These are the names (v’eileh shemot) of the sons of Israel (bnei yisrael) who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household. (Exodus 1:1)
These opening words elegantly make a transition from Genesis into the second book of the Torah. Ve’eileh, “And these…,” Exodus begins, indicating that this is in fact not an absolute beginning but a continuation.
A wordplay on the phrase [bnei yisrael] highlights the thematic and historical transition we make when we begin the second book of the Torah. We move from Genesis, where the focus is on individuals and their families in the stories of our matriarchs and patriarchs, to a focus in Exodus on the development of the Israelites as a people. The term bnei yisrael is translated in Exodus 1:1 as “sons of Israel.” Here bnei yisrael refers to the individual sons of Jacob/Israel, the eleven brothers who came to Egypt and joined Joseph, who was already there (Exodus 1:3). Only six verses later, the same phrase, bnei yisrael, will mean something different — “the children of Israel” — for it will refer to the Israelites as a people (Exodus 1:7). We will have moved from a family of twelve sons to a clan of tribes bearing their names — the Israelite people.
— Rabbi Ruth H. Sohn in Beginning the Journey: Toward a Women’s Commentary on the Torah*
* Please see Source Materials for full citation and more sources.
The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.