In order to clarify all these apparent contradictions, let’s give the following example.
Imagine a person has gone to trial in court and is awaiting the judge’s verdict. The
day of the verdict finally arrives, and the judge pronounces the sentence. The person
is found guilty and must serve a 30-year jail sentence. The sentence will first begin in
30 days. Even though the person still has 30 days of freedom you can be sure that
the moment the sentence was pronounced, the person will feel as if the prison term
has already started. Not physically, but surely mentally. He already feels the terrible
feeling of hopelessness, even though he’s actually not behind bars yet. The mere fact
that he knows for sure that in another 30 days he will be locked up is enough to
give him a feeling of helplessness right now. Mentally and emotionally, his suffering
has already started.
Let’s take another example. A mother is examined by the doctor and is informed
that she is pregnant but that the baby she is carrying does not look healthy and
will develop a terrible, dedly disease in about twenty years. While the child may
not be born for another few months; nevertheless, the mother will feel the terrible
desperation immediately. Though the disease may not be forthcoming till years
later, the woman’s pain and suffering will be felt immediately.
So, too, it was with Avrohom Ovinu. Immediately upon being informed by Hashem
that his children would be in golus for 400 years, Avrohom’s golus started right then
and there. Avrohom of course had absolutely no doubt in his mind that Hashem’s
words would come true to their very last detail. It was no mere prophesey that can
sometimes be changed. It was a ברית –there could not be any changes! And that’s
probably the reason why we don’t find Avrohom davening to try to change the bad
decree. He felt the terrible pain from the very first moment the tragic news hit him.
His golus had started right then and there. Even though his child would not be
born for another 30 years, his mind already anticipated the terrible fate that awaited
him. His thoughts were filled with worry about the golus his children would suffer
in Mitzrayim. How would his children be able to survive such a harsh and cruel
Remember! Golus is also a state or frame of mind- a mental anguish. For all
intents and purposes, a person can be completely free, yet if he mentally isolates
himself from all those around him and doesn’t speak to anyone, and is filled with
fear, worry and depretion, then he is no different than the prisoner behind bars who
is totally isolated from others by the bars in front of him. The only difference may
be that the prisoner cannot easily escape from his prison, while the free person can
mentally escape from his own imprisonment any time he makes the effort to do
Avrohom’s whole life was centered on having children and teaching them to
serve Hashem. To him such news must have been devastating. Just imagine his
great concern and anguish. His children would have to spend 400 years as slaves in
Mitzrayim! Would they be able to withstand the Egyptian culture? Could they survive
the tumoh? Could they go through so much pain and suffering without losing their
faith in Hashem? He knew that Mitzrayim was the worst tumoh possible, and he
was frightened that not all his children would make it. The fact remains that from all
the Yidden who were in Mitzrayim only 1/5 of them actually made it out. The other
4/5 were killed during the plague of Darkness. They couldn’t be rescued. They had
sunk too far.
Remember! 400 years is a very long time. It’s only a little more than 200 years
since the time of our first president, George Washington, yet it feels like an eternity.
How would his descendants be able to withstand the temptations and lusts of the
Egyptians for so long? The thought itself was frightful. 400 years was more than
enough time for the Egyptians to totally assimilate the Jews into their culture.
In fact, the geulah had to be done in the greatest of haste and with quick speed,
for even one more moment and many more of Klal Yisroel would have fallen into
the lowest – the fiftieth – depth of tumoh, from where one cannot be extricated and
rescued anymore! A frightful thought!
And so from the moment Avrohom had been informed of what the future
foretold, his mind was already in Mitzrayim. He felt their concern. He felt their
pain. His golus had already started. You can begin counting the 430 years from
that very moment. To him, their fate was already sealed. It was as if the judge had
pronounced the guilty verdict. As if the doctor had already foretold the mother of the
fate of her unborn child. Hashem gave this nevuah to Avrohom in the form of a bris,
and so there was no way out. In Avrohom’s mind, the golus Mitzrayim had already
begun, even though, practically speaking, he had no children yet, nor was anyone
However, the prophecy clearly stated that his children would be in golus for 400
years. Practically speaking, Yitzchak had still not been born. As far as his children’s
golus starting, he’d have to wait for Yitzchak’s birth. It was then, at Yitzchak’s birth,
that the full weight of the golus began to bear down on him. Therefore now started
the 400 years of golus of his children. One can well imagine that even at this great
moment of joy, Avrohom’s heart was filled with worry for his future descendants.
After all, there certainly wasn’t a more loving father than Avrohom. And so, even
now, thousands of years later, we still call him Ovinu – our father. It’s not Avrohom
HaTzaddik or Avrohom HaChossid or Avrohom HaKodosh, but Avrohom Ovinu.
That’s because he was like a true father, concerned and worried for the future welfare
of his every child. There is no way in the world we could even try to describe his
worry and concern over the foreboding golus that was to come. Two hundred and
ten years may have been the Jews’ practical and physical amount of time they had
actually spent in Mitzrayim. but to Avrohom and Yitzchak, no matter how successful
they actually were at the time, mentally the golus had already started the moment
Hashem told him what would happen and therefore we have a total of 430 years.
Yet, for all practical purposes his son was still not born untill 30 years later. The
moment his son Yitzchok was born Avrohom’s pain and concern started. And so for
him we can begin counting the 400 years.
Postscript: The Baal Shem Tov is known to have said: that “wherever someone’s
thoughts are, there the person is actually found”. What a fantastic insight! A boy
sitting in his classroom thinking about a baseball game is not really in the classroom.
He’s at the baseball game. Where he happens to be physically is not important at all.
It’s where his thoughts are that really count. If a person is playing baseball, but his
mind is thinking about some gemorah he was learning in the morning, then he is really
sitting in the bais hamedrash. It just seems as if he is playing baseball. We all know
that when it comes to holy things like korbonos, even a bad thought can invalidate
a korbon. If chas v’sholom a person’s mind is filled with filth, the consequences are
drastic. Never mind where he is. He can be sitting in the bais hamedrash. He can
be standing in the kodesh hakodoshim yet it will do him absolutely no good. He is
where his mind is.