This week’s Parsha is the very first from Sefer Shemot (the book of Names): it’s Parshat Shemot itself! The first words of this week’s Parsha, in fact of the entire Sefer are, “ואלה שמות בני ישראל, הבאים מצרימה.” This means, “These are the names of the children of Israel who were coming to Egypt.” The names of the twelve tribes who came to Egypt are then listed. I want to focus on one word from the pasuk above-- “הבאים” - “coming”. Shouldn’t it be in past tense form; באו (they came)? Why does it say the children who “are coming”, and not the children who came? Why is this word in the present tense, implying that those mentioned were only arriving now when they had already come and been in Egypt?
When an immigrant arrives in a new country, he or she usually continues the old customs and traditions from their home country. In addition to maintaining customs, immigrants commonly try to quickly adapt to their new environment and many undertake a status of residency.
Throughout their years in Egypt, the Jews wanted to keep their unique Jewish identity in check. Therefore, they refused to change their names, language, and type of clothing. So too, while in Egypt, the Jews were determined to stay being considered immigrants. They felt that they were new immigrants who had just come, hence, the reason behind the Torah’s questionable word choice. Moreover, in contrast to what many immigrants do, the Jewish people did not assume residence status. They knew Egypt was not their land and they did not want to adapt to its ways. Because of their adamancy to keep the same names, language, clothes, and immigrant status, Hashem redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt.
Returning back to my original question, every single one of the Torah’s words is carefully and purposely chosen and used. It was no accident that “הבאים'' was used, and not “באו”. The Jews felt that they had not already “come” and settled, but instead they constantly felt like new immigrants, therefore they were still “coming”. We can learn from the Jewish people’s actions to embrace the importance of our Jewish identities as well as understand the intention of each and every one of the Torah’s words.
By: Elizabeth Ebner (9th)