As I sat down to write about my characters’ time in Elim, I realized I needed to decide how long they were staying. Torah doesn’t say. We know they probably stayed at least a couple of days, but it could be a couple of weeks. To figure out the range, I needed to look at my sources and map out where they need to be when.
I’ve done this one stop at a time since they left their village in Egypt. But the timeline is more muddled now and I need to sort it all out. So let’s start from the beginning and go through to the end.
The Exodus story appears, unsurprisingly, in the Book of Exodus. Forty chapters.
The Book of Exodus
- Chapters 1-6 — The Hebrews in Egypt.
- Chapters 7-12 — The Ten Plagues.
- Chapters 13-14 — Leaving Egypt to crossing the Red Sea.
- Chapters 15-18 — From the Red Sea to Mount Sinai.
- Chapters 19-20 — At Mount Sinai, people experience God by the mountain.
- Chapters 21-23 — At Mount Sinai, giving of ordinances.
- Chapter 24 — At Mount Sinai, Moses ascends mountain.
- Chapters 25-31 — At Mount Sinai, instructions for Mishkan (ending with giving of first set of tablets).
- Chapter 32 — At Mount Sinai, the Golden Calf.
- Chapter 33 — At Mount Sinai, Moses communes with God, returns to mountain.
- Chapter 34 — At Mount Sinai, the second set of tablets.
- Chapters 35-40 — At Mount Sinai, making of the Mishkan.
The story continues in the Book of Leviticus, and on through Numbers and Deuteronomy. For all 40 years that the Hebrews wandered between leaving slavery and entering the land of Israel.
The Campsites (Stations) of the Exodus
The narrative in Exodus has many details of what the Hebrews experienced, but does not delineate every stop. This you can find in Numbers 33. A list of every place the Hebrews set up camp for at least one night, from leaving Egypt until entering the Holy Land.
Most of the stations come after the Hebrews leave Mount Sinai. I will annotate those verses in reference to the journey to Mount Sinai only.
These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded their starting points for their journeys according to the word of the Lord, and these were their journeys with their starting points.Numbers 33:1-2
The Hebrews lived in the eastern Nile Delta of lower (Northern) Egypt. In an area referred to both as Rameses and Goshen.
They journeyed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month; on the day following the Passover sacrifice, the children of Israel left triumphantly before the eyes of all the Egyptians. And the Egyptians were busy burying because the Lord had struck down their firstborn and had wrought vengeance against their deities. The children of Israel journeyed from Rameses and camped in Succoth.Numbers 33:3-5
Exodus confirms the date, which is 15 Nissan, in the instructions to Moses about leaving. For the actual leg, it merely says “The children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth” (Exodus 12:37). Though it adds a bit about the route in general.
It came to pass when Pharaoh let the people go, that God did not lead them [by] way of the land of the Philistines for it was near, because God said, Lest the people reconsider when they see war and return to Egypt. So God led the people around [by] way of the desert [to] the Red Sea.Exodus 13:17-18
I discuss the overall route in The Road to Succoth. The Hebrews are moving quickly but they do not yet have the cloud during the day or the fire at night to guide them. They are not traveling day and night. We can interpret this as saying that they make the journey between Rameses and Succoth in one day, or we can say that they did stop at night, but briefly, not a full camp.
They journeyed from Succoth and camped in Etham, at the edge of the desert.Numbers 33:6
Now we have the cloud and the fire, because the Hebrews do not stop until they reach Etham. The cloud/fire stays with them all 40 years. Exodus doesn’t tell us how long this leg took, only that they traveled “day and night,” which implies at least 2 days total.
Pi hahiroth & the Red Sea (the crossing)
They journeyed from Etham and camped in Pi hahiroth, which faces Baal zephon; and they camped in front of Migdol.Numbers 33:7
They could not move forward at Etham and had to turn back.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and let them turn back and encamp in front of Pi hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; in front of Baal Zephon, you shall encamp opposite it, by the sea. And Pharaoh will say about the children of Israel, They are trapped in the land. The desert has closed in upon them.Exodus 14:1-3
This leg is quite short because Pharaoh catches up with them here. The Red Sea is split in two for an entire night and the Hebrews finish crossing in the morning.
