Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Vayigash

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible, gottlii@mail.biu.ac.il


Parashat Vayyigash 5761/ 6 January 2001


"Your Ancestors Went Down to Egypt Seventy Persons in All"

Rivka Raviv
Kedumim

In this week's reading the exile of the children of Israel to Egypt comes to pass as foretold to Abraham in the covenant of the pieces: "Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed" (Gen. 15:13). The numerical summation, "These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt ... Thus the total of Jacob's household who came to Egypt was 70 persons" (Gen. 46:8-27), expresses best of all that sad moment in history when the exile began. Indeed, it was not for naught that the book of Exodus begins by repeating this summation: "These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, ... The total number of persons that were of Jacob's issue came to seventy" (Ex. 1:1-5).

An answer to the question why Scripture should count the number of persons who came to Egypt can be found in Moses' oratory in Deuteronomy: "Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy persons in all; and now the Lord our G-d has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven" (Deut. 10:22). This is to teach us that the Lord's promise to Abraham, "I will make of you a great nation" (Gen. 12:2), was fulfilled, for from the seventy persons who went to Egypt the Israelites had grown into a nation of six hundred thousand.

The list of those who came to Egypt is arranged according to the mothers: the sons of Leah, the sons of Zilpah, "whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah," the sons of Rachel, and the sons of Bilhah, "whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel." After each mother, the sum total of children is given as follows (Gen. 46:8-27):

These are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his descendants, who came to Egypt. Jacob's first-born Reuben; Reuben's sons ... Simeon's sons ... Levi's sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Judah's sons: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah - but Er and Onan had died in the land of Canaan ... Issachar's sons ... Zebulun's sons ... Those were the sons whom Leah bore to Jacob in Paddan-aram, in addition to his daughter Dinah. Persons in all, male and female: thirty-three. Gad's sons ... Asher's sons ... These were the descendants of Zilpah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Leah ... sixteen persons. The sons of Jacob's wife Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin. To Joseph were born ... Benjamin's sons ... These were the descendants of Rachel who were born to Jacob - fourteen persons in all. Dan's son [Heb. "sons"]: Hushim. Naphtali's sons ... These were the descendants of Bilhah, whom Laban had given to his daughter Rachel. These she bore to Jacob - seven persons in all. All the persons belonging to Jacob who came to Egypt - his own issue, aside from the wives of Jacob's sons - all these persons numbered sixty-six. And Joseph's sons who were born to him in Egypt were two in number. Thus the total of Jacob's household who came to Egypt was seventy persons.

This list raises a most perplexing question: thirty-four names are listed as the sons of Leah. Deducting Er and Onan, who died in the land of Canaan, were are left with only thirty-two names. Why is the total of Leah's children in 46:15 given as thirty-three? Several of our exegetes who held by the plain sense of the text (the peshat) explained this by saying that the sum of thirty-three which is given above also includes Jacob himself.[1] As proof they cite the concluding verses of the list: "All the persons belonging to Jacob who came to Egypt - his own issue, aside from the wives of Jacob's sons - all these persons numbered sixty-six. And Joseph's sons who were born to him in Egypt were two in number. Thus the total of Jacob's household who came to Egypt was seventy persons."

According to these verses, "Jacob's issue" who came to Egypt totaled only sixty-six persons, to which were added Joseph and his two sons born in Egypt, and Jacob, bringing the total to seventy. Evidence in support of this interpretation goes back to the Book of Jubilees, 44:11-34. There, too, the overall figure is seventy, although there are differences between the subdivisions of the two lists. Of relevance to our discussion is the fact that in Jubilees, the total for the sons of Leah actually mentions Jacob explicitly as one of the persons counted:

These are the names of the sons of Jacob who came to Egypt with their father Jacob: Reuben, Israel's first-born; and these are the names of his sons ... Simeon and his sons ... Levi and his sons ... Judah and his sons ... Issachar and his sons ... Zebulun and his sons ... these are the sons of Jacob and their sons who came to Egypt with Jacob their father - twenty-nine, and Jacob their father along with them comes to thirty.

