"Ki Ger Yihyeh Zar'acha." What is the significance of the word "Zar'acha" ("your offspring," as opposed to "you [yourself]")?
Rashi: The four hundred years of exile, which ended when Am Yisrael left Egypt, would begin with the birth of Yitzchak 1 (as follows - 60 years until the birth of Yaakov, who was 130 when he went down to Egypt, plus the 210 (the Gematriya of the word "Redu") years that Am Yisrael was in Egypt).
Why does the Torah write, "in a land that is not theirs," rather than just specifying "Egypt"?
Rashi: HaSh-m is informing Avraham of the combined periods of exile and slavery, which add up to four hundred years. 1 The former incorporate the 190 years that Yitzchak and Yaakov experienced exile in various locations, including Eretz Yisrael itself. 2
Ramban: The Pasuk is inverted; 400 years refers to "Ki Ger Yihyeh Zar'acha," not to the stage of slavery. Likewise, Moshav Zekenim points out that the Esnachta (the major pause in the verse) after the word "Osam," shows that the 400 years do not refer to the preceding phrase, "they will afflict them." Refer to 15:13:4.6.
"You shall surely know" (Yodo'a Teida). What exactly was it that Avraham needed to know?
Ramban #1: Avraham needed to know that, although HaSh-m had promised him and his offspring Eretz Yisrael, before this would happen, they would be strangers... for four hundred years.
Seforno: He needed to know that, although HaSh-m had promised him and his offspring Eretz Yisrael, this would not happen before the sin of the "Emori" was complete 1 and they deserved to be expelled from the land. He also informed him that the slavery and the subjugation would not go hand in hand, since the latter would not begin as long as his children were Tzadikim, only after they began to sin. 2
Ramban #2 (citing Ibn Ezra): He needed to know that his children would be strangers - incorporating slavery and subjugation, up to four hundred years, starting from now. 3
"You shall surely know (Yado'a Teida)." The Midrash comments, the doubled expression means, "Yado'a - that I shall scatter them (to exile); Teida - that I shall gather them in." But how is the Redemption alluded to in this verse?
Maharal (Netzach Yisrael Ch. 1, p. 10): For an entire nation to be scattered in exile is a deviation from the natural order, a temporary aberration due to sin. The exile itself teaches that there will also be a Redemption. 1
See ibid. for a definition of the terms used in the Midrash, "Kinus (gathering)," "Purkan (release)" and "Ge'ulah (redemption)."
This verse uses terms of "Geirus" (being a stranger), "Avdus" (slavery), and "Inuy" (suffering). What do these terms mean?
Maharal (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 60, p. 267): "Geirus" means to be subject to others in a foreign land. "Avdus" adds the element of forced servitude, as a slave to his master. "Inuy" teaches that they would enslave us to a degree greater than was necessary. 1
See also Gevuros Hashem Ch. 9, p. 59, as to why these three levels of punishment were decreed upon us.
What is the meaning of the two aspects, slavery and suffering, which were decreed upon us in this Pasuk?
Maharal (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 3, p. 27): Every nation possesses two aspects, their physical nationhood (Chomer) in which all nations are parallel, and the identity and mission particular to each individual nation (Tzurah). The Tzurah of Yisrael is that they are "the nation of the G-d of Avraham" (Tehilim 47:10). When we were in Egypt, in addition to being enslaved in the physical sense (Chomer), we were made to suffer. The Tzurah of Mitzrayim was diametrically opposed to that of Yisrael, due to our unique status as HaSh-m's nation, and the clash was evident. 1
What did Avraham do to deserve the punishment of Galus Mitzrayim, of which he was now being informed?
Ramban: This was a punishment; a) for leaving Eretz Kena'an after arriving there at the behest of HaSh-m, and b) for endangering Sarah by declaring that she was his sister. These two sins constituted a lack of faith; a) that HaSh-m would sustain him during the famine, and b) that He would save and protect him from those who would kill him for his wife. 1
Nedarim 32a (#1); Targum Yonasan: It was a punishment for querying HaSh-m concerning His promise to give him Eretz Yisrael. 2
Nedarim 32a (#2): It was for taking his students, Talmidei Chachamim, to fight in war.
Nedarim 32a (#3); Da'as Zekenim: He prevented people from coming under the wings of the Shechinah, through returning them to Melech Sedom. 3
Refer to 15:6:0.2:1. Da'as Zekenim - the punishment was 400 years, corresponding to four words "ba'Mah Eda Ki Irashenah." Mishnas R. Aharon (Vol. 1, p. 11) - there was a lack of Yedi'ah (knowledge) in Avraham, therefore his descendants needed a Yedi'ah that comes through servitude, affliction and longing for redemption. A small blemish in the Avos can cause a great ignorance in generations to come, therefore it needed to be fixed. There was great descent going to a place of Tum'ah (Mitzrayim), but the Yedi'ah that came from it outweighed it.
