Rav Chizkiyahu Ben Manoach (known as the Chizkuni), who lived in France during the late 13th century, notes at the beginning of Parashat Shemot (1:1 s.v. Ve’Eileh Shemot) that the word “Ve’Eileh”, “And these” (Shemot 1:1), is an odd way to begin a Sefer of Chumash. Typically, a Vav is a conjunction; it conjoins two clauses or sentences. Chizkuni claims that the Vav implies that the first Pasuk in Shemot must be “MeChuberet LeMa’alah She’Amar”, “Connected to what was previously stated [in Sefer BeReishit].”
He explains that this Pasuk is continuing the Torah’s discussion of Yoseif’s merit to live to see all of Ephraim’s grandchildren and many of Menashe’s grandchildren (BeReishit 50:23). The conjunction between the names of Bnei Yisrael who went to down to Egypt with Yaakov and Yoseif’s great-grandchildren applies Hashem’s covenant with Avraham (that after four hundred years of slavery Bnei Yisrael will return to Eretz Kena’an with great wealth and numerous in population like the stars in the sky; BeReishit 15:5-21) to Yoseif. Chizkuni continues and points out that Rashi (Shemot 1:1 s.v. Ve’Eileh Shemot) states that each star has a name, not merely an identifying number. So too, each member of Klal Yisrael is not just a number, but rather an individual whom Hashem guards and protects along each step of his or her journey. The Torah does not merely number the seventy people who came down to Egypt, but also names them. Yoseif observed that each Jew had a name in the eyes of God, and despite the bleak future that lay ahead in Egypt, Hashem accompanied Bnei Yisrael every step of the way.
The very last Pasuk of Parashat Pekudei (Shemot 40:38) states: “Ki Anan Hashem Al HaMishkan Yomam, Ve’Eish Tihyeh Layla Bo, Le’Einei Kol Beit Yisrael BeChol Maseihem”, “For the cloud of God would be upon the Tabernacle by day and fire would be upon it at night, before the eyes of all the House of Israel in all their journeys.” Chizkuni (ibid. s.v. Le’Einei Kol Beit Yisrael BeChol Maseihem) cites Rashi’s commentary on the Pasuk (ibid.) that each encampment marked the conclusion of one journey and preparation for the next journey.
Chizkuni emphasizes that each journey was different for Bnei Yisrael. At Rephidim, Bnei Yisrael were quarrelling with Moshe Rabbeinu. However, at Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael were, as Rashi states, (Shemot 19:2 s.v. Va’Yichan Sham Yisrael) “Ke’Ish Echad, BeLeiv Echad”, “As one man, with one heart.” Rashi further notes (ibid. s.v. Va’Yisu Mei’Rephidim) that Bnei Yisrael were constantly undergoing Teshuvah and emotionally fluctuating from one location to the next throughout their journey in the Midbar. Therefore, it is fitting for Sefer Shemot to begin and end by describing Hashem’s unwavering commitment to His beloved people.
Furthermore, Rabbeinu Bachya (Introduction to Parashat Pekudei) says that the Parashah begins with the word “Eileh”, “These” (Shemot 38:21), to signify Bnei Yisrael’s Teshuvah recorded in Parashat Ki Tisa after the episode of the Eigel HaZahav, in which they stated, “Eileh Elohechah Yisrael”, “This is your god, O Israel” (32:4) in reference to an idol. Rabbeinu Bachya then states (38:21 s.v. Eileh Fekudei) that “Mishkan Ha’Eidut”, “The Tabernacle of Testimony” (38:21), signifies the Torah itself, as expressed in Tanchuma Pekudei 4. Rabbeinu Bachya expounds upon the Midrash with a parable: a king had a daughter for whom he built a palace. He made her dwell in the palace, protected by seven curtains. The king stated that whoever enters the palace and shames her shames the king as well. Similarly, the Mishkan is a testimony to Bnei Yisrael’s faithful adherence to the Torah as well as to God. Although there may be times where Bnei Yisrael are without a leader like Moshe, and Hashem’s presence may not be as tangible as it once was, Bnei Yisrael must remain faithful to the Torah, for that is the permanent dwelling place of Hashem. Throughout the generations, the Jewish people have been isolated and oppressed; many times, God’s presence seemed to have vanished. However, the righteous and faithful cling to the Torah and understand that the Tree of Life is God’s permanent dwelling place and it will never be lost. May we all be Zocheh to take this message to heart and continue to demonstrate unwavering faith in Hashem and His Torah.