Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shabbat HaGadol- the Great Shabbat


The Shabbat prior to Pesach is called Shabbat Hagadol, The Great Shabbat. Traditionally it was one of the two Shabbbatot when rabbis would give a long sermon in preparation of the hag. The Shibolei Haleket, Zedekiah ben Abraham Anaw, 13th century scholar, wrote this was the reason it was called gadol, because the rabbis would speak for so long. However, the traditional reason given in Midrash, and backed up by scholars throughout the centuries, refers to this Shabbat as a time when those Israelites who had been drawn into Egyptian practice returned to Judaism.
Although it is said that the Israelites never gave up their Hebrew names or practices, and maintained a separate community even while in Egypt, after generations of settlement in Egypt many Israelites had begun to take on Egyptian practices, including the worship of certain animals. One of those sacred animals is the lamb. On Shabbat Hagadol the Israelites received the mitzvah to prepare the pesach, the lamb for sacrifice. For days the lambs were secured to ensure they were prepared and ready. Once they received this mitzvah, the Israelites abandoned their worship of animals, and returned to God. But even beyond their return to God, the Egyptians were helpless to stop the slaughter of the animals. The Tur reports this was a nes gadol, a great miracle, giving the name to the Shabbat prior to Pesach.
The Pri Hadash, a commentator on the Shulchan Arukh, writes that the Israelites’ willingness to fulfill the mitzvot given to them, especially this first mitzvah, was like the moment when the Israelites went from being like children to being like adults, going from katan to gadol.
Interestingly, Pesach is still a time when Jews connect with God and the mitzvot. The Pesach seder is the most observed Jewish ritual in the world. More than 80% of Jews around the world attend some form of the seder. It is still a time when we aim to connect with God and with the general community, a time when we seek to exert our generational connection to our history and the continuity of the Jewish community.
I join with Sean, Jesse, Gavriel & Keren in wishing you a hag kasher v’sameach, a kosher and happy holiday, celebrating our creation, history, and continuity as a Jewish community.