Passover Unfinished


by Rabbi Russ Resnik  

On that night we were redeemed, and on that night we shall be redeemed.

The Passover Seder comprises two halves, roughly divided by the festive meal itself. The first part commemorates the redemption from Egypt as we retell the whole story of the departure from Egypt, starting with “Avadim hayinu, we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and Hashem our God took us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.” The second half concludes with the famous line, “Next year in Jerusalem!” our declaration of hope for the final redemption, when Jerusalem will be restored as the holy city and the source of redemption for all the nations.

According to Rabbi Yitzchak Sender in The Commentators’ Haggadah, the second half of the Seder begins after the meal and the third cup of wine, when we pour another cup for Elijah the Prophet, and open the door to see if he has arrived. (There are lots of additional explanations for opening the door at this point, of course.)  

For those who weave the Yeshua story into their retelling of the Exodus story, the first half of the Seder reflects the initial coming of Messiah, culminating in his death, which he alluded to after saying the blessing over the third cup: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). The second half of the Seder looks forward to Messiah’s return, when he will fulfill his mission and bring the final redemption that the whole Seder anticipates. The point that holds together these two halves of the redemption story is the resurrection of Messiah, which we portray with the Afikoman, the half of the matza that is separated from the rest, wrapped up and hidden away—buried—during the meal, and then brought back into our midst before the meal can conclude. It’s an ancient tradition with a variety of explanations, but it’s not hard to see it as a symbol of Messiah’s resurrection, which took place during Passover. 

A few years back, Moment magazine (which bills itself as “Independent journalism from a Jewish perspective”) released “The Messiah Issue” and posed this question to its “Ask the Rabbis” panel: “Are Jews Still Expecting a Messiah?” The panel of rabbis represents the whole spectrum of Judaism, except for the Messianic black sheep, of course, and gives a whole spectrum of answers. But throughout the discussion there’s an unspoken agreement that Yeshua can’t possibly be the Messiah because the world is still such a mess. One rabbi (Peter H. Schweitzer, The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, New York), takes this objection a major step further:  

In contrast to Christians who assert that the Messiah has come, Jews would never be satisfied with any applicant for the job. Messianic claimants have all fallen short in the past and will in the future. Waiting around for messianic redemption is therefore a distraction from life’s immediate challenges. Our focus should be on bringing redemption in our own lifetime and with our own two hands.

If they’d invited me to join the panel (one can dream, right?) I’d say this:

Bringing redemption with our own two hands isn’t a bad idea if you’ve decided beforehand to reject all possible “Messianic claimants.” But in the process you’ve also rejected the story of Passover itself, which—along with its many other virtues—sets the record straight about the limits of human effort, beginning with this: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt,” and the Lord our God brought us forth from there “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”

The Haggadah continues with its diagnosis: “In earliest times our ancestors were idol-worshipers, but now God has drawn us to his service.” Not only were we immobilized by Egyptian bondage, but left to ourselves, we were idolaters. We didn’t initiate worship of the One True God, but rather he drew us into worshiping him. So much for bringing redemption with our own two hands.  

The Haggadah helps us fulfill the biblical commandments of Passover to remember (see Exodus 12:14, 17, 24–25; 13:3, 9). We remember not only the all-important historical events of our deliverance from Egypt, but the equally important portrayal of our hopeless state of bondage and spiritual deception—which isn’t just about Jewish history, but the whole human condition. And most important, we remember that the God described in Scripture is a God of deliverance, who draws us into his worship.  

So the fact that the world and even the House of Israel remain in need of that deliverance doesn’t invalidate the story of Passover. Rather it means that we need the story in every generation, as the Haggadah insists. 

So I’d say to the other rabbis on the panel (if they let me join in), that it might be true that Yeshua can’t be the Messiah—if he only comes once. He has to return to bring the final redemption. But to declare that he isn’t the Messiah because the world isn’t redeemed yet would be like saying that we were never redeemed from Egypt because the final redemption hasn’t happened yet. Passover Unfinished looks back at God’s great act of redemption and looks forward to redemption to come. Both redemptions are real, and the resurrection of Yeshua ties both together and guarantees that the task of redemption will be completed in days to come.   

This year, like every year, when we finish our Seder we’ll say “Next year in Jerusalem!” We’ve completed the whole ritual but Passover remains unfinished until next year—in Jerusalem—ntil the redemption which it celebrates arrives in full. “On that night we were redeemed, and on that night we shall be redeemed.” Through his atoning death and resurrection Messiah Yeshua has demonstrated himself to be the one who will bring it to pass. So as we remember who we are this Passover, let’s remember even more who he is.

Passover begins this year Friday evening, April 19. On the second night of Passover, April 20, we begin counting the Omer, 49 days from Passover to Shavuot, June 8-10, which celebrates the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai and the outpouring of the Spirit upon the followers of Yeshua. For a daily email through the counting of the Omer, subscribe at our home page and encourage friends and family to sign up too so they can enjoy the experience as well. 

Russ Resnik