Rebecca Masinter

Sefer Shemos - The Building Blocks of Our Nation

Parshas Shemos begins a new sefer in the Torah with a different focus than Sefer Braishis. Sefer Braishis focused on the families of the Avos, while Sefer Shemos describes the national story of the Jewish people. While the book opens with the seventy members of Yaakov’s family who descended to Egypt, it immediately shifts focus to the national experiences of enslavement, redemption, Matan Torah, and building the Mishkan. Just as Braishis seems to be the book of our family, Shmos is the book of our nationhood.


One would expect Sefer Shemos to emphasize the Jewish nation, Bnai Yisrael, from beginning to end. Surprisingly, unlike any other book of the Torah, Sefer Shemos, the book of our nationhood, both opens and closes with the Jewish family. Instead of using the words, “Bnai Yisrael”, both the beginning and ending sentences of Sefer Shemos use the word “bayis”, family home. Even more surprising, we descended into enslavement “each man with his family household” and we were also redeemed as family household units with the first national mitzvah, Korban Pesach, that must be performed within each family unit.


The second half of Sefer Shemos revolves around the Mishkan.  While the Mishkan was a national building, its essence was that of a family home  The Ramban explains that the Mishkan is our best effort at replicating the homes of the Avos and Imahos.  The miracles of the Mishkan were copies of the miracles in Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah’s homes. The Geulah of Sefer Shmos, says the Ramban, is not complete until we have Hashem’s presence in our midst as He was in the first Jewish homes.  The message is clear.  You may think, says the Torah, that Sefer Shmos is about the nation, but in actuality it’s about the Jewish family, because the family is the absolutely vital building block of the nation.


There is nothing more integral and necessary to the Jewish people than the Jewish family.  And at the heart of the family, is the Jewish woman. We know that when we see the word “Bayis” it refers to a woman, because women build homes.  A Jewish woman is at the core of a Jewish family which is at the heart of the Jewish people.


It is easy to forget the importance of what we do.  Raising a family means doing the same thing over and over, winning private victories that no one else sees or cares about.  It means constant giving  without seeing immediate results and without receiving accolades. As we go about our days, doing things that in and of themselves seem mundane, driving kids places, washing dishes that will be dirty again within the hour, cooking, arbitrating arguments, we want to hold on to the message of Sefer Shmos.  We are building Jewish families and thereby we are building the Jewish people.  Sefer Shemos encapsulates our national essence built and sustained by our families.


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