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Exodus (Shemos)

Shemos can be divided into two sections:

  1. Nation-building
  2. Tabernacle building.

Nation Building:

It's probably fair to say that the account of the Egyptians' enslavement of the family of Jacob; the devastating ten plagues; the exodus from Egypt; the escape into the desert and through the Reed Sea (and yes, it is a "Reed" Sea and not a "Red" sea. The Hebrew name is "Yam Suf" - some sleepy copyist somewhere down the line caused this mistranslation); the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai were all necessary ingredients in the creation of a Jewish nation - a G-dly nation.

Just as a person's identity is often shaped by tragedy - and often in a positive way - so was the nation of Jacob formed and matured by their terrible experiences in Egypt. It was those generations which sharpened the close, trusting relationship the people would enjoy with G-d... because there simply was no one else on whom they could rely.

It was in the wilderness that G-d Himself "said all these things saying: I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out of Egypt from the house of bondage: You shall not have other G-ds before me..." (Exodus 20: 1 - 3).

G-d Himself spoke to us. To all of us. That's absolutely crystal clear from the words of the Bible. There is no ambiguity in reading this. Either this revelation happened and everything in it is the word of G-d, or the whole book from start to finish is a lie.

It was those years in the wilderness, a place where no human beings - much less a camp of more than two million - could naturally hope to survive for long, that stretched the Jews' reliance on G-d. What gave our ancestors the strength to wander out in such huge numbers into a barren desert? It took great strength to rely on G-d so completely!

It was those years in the wilderness where, free of the distractions of earning a living and building homes, the Jews enrolled in the largest yeshiva in the history of the world. There was nothing to do in those forty years except study and review the Torah that they heard their teacher Moses repeating.

That's how you build a nation.

Tabernacle Building

What's a Tabernacle? In a nutshell, a place set aside - in the midst of the Jewish camp - for G-d. The temporary, portable version built in the desert was called the "Mishkan" (Tabernacle). In later years, once the Jews had settled and built up the land of Israel, they erected a more permanent structure called the "Bais Hamikdash" (Temple).

The book of Shemos ends at the time of the building of the Tabernacle, in the year 2449 (1311 BCE).

Rabbi Boruch Clinton teaches at the Ottawa Torah Institute yeshiva high school and Machon Sarah high school for girls (both in Ottawa, Canada). You may reach him with comments and questions at

You can now read some of Rabbi Clinton's essays on Torah life at

You can also buy his collection of essays on the Book of Shmuel (Samuel) in printed form at

Copyright 2000 by Rabbi Boruch Clinton and Project Genesis, Inc.



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