Likkutei Sichos-Shoftim-The prohibition against living in Egypt and places of impurity

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Parshas Shoftim

The prohibition against living in Egypt and places of impurity

[Based on Likkutei Sichos Parshas Shoftim Vol. 19 Sicha 2]

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Shoftim, the laws relating to a king are discussed. These laws include various regulations, such as the number of horses that he may have, the number of wives that he may marry, and the amount of wealth that he may amass. Now, the reason that the king may not have too many horses, Scripture states, is due to that he may then come to return the nation to Egypt with the horses. From here it is derived that there is a prohibition for the Jewish people to return to Egypt. This prohibition applies even in today’s times. In this talk, the Rebbe delves into the reason behind this prohibition. After all, the Egyptians of today are not the original Egyptians who lived in that land at the time of the Jewish slavery. Sancheirev had exiled all the nations from their lands, and in each country there now exists a multitude of immigrants from other nations, while the indigenous nation remains the minority. Furthermore, it is due to this reason that it is permitted for one to marry an Egyptian convert even prior to the passing three generations, as we follow the majority of people living in Egypt today who are not Egyptians. Accordingly, it is not understood why the restriction against living in Egypt applies even today. The lesson derived from this talk is one of much importance relating to the atmosphere of a location that one lives it which is not always depended only on the people living there and their activities, but also on the essence of the place itself. There are locations that influence people to be holy and have refined character traits, and there are areas which influence people to have lusts for sinful activity and corrupt character traits. It is important that one choose a location of living that will help influence him to fulfill the purpose of his life, which is to serve God and study his Torah.

Explorations of the Sicha:

1. Is there a prohibition against living in Egypt even in today’s times?

2. What is the reason behind the prohibition against living in Egypt, is it due to the people or due to the land itself?

3. Why is it permitted in today’s times to marry an Egyptian convert before the passing of three generations?

4. What lesson can be learned from the fact that we are still prohibited from living in Egypt despite the fact that the indigenous Egyptians are no longer in the majority?

1. The prohibition against living in Egypt:[1]

The verse states:[2] “Velo Yashiv Es Ha’am Mitzrayma, Lemaan Harbos Sus, VaHashem Amar Lachem Lo Sosifun Lashuv Baderech Hazeh Od/And you shall not return the nation to Egypt as a result of having a lot of horses. And God has said that you should not return to this path again” From this verse we learn the law that it is forbidden for a Jew to descend to and settle in Egypt.[3] The Sages state that this prohibition is recorded three times[4] in the Torah.[5] This prohibition is counted as one of the 365 negative commands.[6]

Does the prohibition apply even today?

There is a dispute amongst the Poskim as to whether the prohibition against living in Egypt applies even today. Some Poskim[7] rule that the prohibition against living in Egypt no longer applies today. However, other Poskim[8] rule that this prohibition is eternal and thus applies even today, and so is the implication of the ruling of the Rambam[9] who records this ruling without any revelation or clarification that it is no longer applicable today. Based on this, many Rishonim[10] and Mefarshim deal with the question of how it was permitted for the Rambam, as well as many other Jewish communities, to live in Egypt, in contradiction to his own ruling in Mishneh Torah.

2. The contradiction from the Rambam- the allowance to marry in Egyptian convert:

We find another ruling in the Rambam regarding regulations relating to Egyptians, in which a differentiation is made between today’s times versus previous times, and raises a question as to a seeming contradiction between it and the ruling brought above relating to living in Egypt.

The regulations involved in marrying an Egyptian convert:

The law is that a convert who converted from any of the nations, with exception to a few nations, may marry into the Jewish people right away. One of the exceptions to this rule is regarding the Egyptian nation. It is forbidden for a male Egyptian convert to marry a Jewess until three generations have passed.[11] Now, regarding this prohibition, the Rambam[12] writes that it is no longer applicable today. His reasoning is because when Sancheirev the king of Ashur conquered the world he exiled all of the nations, and all of the native inhabitants, from their respective country and moved them all to other countries. Thus, it ends up that all of the nations today are mixed up with each other, and the indigenous Egyptians of biblical times no longer live in Egypt, and the current inhabitants of Egypt are from other nations. Therefore, concludes the Rambam, today it is permitted for a Jewish woman to marry an Egyptian convert even right away prior to the passing of three generations, being that we follow the majority of Egyptians living in Egypt today who are not indigenous Egyptians. In Halacha, this concept is known as “Kol Deparish Meruba Parish,” that whoever separates, separates from the majority.

