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.

Dampening potential

In this week’s Parsha, we learn that when Pharoah’s daughter was bathing on the banks of the Nile, she caught sight of baby Moshe in the ark his mother had prepared to save him from the decree her father had enacted. Moshe was crying and understandably hungry. Rashi quotes a Midrash (שמות רבה א, כה) where Chazal inform us that Moshe refused to breast feed from Egyptian mothers. Moshe’s spiritual sensitivity did not allow him to drink breast milk that was nutritionally influenced by a mother who had ingested non kosher food. The mouth that was to speak directly with God was not to be tainted by drinking milk that was derived from such a source.

Halachically, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with breast milk of any human variety. It makes no difference whether the mother had previously eaten a glatt kosher schnitzel or a ham sandwich with cheese. Breast milk is kosher and is unaffected by the source of nutrition. This Halacha is clear in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah. Yet, in a departure from unadulterated (sic) halacha, the Ramo (סימן פא ס”ז), clearly influenced by the Chazal  in that Midrash,  (see the Gro  (ביו”ד שם ס”ק לא) ) paskens that it is a מדת חסידות to avoid “spiritually tainted” food. Similarly, although one is permitted to take pills that include non Kosher ingredients, where it is possible to obtain a Kosher version (e.g. Vitamins and the like) R’ Moshe ז’ל paskens (without providing a source) that it’s better to do so. R’ Hershel Schachter is of the opinion that R’ Moshe’s source is probably this same Midrash and Ramo.

R’ Yaakov Kamintesky ז’ל asks a pertinent question. One can well understand that a holy mouth which was destined to speak directly with God would be sensitised and indeed expected to observe a מדת חסידות which would preclude even the smell of non kosher food (see פרק ב דחגיגה ירושלמי about Elisha Ben Abuya) or breast milk derived from non kosher food to be ingested. This is the level of Moshe Rabeinu, רבן של כל ישראל, but what about the rest of us? We have no expectation that our mouths will be used to speak פה אל פה with God. Why should we at all be concerned about such a consideration? R’ Yaakov answers that we have no right to deny potential from our children, irrespective of their ability. Every child has a growth potential that often exceeds the expectation of parents and educators. If we over focus on IQ or learning challenges then we effectively cheat the child because we deny them their opportunity to attain the seemingly unattainable.

Often, it is assumed that to become a high level Talmid Chacham (in today’s parlance a “Gadol HaDor”) one must have a very high level of intelligence. This is untrue. There were certainly many highly intelligent Rabbis over the generations, however, it is false to imagine that they were all that way. Many had average or above intelligence. It is known, for example, that the famed Chazon Ish, was not known for being particularly “sharp”. The Chazon Ish applied himself with a very high level of diligence and התמדה. If you revise a Mishna 100 times, you will achieve the level of truly understanding what it’s about.

The life lesson is to never minimise the potential of a child and to nurture and provide the environment which will help them meet their highest level. This can only occur if we don’t over categorise our children according to the abundant metrics and conditions that they are associated with. Even the so-called average child can be stymied by assuming that their level will not ever grow to one in tune with the aforementioned מדת חסידות described by the Ramo.

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