The Gemara (Nedarim 32a) presents three opinions as to why Avraham was punished with this decree: a) He used his students (who were Talmidei Chachamim) to fight [the war against the four kings]; b) He asked, "By what shall I know that I will inherit" the Land? (15:8); c) He prevented the captured populace of Sedom from entering under the Shechinah, by returning them to the hand of the king of Sedom. What is this disagreement based on, and why were these sins causes of the Egyptian exile?
Maharal #1 (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 9, p. 55): Perhaps all agree that we went down to Mitzrayim to learn Emunah in HaSh-m, by witnessing the great punishments that would befall the Egyptians and HaSh-m's great kindness to us. If so, there are three events which might display Avraham's shortcoming in Emunah (which needed to be rectified), as follows. a) In the war against the four kings, although one may not rely on miracles, one who truly believes in Hash-m is not afraid, and does not bring out Talmidei Chachamim from the Beis Midrash to where they ought not to be. b) Avraham asked for a sign that he would merit the tremendous gift of Eretz Yisrael [of which his descendants would need to remain worthy]; this nonetheless showed a slight lack of faith (refer to 15:6:0.2:1), therefore, they were exiled in order to attain complete Emunah. c) When Avraham refrained from accepting the people of Sedom, they were held back from acquiring Emunah in HaSh-m. We went down to Mitzrayim so that all the nations would hear of the great miracles of the Exodus, and [many would ] be inspired to convert. 1
Maharal #2 (ibid. p. 56): The opinions differ as to why Avraham's descendants were punished specifically with slavery. a) A person's physical dimension (Chomer) is made to be subjugated and ruled over, and Talmidei Chachamim (who rule over their physicality) are those who ought to be truly free (Avos 6:2). So too, the Jewish people should be free from any foreign subjugation (Eruvin 54a). Avraham used Talmidei Chachamim, so too were the Jewish people subjugated in Mitzrayim. b) A slave is dependent on others, whereas a Ma'amin shows that he can stand on his own without dependency. Avraham was the first of the Ma'aminim, yet he asked for a sign, therefore so too, his descendants would be subjugated in exile. c) When Yisrael lends support to the nations, they receive the ability to overpower us.
Maharal #3 (ibid. p. 57): Avraham was the root of Am Yisrael, and a slight deficiency in the root will become very evident in the branches. What was the deficiency that Avraham exhibited? a) Avraham was a "Rosh," the first of the Avos, but he misused this trait to "rule" over and use his students. Therefore, the same happened to his descendants. b) Avraham was missing Midas ha'Din, the trait of Yitzchak. 2 This led to his request for a sign, which brought Midas ha'Din upon his descendants. c) Avraham was missing Midas ha'Emes, the trait of Yaakov, who had no impropriety in his offspring. Avraham therefore declined to accept the people of Sedom as converts. So too, his sons would be enslaved, and [temporarily] given over from HaSh-m's possession to the Egyptians.
Maharal writes further, that each opinion diminishes the severity of Avraham's shortcoming. Earlier, Maharal discusses other possible reasons for our descent to Mitzrayim, and objections to them.
Midas ha'Chesed is represented by influence and spreading - the opposite of Midas ha'Din which connotes boundaries. A gift, which is Chesed, can be undone by sin, but a bequest by law and decree (Din, Gezeirah) cannot be retracted. From the perspective of Midas ha'Din, Avraham should not have asked for a sign. (EK)
Why was the entire Jewish people to be punished for the sin of Avraham?
Maharal (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 9, p. 57): Avraham was the root of Am Yisrael, and a slight deficiency in the root will become very evident in the branches.
Is it possible that for this slight sin, our entire nation would be exiled for 400 years?!
Maharal (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 9, p. 52): It was in any case fitting that we be enslaved, to publicize the Name of Hash-m in the world. However, this process would not be initiated if not for sin; therefore, even a slight sin was enough to set the plan in motion.
If the exile of the entire Jewish People was due to Avraham's sin, how is it possible that Avraham himself was not punished?
Maharal #1 (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 9, p. 53): Avraham himself was not exiled, so that Yishmael and Esav would not be included in the subsequent blessing of, "and afterwards they shall emerge with great wealth" (15:14).
Maharal #2 (ibid. p. 54): The entire world was created for Avraham's sake; it is impossible that he would become a stranger under others' control.
Maharal #3 (ibid.): Sometimes a father's personal merits protect himself from punishment, but are insufficient to protect his offspring.
Why was the decree of exile made known to Avraham specifically?
Maharal (Derech Chayim 5:4, p. 225): Avraham, as the first of the Avos, was the indicator for the history of his descendants. Avraham was thrown into the fiery furnace, and HaSh-m brought him out, so too they would go down to Egypt and then be redeemed. Therefore, HaSh-m informed Avraham of this.
In reality, it was only the decree of Geirus (being strangers) that lasted for 400 years, whereas the servitude and suffering lasted for a far shorter time. Why does the Pasuk specify only the length of the Geirus?
Maharal (Gevuros Hashem Ch. 10, p. 60): The opposition to Avraham always comes in the form of the number four. Four kings fought against him, and likewise the exile of his children lasted 400 years and spanned four generations. Four represents the Kochos ha'Chitzonim, represented by the four directions, and Avraham represents the center of the world, around whom the world's existence revolves. 1