The same solution can be found in the writings of the Sages. In Genesis Rabbah (Albeck ed., ch. 94, p. 1181) it says: "Some say Jacob completed the count." The same source, however, suggests other ways of solving the problem ( pp. 1180-1182):[2]

"All the persons belonging to Jacob who came to Egypt... And Joseph's sons who were born to him" (26-27): R. Levi said in the name of Samuel bar Nahman: Did you ever see a person give his friend sixty-six cups, then give him another three, and count them as seventy? But it was Jochebed who completed the count of the Israelites in Egypt. R. Levi said in the name of R. Samuel bar Nahman: Jochebed was conceived in the land of Canaan and born in Egypt, as it is written, "The name of Amram's wife was Jochebed [daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt]" (Num. 26:59), since she was born in Egypt. R. Levi said in the name of R. Samuel bar Nahman: The Holy One, blessed be He, instructed us to count this tribe even while still in its mother's womb, as it is said: "Jeduthun - the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, Mattithiah - [six]" (I Chron. 25:3). Five are listed, yet there are six in all, for the Holy One, blessed be He, also counted Shimei while in his mother's womb... Some say the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself completed the count... and some say Dan's son Hushim completed the count ... and some say Serah daughter of Asher completed the count.

The last three solutions - that the Holy One, blessed be He, completed the count, that Dan's son Hushim completed the count, and that Serah daughter of Asher completed the count - are patently homiletic interpretations. The first is apparently related to the idea of G-d Himself being with us in time of need, a notion that developed out of the Lord's promise to Jacob on the eve of the latter's going to Egypt: "I Myself will go down with you to Egypt" (Gen. 46:4). Dan's son Hushim can complete the count only if Hushim is counted twice and thus considered as two sons, as Scripture hints by saying benei Dan, Dan's sons, in the plural [while Hushim is a single name that has a plural form].[3] Serah daughter of Asher is to be counted twice because of her unusually long life.[4]

The suggestion that Jochebed daughter of Levi completed the count is the best for resolving the quandary raised by the list given in the Torah. Jochebed daughter of Levi was a descendant of Leah, which would complete the count of Leah's children to thirty-three. All the other solutions bring the total count up to seventy, but do not solve the problem of totaling thirty-three for the sons of Leah. In Seder Olam (Milikowsky), ch. 9, s.v. "Serah bat Asher," it says: "Jochebed was among those who came to Egypt and who came to the Land of Israel and was the name of Amram's wife [who was born to Levi in Egypt]" (Num. 26:59).

The Scriptural verse cited as proof from Numbers 26:59 includes the incomplete sentence, "who was born to Levi in Egypt"[literally, "who bore her (Jochebed) to Levi in Egypt"], whose implied subject, the wife of Levi, is different from the subject of the preceding clause ("the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed daughter of Levi") and of that which follows ("she [Jochebed] bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam"). Thus this obscure bit of information about Jochebed being born in Egypt draws attention to itself both by its content and by the strange syntax. Its prominence can be easily explained if we fill in the details of the story and assume that Jochebed was conceived prior to the descent to Egypt.

Coupling the assumption that Jochebed daughter of Levi was born just as the children of Israel came to Egypt with the figure generally accepted in the Sages' commentaries[5] of two hundred and ten years of exile in Egypt, we conclude that Jochebed must have been one hundred and thirty years old when Moses was born. On this Ibn Ezra asks, "Why did Scripture not mention the miracle that happened to her?" Nahmanides provides an answer in the context of a general statement about the treatment of miracles in Scripture (Gen. 46:15):

Let me point out something that is obviously true in the Torah, namely that miracles wrought by a prophet who so prophesied beforehand, or by an angel that appears on the embassy of the Lord are mentioned in Scripture; and those that occur of themselves to aid the righteous or to fell the wicked are not mentioned in the Torah or in the Prophets... Here is reliable proof of what I have said. We know that from the time the Israelites came to the land until the birth of our ruler David was some three hundred and seventy years. This period divided into four generations - Salmon, Boaz, Obed, and Jesse, each living about ninety-three years, so that they were all close to the age of Abraham and each begot a son the year they died, contrary to the natural way of the world, for the life span in their day was not one hundred years.

Were it not for reverence of those who came before us, we would suggest that the point about Jochebed's conception serves to teach us something more. The birth of Jochebed daughter of Levi on the border of Egypt is an antidote to the hardship of exile, for Jochebed was graced with giving birth to Moses, who would lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In other words, as the Israelites went into exile the instrument of their deliverance from there was already being born.

The notion that at the most difficult hour of all, the way to deliverance from that hardship is created, occurs repeatedly in Scriptures. We shall make do with two examples: (1) In Parashat Vayyeshev, between the story of the sale of Joseph (Gen. 37) and the story of Joseph in Egypt (Ch. 39ff.) the Bible inserts the story of Judah and Tamar. Although this story can be tied to those of the sale of Joseph and to the stories that follow later, nevertheless it appears to be more of an interruption in the narrative than a continuation. This interruption was made in order to bring us tidings of better days that lie ahead for Israel; the story of Judah and Tamar announces the birth of Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, whose scion in the fullness of time would be King David (cf. Ruth 4:18-21). This is how the Midrash Genesis Rabbah (Albeck, ch. 85, p. 1030) puts it:

R. Samuel bar Nahman opened with the words, "For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you" (Jer. 29:11): As the tribes were busy selling Joseph, and Jacob was occupied with his mourning, and Judah was taking a wife, the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the radiance of the Messiah. [The story of Judah and Tamar begins] "About that time," etc., [but we read] "before she labored, she was delivered" (Is. 66:7), before the latter one to enslave [Israel] was born, the first one to deliver them was born, [as it says] "about that time..."

