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Recently my torah-study group was discussing the events of Parshat Sh'mot, and someone claimed that people could only gather straw for bricks in the fall (I don't know if that's true) and the exodus was in the spring, so "obviously something was wrong in the timeline here". I countered that the text doesn't tell us how long it was from Moshe's initial "let my people go", through all the plagues, to the exodus, but we didn't find any commentary on this in the assortment of chumashim we had to hand. It came to light that some of us assumed this played out over a few weeks while others assumed it took months.

We know some small lower limits (like the plague of darkness lasted three days), but do we have sources that speak to this question? How long did the harsher service and the plague show-down last?

  • Plague of darkness was six days. three days of thick darkness and three day in which the Egyptians could not move. Rashi Bo 10:22 Thick darkness in which they did not see each other for those three days, and another three days of darkness twice as dark as this, so that no one rose from his place – sabbahillel Jan 31 '17 at 3:55
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Seder Olam Rabba (written by Rabbi Yose Ben Chalafta in the 2nd century) chapter 3 says that they took 12 months - based on the starting point of your discussion, namely the gathering of the straw, which he writes is normal to do in Iyar (not in the fall).

The Mishna in Eduyos 2:10 says the same:

משפט המצריים, שנים עשר חודש

The judgement of the Egyptians was 12 months

and the Ramban assumes like this (Shemos 10:4-5).

Rabbeinu Bachaye (ibid), based on a calculation of when Hashem spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, says the plagues began on Rosh Chodesh Av, making 7.5 months.

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