This week’s Torah reading begins: “These are the names [of the people] who were coming into Egypt.” The commentaries ask: Why are the names of the Jews mentioned again? They were already mentioned in Parshas Vayigash, which was read two weeks ago.

The commentaries answer: G‑d cherishes the Jewish people. Therefore like a rich man who continually counts his money, G‑d continually brings the Jewish people to mind.

There is, however, a more personal dimension to this concept. This week’s Torah chronicles the events that happened to the Jewish people after they had been living in Egypt, beginning more than 100 years after they had entered that country. Nevertheless, the verse indicates that, despite having lived there for so long, they were still “coming into Egypt.” To them, it was a foreign land, not their natural habitat. They had been born in Egypt; their parents had been born in Egypt, but it was not their home. It was exile; home was Eretz Yisrael and they were still in the process of “coming to Egypt.”

What’s the difference between Egypt and Eretz Yisrael? In the Biblical era, the societies were primary agricultural, so when the Torah wants to contrast the two countries, it points to their water supply, stating: “The land to which you are coming to possess is not like the land of Egypt… where you plant your seed and water it by foot. Instead,… it is a land of hills and valleys. From the rain of heaven, it derives its water.” In other words, in Egypt, the water came from the Nile. In Eretz Yisrael, there are no large rivers. Instead, the water supply is almost entirely dependent on rain.

When the supply of water comes from a river, no G‑dly influence is apparent and the natural order seemed to control the water supply. In Eretz Yisrael, by contrast, “the eyes of all must look upward” to “the One Who holds the key to rain.” It is clearly apparent that toil and till and try as we may, the success of our crops depends on G‑d’s blessings. In this way, the land itself educates us to trust in G‑d, to see ourselves as in His hand and His providence as controlling our lives.

In chassidic thought, it is explained that Egypt is not only a geographical location but also a state of mind. In fact the Hebrew name for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is almost identical to the word meitzarim, which means straits or limitations. Because Eretz Yisrael taught the Jews to continually look up to G‑d, they never could feel at home in Egypt. The concept of life being governed by the natural routine was inherently foreign. Hence — as stated above — even after living in Egypt for an extended period, the place was new to them.

When viewed in that light, the exodus was an inevitable occurrence. Yes, it took years and, at a certain point, even the Jewish people’s faith was somewhat weakened. But since the Jews, as individuals and as a people, were continually looking to G‑d, ultimately, it was to be anticipated that G‑d would turn to them and redeem them.

Looking to the Horizon

Our Sages relate that, at the time of the revelation of the Burning Bush, when G‑d asked Moses to redeem the Jewish people, he demurred, responding: “Send by the hand of him whom You will send.” Our Sages explain that Moses was asking G‑d to redeem the Jewish people, not only from Egypt, but for all time. Therefore he desired that he not be the redeemer, but instead that G‑d should send the Mashiach, Israel’s ultimate redeemer.

Why didn’t G‑d do so? Because the redemption is not merely a reward for the Jewish people, but a reflection of the fact that the entire world has reached its desired state. For that to happen, as evident from our people’s subsequent history, it would be necessary for the Jews to be exiled again and to participate in the cultures of the countries in which they lived. But, as in the original exile in Egypt, the intent is that they would remain conscious of their identity and aware of their bond with G‑d. That awareness would enable them to inspire the people among whom they would live with spiritual awareness and in that way create a foretaste of the era of redemption.