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After Avraham's mistake of asking "How will I know?" (Nedarim 32a - ושמואל אמר מפני שהפריז על מדותיו של הקב"ה שנאמר במה אדע כי אירשנה), his great grandchildren needed 400 years of slavery.

וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי־גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה׃ (Bereishis 15:13) And He said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years;

Although some suggest gematria explanations (see Daas Z'kenim: ד"א במ"ה עולה ארבע מאות בא"ת ב"ש), why was 400 years specifically helpful for remedying Avraham's error?

  • The pshat of the next few verses seem to indicate that G-d forbears the sin of the Emori for that long. Perhaps, a more basic question is why his offspring needed to be enslaved for any amount of time? – DanF Mar 29 '18 at 19:34
  • According to what I remember hearing the 400 years has to do with the story of the 4 kings. I do not have time to find more info on this right now. Perhaps someone else can. – Gershon Gold Mar 29 '18 at 19:38
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    very strongly related: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/89607/16354 – רבות מחשבות Mar 30 '18 at 3:21
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Oz Vehadar’s Mesivta Haggadah (extended edition, page 520) brings down several explanations as to why it was for specifically 400 years. Most of them are Remez, which you seem to not want, so here are the remaining explanations (which, admittedly, aren’t in the simple understanding, either).

  1. Rokeach: The 400 years corresponds to the Land which they would then inherit, which Avraham questioned by what merit they would inherit, which measured 400x400 parsa.
  2. Rabbeinu Bachye: The number 400 is associated with Ayin Hara, as the Gematria of עין רע is 400, and Ayin Hara destroys things, just as the letter ת, whose value is 400, ends the alphabet. The letter ה is associated with מדת הדין. Once Avraham had the ה added to his name, the Ayin Hara, which comes from the power of מדת הדין, was able to take hold on him, enslaving his children for 400 years. (While the Haggadah doesn’t mention this, it should be noted that Yosef was given a Bracha which protects him and his children from the Ayin Hara; it could be that this is why Ephraim was exempt from servitude and able to just walk out.)
  • Of course, the Gematria is actually 405, so I guess you need to get rid of the letter ה? – Nic 12 hours ago
  • @Nic Good catch! You're right, he does just say עין רע. – DonielF 12 hours ago

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