Hashem’s kindness is limitless, and even when He administers judgment, it is tempered with kindness. The reasons Jacob and his family were to descend to Egypt were many, as Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains. And in all, we are able to discern Hashem’s love and kindness to the nation of Israel, despite its suffering at the hands of the Egyptians.
“I shall go down with you to Egypt” (46:4). The center of the universe is wherever Israel is found. Even when the family of Jacob forsakes the chosen land and is exiled to Egypt, Hashem, Who is the cause of the universe, states not merely that He will protect them but also that He shall go down with them to Egypt. Thus the history of Israel is the true history of the world; all else is background and scenery.
However, despite this promise of “I shall go down with you,” Israel must fear to go anywhere unless full circumspection is employed. Jacob did not go until Hashem commanded him not to fear; and Hashem did not command him until Joseph had become the ruler of Egypt.
Why did Hashem choose Egypt instead of Canaan as the birthplace of the nation of Israel? Among the reasons we discern the following:
1) Israel needed the bondage of Egypt to provide the benefits that resulted from that experience. Canaan was not able to enslave Israel because it was a land of small city-kingdoms and did not possess the power of a mighty nation ruled by one king. Among the benefits of bondage were: the great lessons of the Ten Plagues which were visited on the oppressors, the sympathy for the slave (Devarim 5:15) and for the ger (ibid. 10:19), and the great gratitude for the deliverance from Egypt which was the preface for the acceptance of the Torah.
2) Israel needed the protection of Egypt while the family of Jacob increased so rapidly. Had they been in Canaan, Eisav’s seed would not have looked on complacently as Jacob’s offspring multiplied and filled the land. Other predator-nations, and even the Canaani, would have taken action.
3) The gratitude for the gift of the land of milk and honey would have been lacking had the nation come into being in that land. The great happiness of the blessed land, coming after the exile in Egypt and the 40 years in the wilderness, created a gratitude to Hashem, which was difficult to forget.
4) Because Egypt was a united nation under one king, Joseph’s power enabled him to maintain his influence over his family for 71 years. This extremely important factor, which helped shape the character of the nation, would have entirely been absent had they grown into a nation in the land of Canaan.
5) Egypt abominated sheepherders (43:32, 46:34). Therefore they were less likely to mingle with the sons of Israel. Even when Egypt enslaved the Israelites, we find no mention of Israelite women violated by Egyptians; for the national abhorrence of sheepherders was a wall between the two nations.
6) Because the family of Jacob settled in the very fertile province of Goshen, they were there able to be fruitful and to multiply much more than would have been the case in Canaan. They remained in Goshen for the entire 210 years. Although Eisav was reconciled with Jacob, his family was hostile to the house of Israel and they bore a bitter grudge that might have erupted explosively if not for the fact that Israel was secure in Egypt.
Even after 210 years, when Israel came forth from Egypt amid G-d’s open miracles, “Amalek [the people of Amalek, Eisav’s grandson] came and fought with Israel at Refidim” (Shemos 17:8). The hatred of Eisav’s seed against Jacob was so intense that it continued to burn violently long afterward, even in the days of Mordechai and Esther, when Haman ben Hamdatha the Agagi (descended from Agag the king of the Amaleki – I Samuel 15:8) attempted to destroy all the Jews. All of Eisav’s seed were bitter enemies, and therefore the security of Egypt was a gift from G-d to allow the house of Israel to increase and become a great nation.
Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com. For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.