“And the Jews Lived in Egypt for Four Hundred and Thirty Years”It seems very strange that the posuk states clearly and distinctly that the Yidden were in Mitzrayim for 430 years. We all know that they were in Mitzrayim for only 210 years. Rashi’s simple explanation is that we start counting from the time of the Bris bein Habsorim. This way we have exactly 430 years. All fine and well, but Rashi fails to explain why all those extra 220 years should be included in Golus Mitzrayim. How can these years be included in the golus, when we know for a fact that the Yidden didn’t enter Mitzrayim until 220 years later? Even if we are to accept the premise that the golus actually started by the Bris bein habsorim, we certainly can’t call it Golus Mitzrayim. The posuk clearly states b’Mitzrayim.
At the Bris bein habsorim, Avrohom was told ; “They will ensalve and torture them for four hundred years” – This means that the golus would last only 400 years. When we start counting from Yitzchok’s birth, we have exactly 400 years. Then, why does this posuk start counting from the Bris bein Habsorim and give us a total of 430 years? Which is it, 400 or 430? From which date are we supposed to start counting? Why the apparent contradiction between 400 and 430?
On the other hand, how can all the years of Yitzchok be included in the Golus Mitzrayim, when we know very well that he never even stepped foot in Mitzrayim. He wasn’t allowed to leave Eretz Yisroel. You may consider his life in Eretz Yisroel a golus because he suffered, fine and well. But you can’t call it Golus Mitzrayim, because he was never there! Also, many of the years Yitzchok spent in Eretz Yisroel were quite peaceful and without much mishap. How can we call all these years as golus? Didn’t the actual golus first start after Yosef and his brother’s died? (The last one to pass away was Levi.)
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 has been 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 eventually develop a terrible, painful disease. 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 bad nevuah which can be changed. It was a bris – there could not be any changes! And that’s probably the reason we don’t find him davening to try to change the bad decree. He felt the terrible pain from this 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 future 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 golus?
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 desperation, 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 so.
Avrohom’s whole life was centered around having children and teaching them to serve Hashem. To him such news must have been devastating. Just imagine his great concern and anguish. They 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 his children wouldn’t make it. Thc fact remains that from all the Yidden that were in Mitzrayim, only 1/5 of them actually made it out. The other 4/5 were destroyed during the plague of Darkness. They couldn’t be rescued. They had sunk too far.
Remember! 400 years is a long long time. It’s only a little more than 200 years since the time of our first president, George Washington (1789-1797), yet it feels like 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, some Meforshim explain that Hashem had to shorten the 400 years, and compress it to 210 years, otherwise they could not survive. There would chas v’sholom be no Klal Yisroel to rescue. In fact, the geulah had to be done in the greatest of haste and with quick speed, for even one more moment and many 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!
Yet 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 in Mitzrayim.
However, the prophecy clearly stated that his children would be in golus for 400 years. Practically speaking, Yitzchok had not been born yet. As far as his children’s golus starting, he’d have to wait for Yitzchok’s birth. It was then, at Yitzchok’s birth, that the full weight of the golus began to bear down on him. 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. For 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 Yitzchok, no matter how successful they actually were at the time, mentally the golus had already started years before.
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 it will do him absolutely no good. He is where his mind is.