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The Gemara in Nedarim 32a gives 3 reasons for why the Jews were put into slavery in Egypt because of Abraham (one is because he made his students fight in the war against the kings, the other is that he asked Gd how he will know that his children will inherit the land, and the third possibility is because he allowed the king of Sodom to keep the people he saved, thereby preventing them from being brought under the Shchinah).

The Ramban however, on the pasuk when Abraham goes down to Egypt, gives the fact that Abraham went down to Egypt on his own as the reason for the Jews’ slavery and even goes as far to call Abraham a sinner. How can Ramban give this new reason that’s not found in the gemara?

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    Rav Moshe Feinstein in Derash Moshe criticized this Ramban for your reason and said it must have been inserted by someone else. It is however brought in Rabbeinu Bechaye.
    – N.T.
    Oct 29, 2023 at 2:15
  • The second reason you have is pshat in Chumash the first reason about making a draft of talmidei chachamim to go to war is found in the gemera nedarim 32a
    – Dude
    Oct 29, 2023 at 2:19
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    "How can Ramban give this new reason that’s not found in the gemara?" There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of commentaries giving explanations of biblical passages not found in the Talmud.
    – Double AA
    Oct 29, 2023 at 14:09
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    @DoubleAA Here it is faulting Avraham, when there does not seem to be a prior basis in Chazal. It's not "illegal", but it does cause skepticism.
    – N.T.
    Oct 29, 2023 at 16:25
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    @JoelK Allegedly. But do we really think R Klein would have said such things about his respected rabbinical colleague's students?? :P
    – Double AA
    Oct 29, 2023 at 18:19

1 Answer 1

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The Ramban's viewpoint is supported by a passage from the Zohar, a significant work in Jewish mysticism. In this text, Rabbi Yehuda explains that because Abraham went to Egypt without a clear divine command, his descendants endured four hundred years of slavery. The key phrase is, "and Abram went down to Egypt." Notably, it doesn't say that God told him to 'Go down to Egypt.' This passage from the Zohar provides strong backing for Ramban's perspective, emphasizing that Abraham's independent journey to Egypt, without clear divine guidance, played a crucial role in the subsequent enslavement of the Jewish people. This affirms the validity and relevance of the Ramban's perspective.

However, Likkutei Sichos1 offers a more nuanced perspective, explaining that, even according to the Ramban, Abraham, one of our forefathers and a Tzadik (righteous person), couldn't have sinned conventionally due to his lack of a Yetzer Harah (evil inclination). Instead, his "sin" is better understood as a "חטא," derived from the term "חסרון," symbolizing a lack of holiness. This interpretation highlights Abraham's inherent holiness, a concept in harmony with references in both Shabbos 63a and Yerushalmi Brachos 9:5.

1 [Original. Hebrew Translation. Rabbi Jonathan Sack's English Adapdation]

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  • The idea that any tzaddik does not have a yetzer hara is absurd. That would mean they effectively had no choice. (Moshe Rabbeinu might be an exception after Matan Torah, see Meshech Chochmah).
    – N.T.
    Oct 29, 2023 at 16:24
  • From the viewpoint that Zohar predates Ramban and the related opinion that Ramban actually had the Zohar, it seems curious he wouldn't quote his source.
    – user6591
    Oct 29, 2023 at 19:06
  • @N.T see sefaria.org/Tanya,_Part_I;_Likkutei_Amarim_1.13
    – אילפא
    Dec 20, 2023 at 12:49
  • @N.T. And Avraham (עשה יצר הרע טוב, Yerushalmi Berachos 9:5 - cited in the answer - and Sotah 5:5). And David (הרגו בלבבו, ibid., based on Tehillim 109:22). And tzaddikim in general (צדיקים נוטל מהם יצר הרע ונותן להם יצר טוב, Avos d'Rabbi Nosson 32:3, based on the same posuk). Those tzaddikim's choice is not between good and evil, but between good and better.
    – Meir
    Dec 20, 2023 at 15:53
  • @Meir Look at the Binyan Yehoshua in the name of Rashi on the Avos D'rabbi Nassan you quoted. It's clear that it is an exaggeration, and it really means they could overpower their yetzer hara.
    – N.T.
    Dec 21, 2023 at 3:04

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