Let?s start with the Bible. In the Bible itself people from Shevet
Ephraim are featured as part of the Israelites leaving Egypt.
"1:32 Among the sons of Joseph, for the descendants of Ephraim:
According to the records of their paternal families, [this was] the
number of names for males over 20 years old, all fit for service.
1:33 The tally for the tribe of Ephraim was 40,500."
(SOURCE: Numbers 1, Navigating the Bible II,
"26:35 By their families, the descendants of Ephraim were the
Shuthalchite family from Shuthelach, the Bakhrite family from Bekher,
and the Tachanite family from Tachan.
26:36 The descendants of Shuthelach consisted of the Eranite family from Eran.
26:37 These are the families of Ephraim's descendants, their tally
being 32,500. All these were the descendants of Joseph by their
(See: Numbers 26, Navigating the Bible II,
This means that Ephraim did not have considerably less members than
other tribes (in fact, Manasseh and Benjamin had less in the first
census; more than Simeon in the second).
The Miscalculation in Rabbinical Literature and Esp. Exodus Rabbah (Shemos Rabbah)
However, the story you have mentioned has roots in the Rabbinical Literature.
The source of this interpretation is from a single sentence on I
Chronicles (7, 21):
?[?] it says of the patriarch Ephraim (who presumably would not have
lived to see the Exodus): "And the sons of Ephraim: Shuthelah [skip
the grandsons] and Ezer and Elead, whom the men of Gath that were born
in the land slew, because they came down to take away their cattle.
And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brethren came to
comfort him." This little clip gave rise to an entire Midrashic
tradition? (SOURCE: Uri Hurwit , ?[ANE] Philistines and Hyksos (was
Egyptians in the Bible)? 14 Mar 2003,
The Jewish Encyclopaedia summarises the sources and the claims for this story:
"The tribe of Ephraim miscalculated the time of the deliverance of the
children of Israel from Egypt, and left the country thirty years
before the appointed time. They were met by a hostile host of
Philistines, who offered them battle, in which the Ephraimites lost
300,000 men (according to Pesi?., 180,000; according to Pir?e R. El.,
200,000). Their bones were strewn in heaps along the roads. According
to the "Sefer ha-Yashar" (see Shemot), this event took place in the
180th year after the Israelites went to Egypt, when 30,000 infantry
from the tribe of Ephraim left Egypt. The battle was waged near Gath.
Because they rebelled against the word of God in leaving Egypt before
the end of the captivity destined by God had arrived, all except ten
were slain. The Philistines lost in the battle 20,000 men. The ten men
who escaped from the battle returned to Egypt and related to their
brethren what had happened to them. Ephraim, who was still alive,
mourned over them many days. That the children of Israel might not see
the bleached bones of the slain of Ephraim and return to Egypt, God
led them to Canaan by circuitous ways (Ex. R. xx.). The slain
Ephraimites were subsequently resuscitated by Ezekiel (Sanh. 92b). "
(SOURCE: The Jewish Encyclopaedia, Ephraim,
Here is the quote from Targum Yerushalmi:
? The Targum Yerushalmi, a 1200 year old translation of the Torah,
renders these opening lines of our parasha: "lest the people regret
when they see their brothers who died in war- two hundred thousand
mighty soldiers from the tribe of Ephraim, armed with shields, spears
and weapons of war, who went down to Gath to plunder the herds of the
Philistines. Because they transgressed the divine decree and went out
of Egypt thirty years before the end (of the exile) they were
delivered into the hands of the Philistines, who slew them. Theirs
were the dry bones that the Lord brought to life by the hand of
Ezekiel the prophet?"? (SOURCE: Dr Harry Freedman, ?B'Shallach?,
http://www.masorti.org.uk/10-02-01.htm; there are more interesting
Origin of the Miscalculation
The source of the miscalculation was counting the years of exile from
the Abrahamic Covenant, and not from the birth of Isaac, 30 years
? Rashi explains that from the Covenant Between the Parts, when
Avraham Avinu was 70 years old and he had a prophecy about the
Egyptian exile, until the Exodus was 430 years. We find in the book
of Divrei Hayamim (I 7:21) the story of some members of the tribe of
Ephraim who were killed by the men of Gas, a Philistine city.The Sages
explain that these were Jews who left Egypt 30 years before the
Exodus, because they miscalculated the end of the 400 years of exile
foretold to Avraham (Bereishis 15:13). They thought that these 400
years began at the time of that prophecy, but in reality they began 30
years later, at the birth of Yitzchak? (SOURCE: Jews Against Zionism,
Parasha Pearls, Bo, http://www.jewsagainstzionism.com/parsha/docs/Vol2-5-020206.pdf
- there is much more interpretation there).
