Have you ever read a book in which pages from a different book had mistakenly been pasted? Sometimes one doesn’t notice the problem right away, but after a few lines of the “transplanted” text the reader suddenly finds himself in an altogether different world.
This strange sort of feeling arises upon reading the opening verses of the Book of Shemot: “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Yaakov; each man coming with his household: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda…”.
The transition from the Book of Bereishit to the Book of Shemot is clearly defined. Bereishit is about individuals and a family, while Shemot is a Book about a nation. The first time that the Torah uses the concept of “Am Yisrael” – or, more precisely, “Am Bnei Yisrael” (“the nation of the children of Israel”) is in the ninth verse of the Book of Shemot.
Flouting the distinction we have just noted between the two Books, Sefer Shemot begins with “the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt with Yaakov, each man coming with his household: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissaskhar, Zevulun, Binyamin, Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher”. The text speaks here not of a nation, but rather of individuals and families; we get the impression that this is a continuation of the same Book. And this sense is only strengthened by the fact that these verses appear almost verbatim at the end of Bereishit: “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt, Yaakov and his sons: Yaakov’s firstborn was Reuven…”.
If someone were to postulate that the Torah had to repeat this closing section of Bereishit in order to create some connection between the two Books, a quick reference to the beginning of Vayikra is enough to demonstrate that the Torah launches there into the laws of sacrifices without any superfluous introduction, and with no attempt to connect the text to the end of Shemot.
Why, then, does the Torah introduce Sefer Shemot – the Book of the nation – with a return to Sefer Bereishit – the Book of individuals and the family?
The answer appears simple, but it carries an important message. When building a nation, no matter how important that nation will be, the individual and the family must be kept in mind. Those regimes that tried to break apart the family unit in order to build, on its ruins, a nation or a Party, failed spectacularly. The Torah introduces the Book of Shemot, the Book of the nation, with a few verses concerning the family – not in order to recall the Book of Bereishit, but rather to guide the way for Sefer Shemot: the building of the nation entails the building of the family.
Anyone who is engaged as an emissary of the nation must internalize this message, so as not to forget or neglect his own family. Investment in and attention to the institution of family does not come at the expense of the nation; on the contrary – it contributes, in the most profound sense, to building the nation.