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How many years did the Jews spend in Egypt?

How many years did the Jews spend in Egypt?

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Question:

During the Passover Seder we read that G‑d told Abraham that his descendents would be in Egypt for four hundred years. But from what I understand, the Israelites were actually in Egypt for little more than two hundred years. Surely G‑d did not error when He decreed four hundred years of exile. There must be a great explanation. Could you enlighten me?

Answer:

Indeed, G‑d foretold four hundred years of exile. During the Covenant Between the Parts G‑d told Abraham:1 "You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years." Nevertheless, a calculation of the years spent in Egypt reveals that they spent far less time there.2

Our sages explain that the countdown of 400 years began with Isaac's birth. G‑d's promise does not refer to Egypt by name, rather to a "land that is not theirs." As soon as Abraham had a child, his seed were subjected to living in lands that were not theirs—including Canaan which wasn't "theirs" at the time.

Isaac was sixty years old when Jacob was born,3 and Jacob was 130 years old when he went down to Egypt.4 This means that 190 of the 400 years elapsed before the Israelites arrived in Egypt. So the Israelites were in Egypt for a total of 210 years.

Interestingly, when Jacob first instructed his sons to descend to Egypt, he said,5 "Go down ("רדו") there and buy [food]." The numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the word "רדו" ("redu," "go down") is exactly 210!6

Best wishes,

Chani Benjaminson,
Chabad.org

FOOTNOTES
1.

Genesis 15:13.

2.

"It is impossible to say that [they spent 400 years] in Egypt alone, because Kehat [the grandfather of Moses] was of those who came with Jacob [to Egypt]. Go and figure all his years [133 years], all the years of his son Amram [137 years], and Moses' 80 years [at which age he led the Israelites out of Egypt]; you will not find them [to be] that many, and perforce, Kehat lived many of his years before he descended to Egypt, and many of Amram's years are included in the years of Kehat, and many of Moses' years are included in Amram's years. Hence, you will not find 400 years counting from their arrival in Egypt" – Rashi's commentary on Exodus 12:40.

3.

Genesis 25:26.

4.

Ibid. 47:9.

5.

Ibid. 42:2.

6.

In Exodus 12:40, the Torah tells us of the 430 years the Israelites spent in Egypt. Again, this cannot be taken literally (as per the calculations in footnote 2). Rather this number includes the years that the Israelites' ancestors sojourned in other foreign lands, and also includes the thirty years between the Covenant Between the Parts and Isaac's birth. (This is Rashi's interpretation; other Biblical commentators offer different explanations.)

Chani Benjaminson is co-director of Chabad of the South Coast, coordinator of Chabad’s Ask the Rabbi and Feedback departments, and is a member of the editorial staff of Chabad.org.
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Discussion (9)
December 2, 2014
USA
1492 to 2022 is 430 yes :)
Robert Hill
USA
April 28, 2014
re: Your Sages Do Err...
You may want to re-read footnote #2 which is explains why your own calculation cannot be correct.
Juda
April 10, 2014
Your Sages Do Err...
Hi. Your "sages" are in error. Jacob (Israel) went to live in Egypt where Joseph was, in 2028 BC, when he was 130 years old. That is when he met Pharaoh. Jacob died 17 years later, in 2011 BC. In 1998 BC, when Upper Egypt conquered Lower Egypt, Joseph became a political prisoner. So far, this is 30 years.

Now, Joseph is 70 years old, and his clan is put into slavery by the new Pharaoh in 1998 BC, and are lead out of Egypt 400 years later in 1598 BC. In all, Israel was in Egypt 430 years (Exodus 12:40-41)
Herman Cummings
June 4, 2012
the year
What was the year that Yaakov went down to Egypt with the family? I can not find the year in the bible. Can anyone tell me?
Annette
Lineville, USA
November 26, 2009
Ancestry and land
DNA itself doesn't tell where a person descended from just who, the link to the land has more to do with achaeology and history in relation to the DNA. For instance the celts lived all the way from Spain to Ireland to parts of Turkey at one point. This is attested by historical writings (mostly Roman and Greek) as well as remains of people and objects (archaeology). The DNA is used by comparison and in unison with historical data to try to determine the movements/origin of the people--in the celts case most likely north-east spain/france. The problem is people move and people mix, like Petros said Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans (but was Aramean but so did the arabs who are decended from Ishmael son of Abraham by Hagar the Egyptian (yes somewhat black and white) over the course of time it would have been essential for other people to mix in to the gene pool.
Jordan
norwood
May 17, 2009
RE: 400 years in egypt
the israelites did not spend 400 years in egypt, because the Egypt talked of was a state of egypt i.e. a condition of slavery (which is the meaning of egypt) not the country. the israelistes spent around 100 years in Mitzrayim (current day egypt), but were going to spend 400 years in a place LIKE it was in egypt (Mitzrayim).
Hence, the Hebrew israelites in the USA and americas/carribean, are the ones fulfilling that prophecy.

this is biblically clear that the true hebrews are the current african americans in the USA who endured.....400 years of slavery. NOT the current people laying claim to be Jews or israelites.
tobi anderson
lagos, nigeria
June 6, 2008
Has anyone ever done the genetic ancestry
Abraham would not necessarily be related to the Arabs in Iraq that run the country - but to the Chaldeans of the southern part that the Arabs stole from the Assyrian and Chaldean aboriginals. Abraham was a Chaldean. The Arabs aren't an ethnic group, but a melting pot - some of the early tribes that became Arabs were black, and some white.
Petros
June 5, 2008
Has anyone ever done the genetic ancestry
Hi,
I'm just curious has anyone ever done the genetic ancestry of the jewish people or would it be possible? In our own country (Ireland) we had a project looking at the Y chromosome (father inheritance) of the people of western Ireland (Celts- red hair, freckles) and it turned out our ancestry was from Spain of all places! It was kind of a disappointing answer because we imagined we were the last of the celts from Gaul mentioned in de bello gallica but it turned out we were spanish basques. Surely the ancient israelites would be interesting to try and follow through genetics to see how accurate the bible is? I guess Abraham would be close to modern day people in Iraq maybe?
Anonymous
December 30, 2007
Actual slavery
I'd like to note that the time the Jews spent in Egypt began from Yaakov (Jacob)'s descent. However, when he arrived, he was greeted quite favorably by Pharo.

He lives in Egypt for 17 years before he passed away, and the last brother to die was Levi, 77 years after that. That means the Jews were in Egypt 96 years without any slavery.

We know Miriam was named after the bitterness of the slavery, and we know she was born 86 years before the exodus.

So although the Jews were in Egypt for 210 years total, only 86 - 116 of those years involved slavery.
Dani Koesterich
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