(2) A similar thing happens in the story of Absalom's rebellion. Absalom's entry into Jerusalem is mentioned twice by Scripture, once at the end of the scene in which Hushai the Archite was sent by David to foil Ahithophel's counsel: "And so Hushai, the friend of David, reached the city as Absalom was entering Jerusalem" (II Sam. 15:37); and a second time in the ugly scene where Absalom has intercourse with his father's concubines: "Meanwhile Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, arrived in Jerusalem, together with Ahitophel. When Hushai the Archite, David's friend, came before Absalom..." (16:15-16). Both passages mention Hushai the Archite in conjunction with Absalom arriving in Jerusalem. As we know, Hushai the Archite is a key figure in the story, for it was his intervention that foiled Ahitophel's second counsel, turning the battle in David's favor. Here, too, we see that Scripture provided the remedy before the ailment, for as Absalom was entering Jerusalem to celebrate his victory over David, Hushai the Archite had already been brought into the picture, and the course of events leading to Absalom's fall was under way.

From these and other instances we may infer similarly in our case that at the very same time that the children of Israel were on their way to Egypt, the ground was being laid for their exodus from there, by means of the birth of Jochebed, later to be mother of Moses. There is indeed good reason for selecting as the Haftarah of Parashat Vayyigash the passage from Ezekiel (37:15-28), with the words of encouragement: "and you shall declare unto them: Thus said the Lord G-d: I am going to take the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land" (v. 21).

[1] Ibn Ezra on Gen. 46:23; Rashbam, loc. sit., R. Joseph Bekhor Shor, loc. sit., and others. Ibn Ezra mentions another way of resolving the question, according to which seventy is a "sum total," i.e., a round number, but rejects this interpretation because the difficulty focuses first and foremost on the number thirty-three, and there one cannot argue that it is a round number. Rabbi Mordechai Breuer made an interesting attempt at resolving this quandary in another way that adheres to the plain sense of the text: the total of thirty-three for the sons of Leah was established back in the land of Canaan, and therefore includes Er and Onan but does not include Dinah. Be that as it may, when they came to Egypt the count of thirty-three was completed by Dinah and Jacob. Cf. M. Breuer, Pirkei Bereshit, Alon Shevut 1999, II, pp. 697-704.
[2] See also Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (Mandelbaum ed.), par. 11.13, pp. 188-189; Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 12a; Bava Batra 120a, 123b; Midrash Tanhuma (Buber ed.), Parshat be-Midbar, par. 19; Midrash Tanhuma (Warsaw ed.), Bemidbar, par. 16; Midrash Shmuel (Buber ed.), Ch. 32.5[3]; Aggadat Bereshit (Buber ed.), Ch. 22.5[1]; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer (Higger ed.), Horev, Ch. 38; Exodus Rabbah (Shinan ed.), Ch. 1(1,7).
[3] See the editor's note, Genesis Rabbah - Albeck, p. 1181, n. 7. It is interesting to note that the Book of Jubilees lists other sons of Dan in addition to Hushim. Cf. A. Kahana, Ha-Sefarim ha-Hitzoniyim, I, Jerusalem 1970, pp. 305.
[4] See the editor's note, Genesis Rabbah-Albeck, p. 1182, n. 4. Heinemann maintains that the phrase "completed the count" [Heb. hishlim imahem et ha-minyan] throughout this midrash came about in the context of a midrashic interpretation of the words, "I am one of those who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel" (II Sam. 20:19; Heb. Anokhi shlomei emunei Yisrael), as "I am he who completed (Heb. shalamti) the count of all Israel" (Yalkut Shimoni 2.152). But that text deals with completing the count of those who came to Egypt, not with completing the count of seventy persons. He claims that later the midrashists transposed this derash about "completing" to completing the count of seventy persons, and also used this turn of phrase for the other interpretations that they offered. Cf. Joseph Heinemann, Aggadot ve-Toldoteihen, Jerusalem 1974, pp. 57-59.
[5] Cf. Heinemann, Aggadot ve-Toldoteihen, pp. 65-73.










Prepared for Internet Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.