Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hands of the Egyptians . . . Exodus 14:30 NASB
Saved – If you’ve never asked yourself why God chose Hebrew as the language of His personal revelation, this verse should raise the question. Oh, it seems so straightforward on the surface, but that’s because we don’t pay much attention to the rabbis’ view of the consonants in Hebrew. However, when Rabbi Akiva read this verse, he noticed that changing the vowels (a perfectly legitimate thing to do since there aren’t any vowels in the written text) made a difference so great that it alters everything we think about deliverance. Only in Hebrew. Only in Hebrew could you notice this change. Only in Hebrew could the alternative reading still be a correct one. Only in Hebrew would God reveal a second meaning in the same word.
The usual rendering of this word (the root word is yasha’ – to deliver, to rescue, to save) is vayyosha’ (“Thus the LORD delivered”). But the word may also be read as vayyivvasha’. This reading makes the verb reflexive. Now it would be translated “Thus the LORD was delivered.” Akiva noticed that with this reading God Himself was delivered when the people of Israel were saved from the Egyptians. Rabbi Meir echoed the same interpretation when he said, “Redemption is mine and yours, and I, as it were, was redeemed with you, as it is said: ‘whom you have redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a people and its God.’”
What does Akiva mean? He means that redemption is a divine need, that it is not simply a matter of God saving Man but also of God saving Himself through the deliverance of Man. Akiva taught that salvation was a concern of God Himself and even though God chose Israel to bring this about, God will insure that redemption occurs even if Israel totally fails in its mission. Why? Because God will be glorified. God will be magnified. And that means that God will absolutely bring about the restoration of His creation because it reflects Him. We should never be in doubt about God’s ultimate success since God’s own name is at risk in this process. We hallow His name when we fulfill His commandments because we bring His reflection into a broken world, but God Himself hallows His own name in the process of restoration and He will accomplish this no matter what. It is on this basis and on this reading that Heschel can say, “God is in search of Man.”
What do we learn? We learn that we are of concern to God not simply because God loves us (that is quite a lot) but also because God’s honor and glory are wrapped up in deliverance. When God rescues us, He also rescues Himself. He restores His own honor. God does love us, but even more, He will bring honor to Himself – and you and I are a part of how that will be done. You and I are essential to restoring God’s honor. How does that make you feel?
Topical Index: Akiva, saved, yasha’, honor, Exodus 14:30
 As cited in Abraham Heschel, Heavenly Torah, p. 107.