The general subject of the Torah portion of Shmos is the descent of the Jewish people into Egyptian servitude.1 The actual descent into Egypt is described in the book of Bereishis. The servitude, however, begins in the portion of Shmos, after the demise of Yosef and all his brothers, “for, as long as one of the brothers was still alive, there was no servitude.”2

Thus, the beginning of the portion deals with the exile, for the verses preceding the passage about the demise of Yosef and his brothers describe how the Jewish people ended up in Egypt when their place was in Eretz Yisrael.

The portion then relates how times became even more difficult, beginning with “The Egyptians started to make the Children of Israel do labor designed to break their bodies,”3 and culminating with Pharaoh’s decree that “Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile….”4

And finally, at the conclusion of the portion, Pharaoh decrees: “Do not give the people straw for bricks as before. Let them go and gather their own straw. Meanwhile, you must require them to make the same quota of bricks as before. Do not reduce it.”5

Indeed, matters became so difficult that Moshe asked G‑d: “Why do You mistreat Your people? Why did You send me? As soon as I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he made things worse for these people, and You have done nothing to save them.”

Since the entire portion, as we have seen, deals with the exile, why is it called Shmos, “names,” after the beginning of the portion: “These are the names of the Children of Israel.”

What is the connection between names and the Egyptian exile?6

Moreover, the “names of the Children of Israel” are actually related to their redemption — “It was because of their coming redemption that their names are mentioned here.”7 Additionally, the Midrash says that the Jews were redeemed from exile “because they did not change their names… they came [to Egypt] as Reuven and Shimon and they departed as Reuven and Shimon.”8

How is it then that a Torah portion which deals almost entirely with exile should have as its title a word that relates to redemption?

In truth, the concept of “names” relates not only to redemption but to exile as well. Indeed, it is much easier to perceive the superficial connection between names and exile than the more internal connection between names and redemption, as shall presently be explained.

A name possesses two opposite characteristics:9 On the one hand, a person’s name does not tell the average individual anything about him, for we observe that many different people share the same name. On the other hand, we also observe that when someone faints, it is sometimes possible to rouse him by calling his name.

The reason for this is that a person’s name does indeed relate to his essence, serving as the conduit through which his soul’s life-force emanates within his body.10 This is why, when a person faints and his revealed powers are in a state of concealment, calling him by name may arouse the essence of his soul, which will then be drawn down again and revealed within his body.

The connection between the general content of the Torah portion and its title Shmos can be understood accordingly:

The state of exile is characterized by concealment, for, even in exile, no true change comes about, Heaven forbid. Thus, even in exile, the essence of every Jew remains whole; it is merely concealed. And, as mentioned earlier, on a superficial level, names also conceal the essence.

In a deeper sense, exile itself comes about when the essence of the name — the quintessential aspect of the Jew — is in a state of concealment. When the true inner content of the name is revealed — when the essence of the soul is revealed — then the name ceases to depict a state of exile and instead reflects a state of redemption.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXVI, pp. 301-305