“These are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt,” begins this week’s Torah portion, Shemos. The Midrash explains that the names of the Twelve Tribes which follow, enumerated when they made their descent into the land of Egypt, are mentioned in connection to the Jewish people’s eventual redemption from that land.
We see that the narrative which follows tells of the beginning of the Jews’ servitude, seemingly the direct opposite of their liberation and redemption. What is the meaning of this apparent contradiction?
Secondly, another opinion in the Midrash states that the names of the Twelve Tribes are mentioned to emphasize that they descended into Egypt with the names Reuven, Shimon… and ascended after the redemption with these very same names. The emphasis is on the merit of the Jewish people, that throughout the Egyptian exile, they did not change their names.
The implication of both these passages is that one must understand the descent into Egypt as a phase in the redemption of the Jewish people, and indeed, as connected with the ultimate redemption which will take place with the coming of Moshiach. In that context, the obligation to recall – and relive – the Exodus from Egypt every day serves as a catalyst to bring about Moshiach’s arrival.
The Jews’ redemption from Egypt, the first of their four exiles, “is a great fundamental principle…of our Torah and faith,” according to our Sages. That first redemption represents the opening of the potential for all future redemptions. The freedom which was granted at that time continues at all times.
In a spiritual sense, the exodus from Egypt represents the liberation of the G-dly soul from the limitations of the body, and in general, of the triumph of the spirit over the limitations inherent in the material world. Our obligation to remember the Exodus every day, therefore, consists of the following:
Every day, each of us must strive to go beyond his own personal boundaries and limitations;
Our obligation to recall the Exodus at night refers to carrying out our service of G-d during the long “night” of our exile; and we will also be obligated to recall the exodus from Egypt after Moshiach comes, even though the final redemption will far surpass the one which took place in Egypt. The potential for evil will be totally eradicated, and the Jewish people will never again be exiled.
In fact, the entire period of time from the Egyptian Exodus until the Future Redemption is described as “the days of your exodus from Egypt,” for the exodus which began in Egypt will not be complete until the ultimate redemption is realized.
In practical terms, one must, therefore, anticipate the redemption and experience a foretaste of it in our daily lives by bringing a consciousness of Moshiach into all our actions, for doing so will act as a catalyst and hasten the actual coming of the redemption.