The brothers and Yaakov moved to Egypt after Yosef revealed himself. Yosef asked them to move to Goshen because "there still remains 5 years of famine, and [if you were to stay in the land" you may become destitute, you and your household, and all that is yours" (45:11)

However the Rambam rules (Melachim 5:9): “It is always prohibited to go from the land of Israel to outside of the land, except to study Torah or to marry a woman or to save (possessions) from non-Jews, and [then] to return to the land. And so [too] may he go out for business. But to dwell outside the Land is prohibited unless there is intense famine…”

The Rambam explains the difference between a famine and leaving Eretz Yisrael for other reasons e.g Torah study is only temporary. As opposed to leaving because of a famine, it is permitted to actually live and settle in Chutz La'aretz.

If so, once the famine was finished, why didn't the family, and Yaakov included not return back to Israel once the famine was over? As we know in Parshas Vayechi it says that Yaakov lived in the land for a total of 17 years, meaning he stayed post-famine another 12 years.

Why was Yaakov and the family permitted to stay?

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    This question seems to assume that Ya'akov Aviunu and family were bound by the Mitzvot as we understand them now.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 5, 2017 at 14:32
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    @IsaacMoses yes that is the underlying assumption of the question, though I did not want to state that as I would be ok with an acceptable answer that took that route. As long as it quoted sources and was built on sound logic. Not just "they didn't keep mitzvos" Jan 5, 2017 at 14:33
  • I'd been thinking of asking a similar question, not based on the mitzvah to not leave Israel (which might not have been binding on them) but based on the fact that they were there for the famine. Did they become the houseguests who never leave, or did Paro want them to stay, or what? Jan 5, 2017 at 16:17
  • It is always prohibited to go from the land of Israel to outside of the land I suspect that the correct translation is: it is prohibited to permanently leave the land of Israel.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 5, 2017 at 16:35
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    @NoachMiFrankfurt IMHO that is not a valid excuse. Halacha and plain practicality sometimes clash. Jan 5, 2017 at 18:35

4 Answers 4


One reason given is that Par'o did not allow them to leave. Note that when they wanted to bury Ya'akov in Mearas Hamachpelah, Yosef had to request permission to do so and push hard. As Rashi says in Vay'chi 50:5

as he adjured you: But were it not for the oath, I would not permit you [to go]. He (Pharaoh) was afraid to tell him (Joseph) to transgress the oath, however, lest he say, “If so, I will transgress the oath that I swore to you that I would not reveal that I understand the holy tongue (Hebrew) in addition to seventy languages of the nations of the world, but you do not understand it (Hebrew),” as is found in Tractate Sotah (36b).

Also, they had to leave their families behind in Egypt in order to ensure that they would return.

This implies that if he was reluctant to let them leave after Yaakov died, he would have been even more reluctant to let them leave (and give up his hold on Yosef) while Yaakov was alive (and possibly holding off the return of the remaining five years of the famine).

Also see below where I point out that Hashem had said that Yaakov would die in Mitzraim with Yosef to tend him and would be brought back to Canaan.

Similarly, they did not dare try to take Yosef out even to be buried.

Vay'chi 50:26

And Joseph died at the age of one hundred ten years, and they embalmed him and he was placed into the coffin in Egypt.

Also Hashem had told Yaakov that he would die in Mitzrayim, so they could not go back earlier.

Vayigash 46:

I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up, and Joseph will place his hand on your eyes.


and I will also bring you up: He promised him (Jacob) that he would be interred in the [Holy] Land. — [from Yerushalmi Sotah 1:10]

Once conditions started turning bad, there are several reasons given for not leaving.

During the days of the Soviet Union, Jews were persecuted but were treated as traitors if they tried to leave. People writing about the parshah would use this as an analogy to the condition of the Jews especially within the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewy (SSSJ). Par'o did not want the Jews but he also did not want to expel them. That is why he enslaved them, and slaves were forbidden to run away from their master. Par'o owned the Jewish slaves. They were not owned by individual masters as Yosef had been owned by Potifar.

Another reason is that by the time the Jews could have left, they had increased so greatly that they could no longer travel as a family (by natural means) and make the trek. It was difficult for the family of 70 to actually get to Egypt and they would not have made it had Yosef not sent wagons and supplies for the trip Vayigash 45:19 and guaranteed support once they had arrived in Egypt. See Vayigash 47

As we see in the discussions about the Valley of the Bones Yechezkel 37:1

and that was full of bones: Our Rabbis said (Sanh. 92b) that they were of the tribe of Ephraim, who left Egypt before the end [of the exile], and the people of Gath who were born in the land slew them, as is stated in (I) Chronicles (7:20ff.)

When a band of Ephraim fought their way out, they all died.

@DanF brought up the bris bain habesorim which decreed 400 years of oppression.

And He said to Abram, "You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years.

According to those who say that this is counted from the birth of Yitzchak, we see that the troubles in Canaan (such as with Avimelech and the Pelishtim) were counted in this way. Thus, it would not necessarily be a reason for the Bnai Yisrael to decide to stay in Egypt. Additionally, it would not be up to them to decide matters on the basis of this prophecy. Note that Yaakov did not go to Egypt in the first place without having gotten permission from Hashem that this was the right step. As a result, I am not including it in the explanation as to why they did not leave Egypt.

While this may have been part of the underlying reason why Hashem set up matters in this way, it was not the reason that the Bnai Yisrael reacted to events they were living through. The reasons that I gave were the outside and visible events that kept them in Egypt.