Based on the above ruling of the Rambam, it is not understood as to why he rules that even today it remains forbidden to live in Egypt, if the original biblical Egyptians no longer live there.

3. Possible answer 1-The prohibition is on the land itself:

Seemingly, one can possibly answer the above question by stating that which is argued by some Poskim[13], that the prohibition against living in Egypt is not due to the Egyptian people who lived there but rather due to the land itself. Meaning, that the Torah intrinsically prohibited living in the land of Egypt irrelevant of who lives there, and even if it is no longer occupied by Egyptians. A hint to this idea can be found in the rulings of the Rambam himself who rules[14] that if the land of Egypt is captured by a Jewish king based on a directive of the Beis Din, then the prohibition becomes revoked, and it then becomes permitted to settle the land of Egypt. The reason for this, explains the Rambam, is because “the prohibition only applies so long as the land is under Gentile jurisdiction, being that the actions of this land are more depraved than any other land” This seems to imply that the entire prohibition is due to the land itself and its bad influence on its people who live there, irrelevant of the Egyptian nation, and it only becomes uplifted when it falls under the legal reign of a Jewish king. The reason for its uplifting by a Jewish king is because when a Jewish king conquers it based on a directive of the Beis Din, the land becomes like Eretz Yisrael regarding all matters, and it is hence no longer considered the land of Egypt, but rather is part of the land of Israel.

A source for this concept that a geographical location can have an effect on its people and influence them in wrongdoing and moral depravity, can be found in the Midrash.[15] The Midrash states that there are wellsprings which grow people of high moral standards and wellsprings which grow people who are immersed in promiscuity.

There is, however, one issue with this answer, and that is that the implication from the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos[16] is that the prohibition against living in Egypt is not intrinsically due to the land itself but rather due to the people who were living there. The Rambam there states that the reason behind the prohibition is so we do not learn from the evil ways of the Egyptians who live there. Accordingly, the question returns as to why the Rambam holds that today this reason and its consequential prohibition still applies, if in truth they Egyptians have been exiled from the land of Egypt and it is therefore permitted to marry an Egyptian convert even right away. We must thus explore a different answer.

4. Possible answer 2-There still remain some original Egyptians in the land:

[To understand the above matter, we must first introduce the Halachic concept of Kavua. The concept of Kavua is a Halachic concept which means that whenever a prohibited item is set in its place of origin, we do not apply the rule of majority, even if there are more permitted items within the grouping than prohibited items. The classical example recorded in the Talmud and Poskim[17] regarding this matter is if there are nine kosher butcher shops in town and one nonkosher butcher shop, and one purchased meat from one of the butcher shops but does not remember which one. Although there are majority of kosher shops in town, since the nonkosher butcher shop is set in the area therefore we do not follow the majority, and the meat is assumed to be nonkosher. However, if one found a piece of meat in the street of the city, then since the meat separated from the stores, and was found only after the separation, therefore we follow the majority, and the meat biblically remains kosher. We will now explain a similar concept regarding marrying an Egyptian convert.]

The Levush[18] in his explanation of why in today’s times it is permitted for one to marry an Egyptian convert right away addresses the following question: Although Sancheirev had exiled the nations of the various countries and mixed them together, certainly, a minority of the indigenous people remain in their land. Thus, there are certainly some descendants of the original Egyptians from biblical times who currently live in Egypt. If so, the question is asked as to why we do not state that these indigenous Egyptians have the status of Kavua, and it hence remains prohibited to marry an Egyptian convert until the passing of three generations, even though the majority of the inhabitants of Egypt today are non-indigenous Egyptians. The Levush answers this question by stating that the Egyptian who has converted to Judaism is considered to have separated from the majority, and when one separates from the majority, we follow the majority even in a case of Kavua [similar to a piece of meat which became separated on its own and was found in the streets of the city in which case it is deemed Biblically Kosher, as explained above].

