The miracle of the Exodus was not complete when the Jews left Egypt.
At that point, they were merely runaway slaves.
As Abraham ibn Ezra describes it, the Jews, standing on the banks of the Red Sea, genuinely wanted to escape the afflictions of slavery, but — having lived their entire lives as slaves — they were immobilized, unable to sever the powerful connection to their oppressors.
Thus, there followed periodic murmurings about returning to Egypt and the idealized lives they had there.
Unable to achieve true freedom, the slave generation could not enter the land of Israel to build a free nation.
Just as slavery and freedom are juxtaposed on a personal plane, so exile and redemption can be contrasted on a national plane.
Exile is the subservience of a people to a foreign power.
Redemption lies in the people’s ability to remove the yoke of exile and emerge as a free nation.
Implicit in the condition of exile is the destruction and subjugation of the national will and its creative energy, as the nation yields to the pressures and dictates of a foreign power.
Those who are forced from their land but continue to conduct their lives in accordance with their own principles cannot be considered as being in exile.
They are merely sojourning in a foreign land.
Exile, like slavery, requires the suppression of self-expression and self-determination.
A person who denies and distorts his essential qualities — and replaces them with the characteristics of his environment — is in exile.
This exile is partly a physical condition, like slavery, but its essential quality is spiritual.
It is surrender and abdication.
It is the acceptance of a set of values, attitudes, and mores antagonistic to the essence of the authentic, distinctive self.”
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From an essay “Passover: The Festival of Freedom” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz