “rather rich slaves”, heavy in sheep and cattle.

[1] ב”סדר עולם” החל ממות לוי, לא יותר מ-116 שנים. ואין השיעבוד יותר על כן.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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