Bo: A Short 430 years

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

The devar Torah is sponsored by Caron and Steven Gelles and Family in memory of their Grandparents Sylvia and Sam Gelles and Martha and Louis Silver.

Four hundred and thirty years is a long time. "The years that the Jewish people dwelled in Egypt lasted four hundred and thirty years (12:40)." 430 years earlier, Abraham newly-arrived in the land of Canaan, was forced to travel to Egypt to get food, a trip that would be repeated by his great grandchildren years later.
  
Jacob's descent to Egypt occurred exactly 215 years after that of Abraham [1] splitting the 430 year into two equal components: the first consisting of temporary travels to Egypt to get food and the second more permanent stay where the Jewish nation was to be formed.
  
"And they baked the dough that they brought out from Egypt into unleavened cakes because they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay and even provisions they had not prepared for themselves (12:39)." The haste of the exodus, so pronounced throughout our Pesach celebrations, is contrasted to the long years our ancestors spent in Egyptian exile. It is sadly typical of Jewish history that long periods of residence often come to an abrupt end. Somehow we never seem to see the warning signs. Despite being told, on the first of the month, to prepare for the exodus the Jewish people were somehow caught off guard and not quite ready to leave.
  
It was in Egypt that we gained appreciation for time and the exodus story famously begins with the commandment to sanctify time and establish a Jewish calendar. The obligation of Shabbat so central to our way of life is directly linked to our years of servitude. Time may move slowly yet time can easily pass us by. The exodus was the combination of 430 long hard years and the hasty departure with no time to spare.
  
Our connection to Egypt is part and parcel of our history and identity yet our ongoing relationship with Egypt is a complex and ambivalent one. Egypt was the place that provided food and refuge for our ancestors. So many of our mitzvoth are linked to our years in Egypt. Just as the future leader of the Jewish people needed to grow up in the Royal Palace, the Jewish people needed their formative years to take place in the cultural, technological and political centre of the world. Our last memories of Egypt are to be the showering of gold and silver by the Egyptians as we were about to depart.
  
We left in the middle of the day a strong and confident people (though that would change soon). And the most repeated theme of the Torah, to be sensitive to others, is directly related to the fact that "you were strangers in the land of Egypt". There was much that was good in Egypt - no wonder the Jews in the desert expressed the wish to return.
  
Despite their enslavement of our people we must not harm the Egyptians. Just as Moshe could not be the instrument for the first three plagues - as the water and earth from where the plagues originated had saved his life, so too we must acknowledge a debt of gratitude to the Egyptians.
  
At the same time the Torah strongly warns us not to follow the ways of the Egyptians (Vayikra 18:2). Their society was morally bankrupt, corrupt and promiscuous. And they did not hesitate to kill when necessary. No wonder we are enjoined from returning there. To do so would have a corrosive effect on us.
  
After 430 years it was time for the Jewish nation to start on its mission. Hesitate for a moment and it would have been too late - all would have assimilated. Leave earlier and the "smelting furnace" of Egypt would not have had the time to purify us allowing us to develop us into a nation. It is the proper mixture of a patient people waiting for years and years yet knowing when to act immediately that enabled us to leave Egypt and has enabled us to return to the land of Israel. Shabbat Shalom!
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[1] Abraham was 75 when he arrived in Israel, we thus have 25 years until the birth of Yitzchak, an additional 60 years until the birth of Yaakov, and Yaakov was 130 when he went to Egypt.