"They Were Fruitful and Increased Greatly and Multiplied and Became Mighty
SICHOT OF THE RASHEI HA-YESHIVA
In memory of our grandparents, whose yahrzeits fall this week:
Shmuel Nachamu ben Shlomo Moshe HaKohen Fredman (10 Tevet)
Chaya bat Yitzchak David Fredman (15 Tevet)
Shimon ben Moshe Rosenthal (16 Tevet)
By their grandchildren and great-grandchildren,
Aaron and Tzipora Ross and family
"They Were Fruitful and Increased Greatly
and Multiplied and Became Mighty"
By Rav Yaakov
Translated by Kaeren Fish
A. THE LENGTH OF THE EGYPTIAN EXILE
of Benei Yisrael which they dwelled in
midrashim of the Tannaim, and all the commentators, align themselves with
the Septuagint, which contradicts the literal meaning of the verse - i.e., that
this period dates back to the descent of Yaakov and his family to
All of these opinions "shorten" the Egyptian exile by about two hundred years, fixing its length at 210, 215, 240 years, or the suchlike.
All of these
commentaries share the same single reason for their forced interpretation of the
verse. The succession of generations of Benei Yisrael, from those who
B. "THE FOURTH GENERATION WILL RETURN HERE"
The succession of the generations is listed in the Torah through the genealogy of various families, and especially the three families of the Tribe of Yehuda (Divrei Ha-yamim I 2):
among those who went down to
b. Chetzron - Kalev - Hur, one of the leaders of the nation at the time of the Exodus (Shemot 17:12) .
c. Chetzron - Seguv - Yair, who conquered the north of Gilad (Bamidbar 32:41).
Such a short
list of generations could not conceivably have covered 430 years. Proof of this
difficulty may be brought from the list of generations of the tribe of Levi,
which appears in next week's parasha (6:16-26) and specifies the lifespan
of each of the generations. Rashi quotes this as support for his interpretation:
Kehat was among those who went down to
Admittedly, Yehoshua's genealogy is longer (Divrei Ha-yamim I 7:20-27), spreading easily over 430 years: Ephraim - Beri'a - Refach - Telach - Tachan - Ladan - Amihud - Elishama - Nun - Yehoshua, and Yehoshua was among those who left Egypt. Nevertheless, the proof from the generations of the Tribe of Levi appeared to the commentators to be conclusive, and therefore they opted for the approach described above.
C. "THEY WERE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLIED GREATLY" HOW?
We have summarized the view of all the commentaries, but there is a single exception - Shadal's commentary on the Torah. He insists that the Egyptian exile lasted just as the verse says - 430 years . To his view, the list of generations cannot be used as a proof, for it is possible that the Torah leaves out some of them, listing only the important ones. Kehat, for example, is said to have borne Amram - but perhaps there were several generations in between them. An example of this is to be found in the person of Zerubavel, son of Shaltiel (Chaggai 1:12), while in Divrei Ha-yamim I (3:17-19) we discover that he was not his son but rather his grandson .
Shadal's argument against the accepted interpretation seems quite solid. If we assume that the generations of Levi, as they appear in our parasha, are listed in full, then the generation of Kehat - the generation of those who went down to Egypt - included three brothers: Gershon, Kehat and Merari. The generation of Amram, Kehat's son (the generation preceding the Exodus) included Livni, Shim'i, Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, Uziel, Machli and Mushi - altogether eight.
The number of descendents of Levi at the time of the Exodus is 23,000. How is this possible?
formulate our question differently. The Torah expounds on the astonishing
reproduction of the exiles in
D. AS 210 (REISH-DALED-VAV) THEY WENT DOWN (REDU)
In order not to unnecessarily increase the Egyptian exile, and in order to maintain an understanding of the matter that accords with that of the Sages, Rashi, the Ramban and the other early commentators, we must find a way to answer Shadal's most relevant question. I believe that the key to the answer lies in the verse in Sefer Bereishit:
"Now, your two
sons who were born to you in the
It seems to me,
according to the literal text, that Yosef had more than two sons. This is what
the verse is teaching us when it says, "To Yosef were born two sons BEFORE THE
YEARS OF FAMINE BEGAN" (Bereishit 41:50), implying that later on more
were born, and it is to these that Yaakov refers when he says, "whom you bear
after them." These children are not listed in the genealogy of Yosef's sons,
since they join in the inheritance of their brothers, Menashe and Ephraim.
Similarly, the Tanakh lists ten sons of King David (six in Chevron - Shmuel II
3:2-5, and four in
It is also
possible that many of the descendants of the tribes were killed or died all
kinds of terrible deaths during the Egyptian subjugation, and their children
joined the families of their fathers' brothers, just as the orphaned
Let us examine
one example, which may serve to strengthen our assumption. Yaakov went down to
E. SIX AT ONE TIME
We have not yet
arrived at a satisfactory explanation of the unreasonable rate of reproduction,
turning seventy souls who came down to
Let us return to Ephraim and the other tribes. If we assume, based on the genealogy of Yehoshua, that a generation was twenty-one years, during the course of 190 years (such that the last generation would be in their twenties at the time of the Exodus) there would have been about nine generations - which is as the genealogy describes.
Accordingly, we may explain Chazal's teaching that the women used to bear "six at one time" (literally, "six from one belly"). This does not mean that the women used to bear sextets; that would be an altogether unnatural phenomenon. What the teaching means is that every mother ("belly") would bear six children during the course of her life. We may assume that, on average, these six children would be three sons and three daughters - and this accords with the size of the families noted in our parasha (keeping in mind that only the sons are listed).
Let us now attempt to calculate of the numbers of Benei Yisrael.
Based on the
assumption that the generation that went down to
Assuming that it was the seventh, eighth and ninth generations that left Egypt, after about 190 years there were six hundred thousand, and after 210 years - all were aged 20.
The miracle of
the reproductive multiplicity in
May God fulfill for us His promise in the Torah:
"Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a community of nations shall emerge from you, and kings will emerge from your loins." (Bereishit 35:11)
 Here I ignore the Midrash which identifies Kalev ben Chetzron as Kalev ben Yefuneh.
 If we add
to this his view on the system of historical research regarding the length of
 As to the question arising from the verse, "the fourth generation will return here" - see Rashbam ad loc.
 In our estimation, there were only about ten thousand Levi'im aged twenty and upwards - about a fifth of the average. We base this on a comparison between the number of those aged one month and upwards, and the number of those aged thirty and upwards.