According to midrash, Rashi, and other sages, the crossing took place one week after leaving Goshen. On 21 Nissan.
They journeyed from Penei hahiroth and crossed in the midst of the sea to the desert. They walked for three days in the desert of Etham and camped in Marah.Numbers 33:8
Exodus does not mention any stay on the Eastern side of the Red Sea longer than it took to sing about it. Midrash tells us Moses was eager to get out of there because the Hebrews were mesmerized by the jewels from the drowned horses and chariots.
Exodus also states this leg took three days (which I interpret as inclusive of the day they left the Red Sea and the day they arrive in Marah). But with more dire consequences.
Moses led Israel away from the Red Sea, and they went out into the desert of Shur; they walked for three days in the desert but did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter; therefore, it was named Marah.Exodus 15:22-23
We don’t know how long the Hebrews stayed in Marah. Only that, after telling Moses how to make the water drinkable, God “gave them a statute and an ordinance, and there He tested them” (Exodus 15:25). Commentaries state that the Hebrews were given teachings there to prepare them for the giving of Torah. So it’s reasonable to assume they stayed a few days.
They journeyed from Marah and arrived in Elim, and in Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.Numbers 33:9
Exodus’s account is similar.
They came to Elim, and there were twelve water fountains and seventy palms, and they encamped there by the water.Exodus 15:27
Again, we have no idea how long they stayed in Elim, but they have a couple weeks before they get manna, and this is a comfortable place with not just water but food (palms give dates, among other things). Given that they are safe from Pharaoh and in no particular hurry, Elim appears to be the perfect place to rest and rejuvenate.
The Red Sea (not the crossing)
They journeyed from Elim and camped by the Red Sea.Numbers 33:10
There is no mention of this stop in Exodus. We just know that it isn’t the same place where they crossed.
The Desert of Sin
They journeyed from the Red Sea and camped in the desert of Sin.Numbers 33:11
Also known as the Wilderness of Sin or of Zin (with no relationship to the English word “sin”). Exodus gives us a date for this campsite.
They journeyed from Elim, and the entire community of the children of Israel came to the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.Exodus 16:1
They arrive on 15 Iyyar, which is the Sabbath. It is 24 days after crossing the Red Sea.
This is where the Hebrews run out of food (the food they brought from Egypt and anything they managed to gather in Elim or other places they passed through). That evening and every evening (except for the Sabbath) they had quail to eat. The next morning and every morning (except for the Sabbath) they had manna to gather and eat.
We know that the Hebrews stayed in the Desert of Sin at least a week (though it may not have been in the same camp). They are there on 22 Iyyar, the first official Sabbath they celebrated. They probably leave on 23 Iyyar, though it could be later.
They journeyed from the desert of Sin and camped in Dophkah.Numbers 33:12
There is no mention of this stop in Exodus.
They journeyed from Dophkah and camped in Alush.Numbers 33:13
There is no mention of this stop in Exodus.
They journeyed from Alush and camped in Rephidim, but there there was no water for the people to drink.Numbers 33:14
The previous two stops may have been waypoints within the Desert of Sin, after the initial stop where they were introduced to manna. Exodus describes it as a single leg.
The entire community of the children of Israel journeyed from the desert of Sin to their travels by the mandate of the Lord. They encamped in Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.Exodus 17:1
This is where Moses strikes the rock and gets water. Then they discover that Amalek has come to fight. This battle takes place the entire following day, until sunset. So we can assume they spent at least two nights camping in Rephidim.
They journeyed from Rephidim and camped in the Sinai desert.Numbers 33:15
Now they have arrived to the camp where they will settle for a good long time, about a year. Exodus gives us a date, 1 Sivan.
In the third month of the children of Israel’s departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai. They journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.Exodus 19:1-2
This gives them seven days to get from the Desert of Sin to Mount Sinai, though it might be less if they stayed longer in the Desert.