The Midrash says that on the night of Passover we were redeemed and on that night we shall be redeemed (Exodus Rabbah 18.12). The first part of the Seder focuses on redemption past—our deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The second part of the Seder, following the grace after meals and the third cup, shifts to redemption future—the restoration of all things in the Age to Come.
The festival itself reflects this sequence. Passover includes two holy days at the beginning, and two at the end, with four intermediate days in between, the period of chol ha-moed. The final two holy days emphasize the redemption to come. The Baal Shem Tov, father of the Hasidic movement in the 18th century, instituted a seudat mashiach, Messiah’s Dinner, on the final day of Passover, because he felt that the light of messianic redemption shone most brightly on that day. Tradition also links this day with the crossing of the Red Sea, the final departure from Egypt, which carries a strong hint of the coming redemption, as we’ll see.
Accordingly, the haftarah for the last day of Passover, Tuesday, April 18 this year, includes Isaiah’s amazing vision of future redemption in the Age to Come. One verse in the haftarah is especially remarkable:
The Lord God is my strength and my song,
And he has become my salvation.
This is the only verse in the Tanakh that appears in all three of its major sections: Torah (Exodus 15:2), the Holy Writings (Psalm 118:14), and here in the Prophets (Isaiah 12:2). The three-fold repetition underlines the importance of this verse. Furthermore, this repetition is reflected in our Passover celebration, as we remember the Splitting of the Sea and read Isaiah 12 at the conclusion of the festival, and recite Psalm 118 as part of the Hallel during the Passover Seder.
At the Splitting of the Sea, the Lord, who has been the strength and song for the Israelites, giving them hope and sending Moses to deliver them, now becomes their salvation. He leads them out of Egypt altogether to the far side of the sea and drowns their oppressors. Israel is completely saved, delivered forever from the place of bondage and the one who would keep them bound. God has stepped into human history, not only to save, but to become salvation.
We revisit the Splitting of the Sea because it is an incomparable moment in our story as a people, the moment when salvation is not just a promise to be hoped for, nor a remembrance of past victory, but an immediate, present event. God has become salvation to me – vay’hi li lishuah.
The introduction to the Song at the Sea (Exodus 15:1–21) provides a further clue to the importance of this verse. The Torah says literally, “Then Moses and the children of Israel will sing this song to the Lord” (15:1). Rashi explains that just as God intervened in Israel’s story to become salvation at the Splitting of the Sea, so he will intervene in Messianic times to raise the dead, becoming salvation again. Then Israel will sing the Song again. Hence, in the Book of Revelation (15:3), as God intervenes at the culmination of history, the redeemed will “sing the song of Moses, the servant of God.”
Isaiah develops the picture of this time of salvation, “that day” when the Lord’s anger will be turned away and he will comfort Israel. Then he will become salvation again – vay’hi li lishuah (12:2). In that day, the prophet continues, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation – mima’ayney ha-yeshuah” (Isaiah 12:3).
The third appearance of the verse, in the Hallel that we recite on Passover, stirs up similar thoughts. Psalm 118 is a psalm of messianic import, as many early commentators recognized. The psalmist thanks the Lord for his great deliverance, when he goes beyond his normal action in history to “become my salvation” – vay’hi li lishuah (vs. 14).
The very name “Yeshua” invokes this key verse of the Tanakh. Yeshua is the masculine form of the feminine noun yeshuah, “salvation”, as in our verse, “He shall become to me salvation.” Isaiah adds “You will draw water from the wells of salvation – yeshuah.” The personal name given to the Messiah reiterates the promise of a future victory, when God will again become salvation by entering Israel’s history to rescue us on the Passover to come—a Passover that will bring redemption to all the nations.
Adapted from Gateways to Torah by Rabbi Russ Resnik. www.messianicjewish.net.