The Book of Exodus

Jan 4, 2015

Photo credit: Yehoshua Halevi

וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ׃

These are the names of the sons of Yisrael who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each coming with his household:

v'-AY-leh sh'-MOT b'-NAY yis-ra-AYL ha-ba-EEM mitz-RA-y'-mah AYT ya-a-KOV EESH u'-vay-TO BA-u

Exodus 1:1

Location and geography are central to the Book of Exodus. Ancient Egypt and the barren wilderness form the essential backdrop to the drama which unfolds in the second book of the Bible. It is very clear that all of the events of Exodus take place outside the borders of the Land of Israel, but this is not to say that Eretz Yisrael is not a central theme to Exodus.


The Hebrew name for the Book of Exodus is Sefer Shemot, the “Book of Names” (taken from the opening words of verse one). Continuing from where Genesis left off, we move from the story of a family to the birth of a nation. The opening chapters of Exodus describe the trials of Israel in the fiery furnace of slavery. The brutal oppression in a foreign land has been explained by Jewish commentators as a necessary process of national purification 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 eternal insight into God’s loving relationship with humanity as the ultimate Redeemer. From there, we delve into many of the commandments and the intimate details of the construction of the Tabernacle which represents the physical manifestation of God’s presence in this world and in our lives.  With each step, the Israelites are marching towards and getting closer to the Land of Israel, which becomes the ultimate ideal to be strived for.


It is no wonder then, that the Book of Exodus has always served as an inspiration for those who have longed for the Land throughout the ages. 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 endured persecution in faith – knowing that we are always getting closer to deliverance and redemption, and to Israel. The Book of Exodus causes us to realize that the destiny of the People of Israel is always leading towards the Land of Israel.


Rabbi Naphtali Weisz
Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel

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