Between ceasing to be a slave and acquiring freedom, the individual must thus pass through an intermediate stage in his progress, without which he cannot become truly free–he must develop inner qualities of his own.
The miracle of the Exodus was not completed with the people's departure from the house of bondage.
They needed to develop to become a truly free people and not merely runaway slaves.
Their situation as they stood on the banks of the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army in hot pursuit was described by the medieval commentator Ibn Ezra:
The children of Israel could not even think of putting up any sort of opposition to Pharaoh, for they had been brought up in slavery, and they were so accustomed to it that all their old subservient attitudes overcame them afresh at the sight of their former masters.
Only after the entire generation that had lived in bondage had perished in the wilderness could their descendants enter the Land of Israel and establish themselves there as a free people.
In other words, the slave is doubly bound, first of all by his subjugation to another's will, and secondly by his lack of a will and a personality of his own.
A person who retains his own essential character can never completely be enslaved.
And, conversely, a person who has no independent self-image can never be truly free.
What we have said of the relationship between slavery and freedom is all the more true of the relationship between exile and redemption.
An end to exile is not in itself sufficient to constitute redemption—something more must still take place.
The meaning of the word exile is not limited to a physical definition.
As with slavery, the meaning and full significance of the word lies in the spiritual realm.
To be in exile means that one has surrendered oneself to a set of values, relationships, and a way of life that are foreign to the individual or collective ego.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From One Being Free by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz