Shabbat Parashat Vayeira | 5763
A Slow but Sure CycleHarav Yosef Carmel
The last parshiyot have dealt with the life of Avraham Avinu, father of our nation. The story of his life capsulizes, to a great extent, the story of the nation as a whole. When Avraham was 70 years old, Hashem promised him that his offspring would be liberated from slavery and exile after 400 years, and would leave with great riches (Bereishit 15:13-14). (The count of 400 began with the birth of Yitzchak and lasted until the liberation from Egypt- Rashi, see also Ramban and rishonim on Shemot 12:40).
That seems like a very long period of time. However, if we check further in the development of the nation, we will find even longer periods. From the Exodus until the building of the Beit Hamikdash was 480 years (Melachim I 6:1). This number has a special significance. We find that 40 years was the length of time which Tanach refers to as the length of a generation. The pasuk in Tehillim says, “For 40 years I was angry with a generation [which sinned in the desert]” (95:10- see also Bamidbar 32:13). In other places, it was the length of a significant block of time, as in, “And the land was quiet for 40 years” (Shoftim 3:1; see also ibid. 5:31; Shmuel I, 4:18; compare Bereishit 25:20 and 26:34). 480 is 12 x 40. There is no need to prove the spiritual significance of the number twelve in Judaism. Thus, the number 480 seems to be fitting for a long historical period for Am Yisrael.
Indeed, if we continue tracing Jewish history, we encounter the recurrence of this time period. 480 years after the construction of the first Beit Hamikdash, the second Beit Hamikdash was erected. (The first stood for 410 years (Erchin 12b) and there were seventy years in between the two (Yermiya 29:10)). 480 years after the construction of the second Beit Hamikdash, Bar Kochba’s rebellion began, which ultimately hastened the destruction of the remaining Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael. After another 480 years, the period of the amoraim and savoraim ended, giving way to the Geonic Period (beginning with Rav Yitzchak Gaon (4360)- Seder Hadorot). Approximately 480 years later, the Rif and Rabbeinu Meir Maor Hagolah ushered in the period of the rishonim, followed after a similar period of time by Rav Yosef Karo and Rav Moshe Isserles, the beginning of the period of the acharonim.
By this count, the new period starts in our generation. Let us hope that it will prove to progress from atchalta d’geula (the beginnings of salvation) to the geula shleima.
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