According to this explanation of the Levush, we can explain why today there still remains a prohibition against living in Egypt, as there are still indigenous Egyptians who remain there, and are not considered nullified to the majority due to their status of Kavua. As, so long as they have not converted, they are not considered to have separated from the majority and their status of Kavua remains. Thus, the worry that one will be influenced by the depraved ways of the Egyptian nation still remains even today due to the minority of indigenous Egyptians who remain living there.

5. May a woman marry an Egyptian convert right away if he remains in Egypt?

There is one problem with the above answer of the Levush, and that is as follows: According to his assertion that the remain a minority number of indigenous Egyptians who retain the status of Kavua within Egypt, it should be forbidden even today for a woman to marry an Egyptian convert within the land of Egypt until the passing of three generations. Why then is no such mention of this restriction made in any of the codifiers, including the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch, and rather they plainly rule that it is permitted to marry an Egyptian convert being that whoever separates, separates from the majority who are not indigenous Egyptians? According to the Levush, they should have differentiated between a case of Kavua, where one marries the Egyptian convert in his home in Egypt, versus when she marries him after he has separated from his home and from the land of Egypt.

The explanation to this matter is that the concept of “separation” from the majority in regard to a convert is not the literal and physical separation from Egypt to another land, but is more the virtual concept that he has left his nation and converted to another nation. In other words, the mere act of conversion from the state of being a Gentile to becoming a Jew is itself considered separation, and whoever separates from the majority follows the status of the majority, even if they physically remain in their home in Egypt. Accordingly, the Rambam and Poskim rule that any Egyptian who converts today may marry into the Jewish nation right away, and they do not differentiate between whether they left Egypt or remained in Egypt, as in truth it does not make any difference.

However, so long as there remain indigenous Egyptians in Egypt who have yet to convert, then due to the rule of Kavua they are not considered nullified to the majority, and the prohibition against living in Egypt remains.


Lessons of the Sicha:

· The physical location in which one lives creates a certain atmosphere based both on the location itself, and on the people who live there. A land of holiness in which holy people dwell affects all the inhabitants to lead a more spiritual life. On the other hand, an unholy land with inhabitants who are morally and spiritually corrupt likewise affect the people who live there in an unholy way. Accordingly, when choosing a location to live it is most important that one look at the environment and see the people who “grow” from that land.


[1] See Shut Yechaveh Daas 3:81 and Tzitz Eliezer 14:87 for a thorough discussion on this topic

[2] Shoftim 17:16

[3] See Sukkah 51b; Chinuch Mitzvah 500; Sefer Hamitzvos Rambam L.S. 46; Rambam Melachim 5:7; Beis Shmuel E.H. 4:10

[4] Shemos 14:13; Devarim 17:16; 28:68

[5] This prohibition is recorded three times in the Torah: Sukkah 51b regarding Bnei Alexadria; Yerushalmi Sukkah 5:1; Mechilta Reb Yishmael Beshalach; Mishneh Torah Melachim 5:7

[6] Rambam Sefer Hamitzvos Mitzvah 46; Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 500;

[7] Ritva Yuma 38a; Initial explanation in Smag 22; Rabbeinu Bechayeh Devarim 17:16 “It was a temporary prohibition”; Shut Deiy Hasheiv 15

[8] Yireim 309; Smag 227; Hagahos Maimanis Melachim 5:7; Ramban Shemos 1:13 “It is a negative command for all generations”; Kaftor Vaferach 5; Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 500; Beis Shmuel E.H. 4:10; It is clear from the Rambam ibid that he holds that the prohibition applies even today. [Aruch Hashulchan Hasid Melachim 74; Tzitz Eliezer ibid; Yabia Omer ibid]

[9] Rambam Hilchos Melachim 5:8

[10] See Yireim and Semag ibid

[11] Parshas Ki Seitzei 23:8-9

[12] Hilchos Issurei Biyah end of chapter 12

[13] Birkeiy Yosef E.H. 4; Chaim Sheol 1:91

[14] Rambam Hilchos Melachim 5:8

[15] Bamidbar Raba 20:22

[16] Mitzvas L.S. 46

[17] See Michaber Y.D. 110:3

[18] E.H. 4

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