Project Genesis

Why Enslave Abraham’s Children?

Question: I’m struck by the quote,”Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and that they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13) especially after all the “amazing” promises G-d has made to Abram before that. Why would G-d do that to Abram and the Jewish people?

Answer: It’s a good question. The short answer is that this statement was made in response to Abraham’s question, “How do I know they will inherit it [The Land of Israel].” If you think about it, that’s a crazy question. What does Abraham mean by this? Didn’t God just finish telling him that they would inherit it? How do you know? Because God just told you!

So our sages understand that Abraham is asking a more subtle question. What he means is, “How do I know they will deserve it?” Surely you won’t give them the Land if they don’t deserve it! That would be like promising a child dessert, regardless of whether or not he eats his dinner!?

To this God answers, “Don’t worry. If they don’t earn it through merit, they will earn it through suffering.”

Also note that the Sages add that the experience in Egypt had a fundamental role in preparing us for the Land.

Other questions to explore are:

1. What’s the purpose of the Land? Why did God promise this to Abraham in the first place?
2. What kind of people would we need to be as a nation in order to achieve this purpose?
3. How could the experience of Egypt and the Exodus help us become that kind of people?

Hope this is a helpful start!

Feel free to be back in touch.

Rabbi Seinfeld

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