Here, for example, in a "Drasha" (homily), Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum says:
" Any person that would present himself as the Jewish savior
would immediately be put to the supreme test. He would have to come to
the zekeinim and tell them the precise moment of the Geulah. If he
would be off by as much as one single day or perhaps even by a minute
then they knew he was nothing but a con artist. When Shevet Ephraim
instituted a rebellion thirty years earlier, Klal Yisroel refused to
go along with them. The zekeinim told them that the time of the geulah
had still not arrived. They had reckoned the 400 years incorrectly.
They had started counting from the time of the ?Bris bein hab?sorim.?
They were not given any credence! The dates and times didn?t match the
zekeinim?s carefully guarded mesorah."
(SOURCE: Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum, "THE SPECIAL PASSWORD", Camp Sdei
In other words, the source of the 30 years gap is in a revelation,
that God would save the Israelites 400 after they have left Egypt (and
the Ephraimites had counted since the Abrahamic Covenant). Also see:
?The A-lmighty purposely left the meaning of "four hundred years" open
to interpretation depending on how deserving Am Yisrael were. The
tribe of Ephraim in fact miscalculated the four hundred year exile
believing that it began with the Brit Bein HaBetarim. As a result,
they left Egypt thirty years too soon and were killed by the Plishtim,
as we are told: "The sons of Ephraim ... the men of Gat, who were born
in the Land, killed them because they had come down to take away their
flocks"  (Divrei Hayamim I 7:21 - this is alluded to in Tehillim
78:9 as well). A further look at the pasuk shows us that this incident
took place during Ephraim's lifetime, erasing any possibility of
subscribing the event described here to a later war between the tribe
of Ephraim and the Plishtim (see Sanhedrin 92b and Rashi Shmot 15:14).
(For this reason when the Torah relates to us the actual exodus, we
are told: "It happened when Pharaoh sent the people, that G-d did not
lead them by way of the land of Plishtim ... for G-d said: 'perhaps
the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return
to Egypt'"  (Shmot 13:17). What war is this referring to? Chazal
explain: "this is the war of the sons of Ephraim... that the Jewish
people should not see the bones of their brethren in Plishtim and then
elect to return"  (Yalkut Shimoni Bshalach Remez 227).? (SOURCE:
Nativ Aryeh, Parashat Vayera,
Another explanation to the miscalculation is brought by Rabbi Moshe
Bogomilsky: ?Yaakov was only aware that nine of his children took part
in the sale of Yosef, but he did not know of the Shechinah's part in
the act. Therefore, Rashi says bakeish l'galot et ha'keitz. His
purpose of gathering his children together was to tell them that at
the conclusion of 189 years (9 x 21 = 189), on the keitz ? 190th year
? the Egyptian exile would come to an end. However, Yaakov
miscalculated, because ? he did not know that the Shechinah had a part
in the sale, and therefore they would have to be in Egypt a total of
210 years.? (SOURCE: Vedibarta Bam ? And You Shall Speak of Them,
There are two important, modern, political implications and usages of
this story. The first refers to Zionism. As you might have noticed,
one of my sources is an organisation called ?Jews against Zionism?.
This organisation of Ultra-Orthodox Jews believes that Zionism is
wrong, because only with the coming of the Messiah, there could be a
real ?Jewish State?. The Zionists, in this parable, are acting like
The less political implication deals with the whole issue of Geula
(salvation/redemption) and Massiah. For example, were elements in
Chabad right to announce that the Rebbe is a Massiah? Gil Student
doesn?t think so and also gives the example of Rabbi Akiva and his
announcement regarding Bar Kochva as another disastrous premonition:
Bikoret HaGeula (Critique of the Redemption), p. 2 (HEBREW)
I hope this answers your question. Please contact me if you need any
clarification on this answer before you rate it.