"We are closer to G-d when we are asking the questions, than when we think we have the answers" Heschel

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shabbos Hagadol – What's the big idea

FNQ – Special for Pesach

Shabbos Hagadol is one of the many things we do every year and probably never stop to ask what makes this shabbos any greater/bigger than any other shabbos. In my limited research I discovered five different explanations for the name shabbos hagadol and what it is that makes this shabbos is unique. I have no doubt that there are additional reasons given but here is what I found. If you know of other explanations please share them. The sources for these can be found on this source sheet.

The first idea I encountered appears in the Maharil. He explains that the name shabbos hagadol is derived from the lengthy drasha customarily given on this shabbos in preparation for Pesach. He compares this to Yom Kippur which was known as the big fast due to the amount of time spent in shul in prayer. In the same vein the shabbos before Pesach is gadol because of the time spent in shul listening to the Rabbi's speech.

The 2nd explanation I found appears in a sefer entitled Halichot Shlomo on Pesach which is a compilation of the halachic rulings of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Rav Shlomo Zalman thought that the name shabbos hagadol is meant to emphasize that there are really two Shabbosim. There is a big Shabbos and there is also a small shabbos. The big shabbos is the one we celebrate every seven days and the small shabbos is Pesach. To explain further. The Torah says that we have to begin sefirat ha'omer the night after shabbos, yet in another place the Torah says we begin counting from the 2nd night of Pesach. Those who denied the oral law noticed this contradiction and felt that the only way to resolve it was to ensure that Pesach always fell on Shabbos and thus they could begin sefirat ha'omer both on the 2nd night of Pesach and on motzai shabbos. We who accept the oral tradition know that there is in fact no contradiction and both verses are referring to Pesach. To emphasize that shabbos can refer to both the actual shabbos and to Pesach, the shabbos before Pesach was entitled Shabbos Hagadol and thus it was distinguished from the shabbos hakatan (Pesach) that comes after.

The 3rd explanation appears in the Avudraham. He explains that Shabbos Hagadol means that shabbos where we received our first commandments (korban Pesach and brit milah) and were thus considered adults or gedolim.

The 4th and 5th explanations are essentially two versions of the same idea. It is this version that is recorded in both the Tur and Shulchan Aruch as the basis for the greatness of this shabbos. The Shulchan Aruch states simply that this Shabbos is great due to the miracle that occurred on it. There are two versions of what this miracle was. Tosfot explains that the miracle that took place on this shabbos was that a horde of Egyptians demanded Pharoah let the Jews go in order to spare the firstborns. When Pharoah refused the angry mob proceeded to slaughter 600,000 other Egyptians making our escape significantly easier.

The 2nd version of the miracle is the following. Four days prior to sacrificing the korban Pesach the Jewish people designated their personal lambs each would use. In Egypt the lamb was a god and taking this animal to sacrifice was the highest form of sacrilege. As we took our lambs G-d performed an incredible miracle by making the Egyptians incapable of harming us by literally freezing them in their places. With the Egyptians momentarily paralyzed we were free to fulfill our obligation and bring the korban Pesach. In commemoration of these miracles we mark the greatness of the shabbos before Pesach.

Perhaps this year we will connect with the greatness of this shabbos and merit the complete redemption that followed it.

What do you think?

Binyamin – always looking for a good question

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