Accepting Exile

Rabbi Isaac Abarbanel, Spanish Biblical commentator (1437-1508)
Abraham foresaw the length of this exile and the great misfortunes it brought, and he feared that his descendants would rise up to leave the exile before the time set by G-d, just as the children of Ephraim left the Egyptian exile before the time, whereupon G-d became angry at them and killed thousands of their best. So Abraham, knowing the time of the End, chased away the birds (Genesis 15:11) – the son of David (i.e. the messiah) – preventing them from coming down… until evening, i.e. the time of redemption and the end of exile, as it says, “And at the time of evening there will be light.”

And there is no doubt that it was in reference to this that Solomon said (Song of Songs 2:7), “I have adjured you, daughters of Jerusalem, with the deer and the hinds of the field, that you not awaken nor arouse the love before it desires.” And in Talmud Kesubos 111a, “Rabbi Yossi bar Chanina said: To what do these three oaths refer? One, that Israel should not go up as a wall. One, that the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world. One, that the Holy One, blessed is He, adjured the nations not to subjugate Israel too much.” The prohibition on “rebelling against the nations” means that we must bear the yoke of the exile and live under them until the time of the End when they will lose power. And this is what the prophet Tzefaniah meant when he said (3:8), “Therefore wait for Me, said G-d, for the day when I arise,” i.e. He commands them to wait until the time of the End, and not rebel and leave the exile before the time set by Him.
(Yeshuos Meshicho v. 1, p. 11b)

Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, Leader of Sephardic Jewry and major Biblical commentator (auther of Ohr Hachaim) (1696-1743)
The book of Exodus, which describes the exile, begins with the word “and” alluding to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were the first to live during exile. (The promised 400 years of exile began with the birth of Isaac.) Just as the Avos accepted the exile, these twelve sons accepted it as the decree of the King, unlike Esau, who moved to the land of Seir in order to avoid the decree
(Genesis 36:4 with Midrash Rabbah 84:2).

This also provides an answer to Rashi’s question: Why does the Torah repeat the names of the twelve sons of Jacob who came down to Egypt? It already listed them in Genesis 46. According to the Ohr Hachaim, the answer is that the Torah is making a point of listing those who willingly accepted the exile.

The rest of the words of the verse fit in with this theme: “Who were coming” is in the present tense to indicate that even if they had not been forced to come, they would have come willingly. “With Jacob” indicates that they were similar to Jacob in their willingness to accept the exile. “Each man with his household they came” is the proof that they were accepting exile, for if they had come to Egypt for some temporary personal reason, they would not have uprooted their entire households from Canaan.

Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, Spanish Biblical commentator (1255-1340)
Esau proposed to Jacob, “Let us travel and go, and I will go by your side”(Genesis 33:12), and Jacob declined. Esau wanted to split this world with Jacob. Jacob, however, said, “My master knows that the children are weak” – the Jewish people will be weak in observance of the commandments – “and if they pressure them in one day all the sheep will die” – without the atonement of exile they will be sent to Gehinom on the day of judgment and they will not be able to bear the suffering. Therefore, said Jacob, “Let my master pass before his servant” – you take this world first – “and I will travel in my lowliness” – I will stay in my exile and lowliness. I will not wage any war and I will not rise up in exile at all, but rather “according to the work that is before me” – I will bear the yoke of subjugation. And until when will the subjugation last? “Until I come to master, to Seir. .

Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, Rabbi of Apta, known as the Ohev Yisroel (1748-1825)
“And G-d said to Israel in visions of the night, and He said, Jacob, Jacob, and he said, here I am” (Genesis 46:2). “Night” is a metaphor for exile; thus “visions of the night” means that this prophecy was the vision of exile. G-d called him “Jacob” to teach him that in exile he must hold himself low, like the heel (“eikev”, heel, is included in the name “Yaakov”). Jacob was commanded to accept upon himself the exile and to make a declaration similar to the declaration traditionally made before fulfilling a mitzvah: “Behold, I am prepared and ready to accept upon myself the yoke of exile and the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.”

The people of G-d, G-d’s children, accept the yoke of exile with love and joy, since it is the decree of the King of the Universe.
(Ohev Yisroel, Exodus)

Rabbi Moshe Sofer, Rabbi of Bratislava, known as Chasam Sofer (1762-1839)
“I keep the word of the king, and the matter of the oath of G-d” (Ecclesiastes 8:2). King Solomon mentions G-d and the king in the same verse. This is because our fear of the king is not merely due to his power to punish, but also because we believe in G-d and we know that He has appointed the king as His representative on earth to preserve law and order. We believe that G-d has forsworn us to fear the king.

A king is G-d’s representative on earth. Scripture states, “And Solomon sat on the throne of G-d” (I Chronicles 29:23). And when we see a king, even a gentile, we bless G-d “for giving of His honor to flesh and blood” (Berachos 58a). We do not merely say that G-d gave honor to the king; He gives of His own honor to the king.

The difference between a non-religious person who fears the king only for practical reasons and a believer in G-d who fears the king as G-d’s representative is that the non-religious person’s fear is only for show; in private he mocks the king and thinks he is smarter. He is a “changer” – he changes his conduct toward the king when in private. Solomon therefore says, “Fear G-d, my son, and fear the king, even in private, because of your fear of G-d. Do not be like those changers who take a different attitude to the king in public and private.”
(Likutei Shailos Utshuvos 86)

Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneersohn, Lubavitcher Rebbe, Russia (1866-1920)
Until it is G-d’s will to redeem us, we must accept the yoke of exile to atone for our sins.
(Ohr Layesharim, p. 54)