Our retelling of the Exodus on Passover ends when we close the Haggadah text. But when did the story really end?

Leaving Egypt

You might think that the story ended when the Jewish people left Egypt on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, 1313 BCE. On that day the Jews were freed from the land where they had been enslaved. But it was not so easy to leave slavery behind...

The Red Sea

The Egyptians pursued the Jews until, a week later, the Jews crossed the Red Sea, and the Egyptians were drowned in their wake. We celebrate this final freedom from our oppressors on the last days of Passover.

Mount Sinai

The Jews were now free, but freedom without purpose is not true freedom. “Let my people go, that they may serve me,” G‑d told Pharaoh through Moses (Exodus 8:1). The ultimate purpose of the Exodus was that the Jews should receive the Torah at Mount Sinai 49 days later. The first commandment, “I am the L‑rd, your G‑d, who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” (Exodus 20:2) makes it clear that the Jewish people were taken out of Egypt only so that they might know G‑d.

Indeed, each year we relive the connection between these events by counting the 49 days from Passover until the holiday of Shavuot, when we commemorate the giving of the Torah. (You can join the count on our Counting the Omer - SefiratHaomer minisite.)

The Land of Israel

Now the Jews had the Torah, but they were still homeless and unable to fulfill many of its laws. G‑d used four expressions of redemption to promise Moses that He would redeem the Jews from Egypt. (We commemorate them by drinking four cups of wine at the Passover Seder.) But the four expressions were followed by a fifth promise (Exodus 6:8), “And I will bring you to the land…”

Similarly, G‑d told Moses that, “I have descended to rescue them from the hand[s] of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).

Surely it’s safe to say that the Exodus narrative ends when the Jews enter the Promised Land after 40 years in the desert?

The Holy Temple in Jerusalem

But the first few centuries after the Jewish people entered Israel were tumultuous, and it was only when King Solomon ruled that there was true peace, and “Each man sat under his vine and his fig tree.”

Support for the idea that the Exodus concluded with the building of Solomon’s Temple can be found in the famous “Dayeinu” song in the Passover Hagaddah reader. The song reviews all the miracles that G‑d did for the Jews after they were saved from Egypt, concluding with the building of the Holy Temple.

Not Yet

But Solomon’s reign ended, and it was followed by eras of civil strife, the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples, and the dispersal of the Jewish nation in exile. We end the Seder with the prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem,” that we may speedily merit the final redemption and the building of the third Temple.

Concerning the future redemption, the prophet Micah tells us, “As in the days of your exodus from the land of Egypt, I will show you wonders” (7:15). Notice that the verse refers to “the days,” plural. Leaving Egypt is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. As we say in the Haggadah, “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he had gone out of Egypt.”

Mitzrayim, the Hebrew name for Egypt, is similar to the word meitzarim, which means “boundaries” or “limitations.” We each have our own personal limitations and boundaries that prevent us from serving G‑d as well as we might. They may be external circumstances or internal ones, character traits or desires that pull us away from the right path. We experience a personal redemption when we overcome these challenges. The process is an ongoing one, and we are constantly working on ourselves to “leave Egypt” once and for all.

Read the Passover Story from our Jewish History section.