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    The earliest of these incidents is 12 years after the end of the famine, by which time Paro was maintaining a hold on them. Do you know of anything that explains why they didn't leave sooner, once the famine ended? Jan 5, 2017 at 16:19
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    @MonicaCellio Part of what I point out is that if Par'o did not let them leave at the death of Yaakov, when Yosef could have retired, he would not let them leave earlier when Yosef was even more involved. Also, If he was reluctant to let Yaakov leave after he was dead, he would be even more reluctant to let the Tzadik who was keeping the famine from coming back leave. Those who say that the famine finished (the remaining five years) after Yaakov died would also follow this reasoning. Jan 5, 2017 at 16:26

I would like to suggest a different answer.

-- It would seem clear to me that Yaakov knew through prophecy not to go back to Eretz Yisrael as it is stated explicitly in 46:3-4 "And He [Hashem] said 'I am the G-d - G-d of your father. Have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up; and Yosef shall place his hand on your eyes."

Hashem is telling Yaakov clearly that His plan is for the family to move down to Egypt and to dwell there, and they will stay long enough that they will be a "great nation". Seemingly the original 70 that went down to Goshen would not classify as a "great nation", so it must be that they stay long enough in Egypt to become a great nation.

Furthermore it is clear that were Yaakov to leave Egypt directly after the 5 years of famine, it would (seemingly) not allow for the possibility for Yosef to be the one who "place his hand on your eyes" (I am willing to concede that Yosef could travel to Yaakov death bed in E'Y to be present to do that, but the implication of the verses there is that this would take place in Egypt.)

Also it seems clear from the commentators on this verse (Ibn Ezra, Or Hachaim) explain that Hashem came to assuage Yaakov's concern that he would be buried in Egypt, and not in E'Y. Hashem assures Yaakov that both Yosef would outlive him (i.e. because he is present at Yaakov's death) but that he would be buried in E'Y. This implies that he knew he would be in Egypt longer than the years of the famine.

-- Along the same lines (as previously mentioned by others in comments) Yaakov knew of the Bris Bein Habesarim which decreed living in Egypt for longer than the famine. (Although according this understanding why does Yosef argue that they should move because of the famine? Shouldn't they move because it had been decreed that they have to be there?)


There are several possibilities.

  1. R. Saadya Gaon doesn’t list the prohibition for an individual to dwell in Egypt in his listing of the 613 precepts, but only a proscription of a monarch to send people there as implied by the verse “He shall not return the nation to Egypt” (Deuteronomy 17: 16) (negative commandment: 235). This might have suggested that he held that there was no prohibition on the individual.

המלך אל ישיב עם. ואל ירבה סוסים. ונשים. וממונים

Accordingly, assuming that neither Ya'akov nor his children were considered kings, there prohibition wouldn't apply to them. (Whether Yosef would have violated the prohibition in bringing them, is a separate question.

Cf. R. Yeroham Fischel Perlow, however, who gives a variant explanation of Rassag in his commentary there.

  1. Ritva (Yoma 38b) suggests that the prohibition does not apply during the exile. It could be argued that when B'nei Yisrael, Ya'akov and his sons, were in Egypt, it was by definition a period of exile, and hence, there was no prohibition.

  2. Many Rishonim, such as R. Mordekhai b. Hillel (Commentary to the end of 8th chapter of Yevamot) rule that the prohibition only applies during the time that the Egyptians behaved particularly inappropriately. Accordingly, we could suggest the when they first came to Egypt, the locals hadn't reached this level of behaviour. A variation on this would suggest that since the prohibition was only meant to distance themselves from Egyptian behaviour, they were fine while living in their isolated enclave of Goshen.

  3. The Talmud (Berakhot 8a) asks how people live long lives in Babylonia. After all, the verse (Deut. 11:21) speaks of lengthening one's days specifically in the land of Israel. It answers, that they stay long in the Synagogue. Evidently, a synagogue is considered the land of Israel. Since the Midrash (cited by Rashi to Genesis 46:28) claims that Yehuda founded a Yeshiva, for them, perhaps they founded a synagogue as well, and were therefore considered to be in Israel.

  4. Perhaps, they held like Rambam, Rabbenu Avraham b. HaRambam, Meiri, et al. that the forefathers did not observe the mitsvot.

  • +1. But "Evidently, a synagogue is considered the land of Israel"? That's far from evident to me. More likely the synagogue merely lengthens life like Israel without being considered Israel itself.
    – msh210
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:49
  • @msh210 Obviously. That comment was meant to be consistent with the tone of the rest of the answer.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 5, 2017 at 20:51

I've considered this question over and over during the years of my studies. It finally came to me on a recent review of the story of Yosef that the brothers had actually become slaves or indentured servants during the course of the five years as they became more and more indebted to Paro resulting in finally selling over themselves for food as did the majority of those in the land at the time. Hence they simply could not leave or be in jeopardy of negating the accord they had made to survive the great famine.

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    Aside from your own deduction. Can you provide any proof to this theory? Thank you Oct 15, 2017 at 12:36
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    Actually, it says that Yosef supported them from his own resources. Thus, (like the Egyptian priests) they did not need to sell themselves. Also, had they sold themselves, Pharaoh would not have needed to come up with a scheme to make them slavesafter Yosef died. Oct 15, 2017 at 12:44

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