Parashat Tzav – Shabbat Hagadol 5778
Why is this Shabbat called “Shabbat Hagadol” (“The Great Shabbat”)?
This Shabbat, which precedes the festival of Pesach (Passover), is called “Shabbat Hagadol,” “The Great Shabbat.” Why does this Shabbat have this special name?
There are many explanations. One of them is that the Haftarah (Malachi 3:4-24), the prophetic portion, we read this Shabbat speaks of the “great day” of God on which the Messiah will appear. It is written: “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Malachi 3:23).
According to tradition, the future redemption will occur on Pesach, the prototype of redemption. It is written in the Talmud Bavli: “In Nisan the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt; and in Nisan in the future the Jewish people will be redeemed in the final redemption” (Talmud Bavli Rosh Hashanah 11a). Indeed, one of the customs during the Seder of Pesach is to place a cup of wine in honor of Elyahu Hanavi who will announce the time of redemption.
Another explanation is that this Shabbat is called “Shabbat Hagadol” because there is a custom that the rabbi delivers a long sermon that Shabbat.
According to tradition, the 10th of Nisan in the year of the exodus was Shabbat. It was considered a great event, in fact a miracle, that the Israelites could on that day select a lamb for sacrifice without being molested by their Egyptian masters, who, at other times, would have stoned them for such daring (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 430: 1). Therefore, this Shabbat we remember this great miracle.
Following this explanation, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, the author of the “Tur,” states that the lamb was an Egyptian deity. Many Jews, after 210 years of immersion within Egyptian civilization, had also adopted this animal as their god. When God commanded that a lamb be set aside and tied to the bed for four days in anticipation of sacrifice, the Jewish people abandoned their idolatrous practice and courageously fulfilled this mitzvah, in sight of the Egyptian people, thereby demonstrating their complete trust and faith in God. Nothing could have been more abominable to the Egyptians, for their god was to be slaughtered.
Nevertheless, miraculously, the Egyptians were unable to utter a word or lift a hand. They watched helplessly as their god was being prepared for slaughter. This was a great miracle (nes gadol) and gives this Shabbat its name.
The Peri Hadash writes that on this day the Jewish people were commanded to fulfill their first mitzvah – to set aside the lamb as a sacrifice. (Note: The mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh, which is the first that appears in the Torah, was not one they practically fulfilled at that time in that month.) This significant achievement is therefore called gadol (great). Additionally, by fulfilling this first mitzvah they became like a child maturing into adulthood – they celebrated their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In this light, the name Shabbat HaGadol would translate: The Shabbat the Jews became gadol/mature adults.
There is a custom of reciting the Haggadah in the afternoon of Shabbat HaGadol in order to familiarize the people with its contents in preparation for the Seder of Pesach that week (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 430).
Therefore, we may say that this Shabbat is a great Shabbat because we are preparing ourselves for the Festival of Pesach. We prepare our spirit to have meaningful and delightful Sedarim with our family and friends. We pray for peace and redemption for the world. We celebrate the connection of our ancestors to the mitzvot and their great faith in God.
I wish all of us a Pesach Kosher Besameach, having meaningful Sedarim with family and friends, during which we can reflect on our own liberty and the redemption of the world.
Pesach Kosher Besameach!