Location and geography are central to Sefer Shemot. Ancient Egypt and the barren wilderness form the essential backdrop to the drama which unfolds in the second book of the Bible. While all of the events recorded in Sefer Shemot take place outside of the Land of Israel, this does not mean that Eretz Yisrael is unimportant in this book. On the contrary, the Land of Israel is a central theme and primary focus of Sefer Shemot.
The Hebrew name for the Book of Exodus is Sefer Shemot, the ‘Book of Names,’ taken from the opening words of the first verse. Continuing the narrative from the point where Sefer Bereishit ended, it transitions from a family’s individual story to the birth of an entire nation. The opening chapters of Sefer Shemot describe the trials experienced by the Children of Israel in the fiery furnace of slavery. This brutal oppression in a foreign land has been explained by Jewish commentators as a process of national purification, necessary in order to prepare the Israelites for entry into the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).
Sefer Shemot goes on to describe the exodus from Egypt and offers timeless insight into God’s loving relationship with humanity as their ultimate Redeemer. From there, we delve into many of the commandments and intricate details of the construction of the Mishkan, which represents the physical manifestation of Hashem’s presence in the world and in our lives. With each step they take in the wilderness, the Israelites are marching towards, and getting closer to, Eretz Yisrael, which becomes the ultimate ideal for which they strive.
It is no wonder then, that the Book of Shemot has served throughout the ages as an inspiration for those who have longed for Eretz Yisrael. Wandering through the bitter exile, Jews have always seen themselves as following in the footsteps of the ancient Israelites. In the darkest moments of Jewish history, we have borne the burden of persecution with the knowledge that we are always getting closer to deliverance and redemption, and to Israel. Sefer Shemot causes us to realize that the destiny of the People of Israel always leads towards the Land of Israel.