How long did יציאת מצרים take? From Burning Bush to Splitting Sea, it takes us 4 weeks to read the story, but how long was it?
Moshe gets sent on his mission three times:
Then things go from bad to worse, and ה׳ tells him in this week’s parasha that everything is going according to the plan, and he should go back:
Then there is a paragraph of genealogy, and then Moshe’s third mission:
The first two seem to be back-to-back; Moshe complains and ה׳ sends him right back. We generally read the third as also coming immediately after; Rashi understands the command in פסוק כט as being the same one as in פסוק י:
But then, the whole discussion of לא שמעו אל משה מקצר רוח ומעבדה קשה and Moshe’s objection of הן בני ישראל לא שמעו אלי ואיך ישמעני פרעה seems irrelevant. Rashi reads it that בני ישראל didn’t believe that they would be saved:
But then the קל וחומר doesn’t fit.
The Mechilta reads it differently: לא שמעו אל משה means they didn’t obey:
When was it that they refused to put away their עבודה זרה? Rav Medan understands that this was Moshe’s second mission to בני ישראל; it was all about ברית: גם הקמתי את בריתי…ואזכר את בריתי. But a ברית is two sided:
And Sforno (who anticipates Rav Medan) makes an astonishing leap:
After Moshe’s second mission, after בני ישראל refuse to give up their עבודה זרה, Moshe and ה׳ give up on that generation. The message of the genealogy is that time passes. The people have children, their children get married and have children of their own, and it is on behalf of the next generation that ה׳ comes to Moshe again, in his third mission. The command of דבר אל פרעה of פסוק כט is not the same command as the דבר אל פרעה of פסוק יא. It’s a generation later.
Specifically, Rav Medan says, it is thirty years later. This explains an anomaly in the text:
The Ramban explains the difference in the two counts, first citing Rashi:
But then he says that we misunderstand the nature of נבואה:
Ramban’s last comment on בני אפרים comes from an odd פסוק in דברי הימים:
It’s not clear when בני אפרים were killed by אנשי גת; Rabbi Shulman has suggested that when all the rest of בני ישראל were assimilating into Egyptian society, בני יוסף maintained their connection to the land and kept herds there. The gemara, however, says that they tried to leave שעבוד מצרים prematurely:
They figured 400 years were up, and they would be redeemed automatically (“automagically”).
This is an object lesson in trying to immanentize the eschaton; our responsibility is not to make sure נבואות are fulfilled; it is to fulfill רצון ה׳ here and now.