One of the matters from our parasha that drew much attention by our great commentators over history is the statement that Bnei Yisrael were in Egypt for 430 years (Shemot 12:40). This is in apparent contradiction to the 400 years promised in Brit Bein Habetarim (Bereishit 15:13). Less famously, Bereishit 15:16 states that Bnei Yisrael would return after the sin of the Emorites is complete, after four generations. We will focus now on the interplay between the dating of 400 years in comparison with or as opposed to four generations.
The Ramban explains that the timing of four generations does not relate to Bnei Yisrael’s exile but to the sin of Emorites. The midrash (Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael, Bo 14) says that the two possibilities are … two possibilities. If Bnei Yisrael would repent, they would return after four generations. If not, they would be redeemed after the appropriate number of years.
When was the end of four generations? One midrash (Lekach Tov, Lech Lecha 15) says that the four generations are Kehat, Amram, Moshe, and Moshe’s sons, who were the ones who entered the Land. Rashi takes a similar approach, although using a different family to illustrate: Yehuda, Peretz, Chetzron, and Chetzron’s son Kalev, who entered the Land. After begging forgiveness, we want to suggest another explanation.
The exile to Egypt was a direct result of the selling of Yosef, which stemmed from the deep dispute between the brothers, a story that we followed from Parashat Vayeishev through Parashat Vayechi. We would think that the brother’s earned their atonement in Parashat Vayigash, when Yehuda offered to become a slave in place of Binyamin and Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers. They all kissed each other and spoke (Bereishit 45:15), which is a correction of "they were unable to speak with him in peace" (ibid. 37:4).
However, looking at Parashat Vayechi, we see that the tension continued. After Yaakov’s burial, the brothers came begging to Yosef, with a contrived story of Yaakov’s unwritten request for Yosef to spare his brothers and their willingness to be his slaves (ibid. 50:18). This tension could have actually been the cause of the redemption not coming earlier. While Yosef did not take revenge against Yehdua, he also did not offer him partnership in the leadership of the nation-in-making. Without partnership between the sons of Leah and of Rachel, there cannot be full redemption. Not only did Yosef not include Yehuda, but the descendants of his son Ephrayim tried to leave Egypt on their own accord. Yehoshua ruled without including Yehuda in a prominent manner. Shaul did not welcome David’s emergence, and David failed to elevate the status of Yonatan’s sons. Yeravam did not agree to serve as an assistant to King Rechavam. (To learn more about the generation of Yeravam and Uziya, see Tzofnat Eliyah). When there is a lack of unity, there is not redemption.
According to our thesis, the fourth generation could have been counted from Avraham and could have ended with Yehuda and Yosef. More unity was needed and was missing. Let us pray that we will merit unity and repentance in the very near future.