12 APRIL 2014 | 12 NISAN
SHABBAT HAGADOL |
The Sabbath preceding Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol (The Great Sabbath). The origins of this special Shabbat lie in the Torah. It was on this day that the Jewish People followed the command of God and “took for themselves” a lamb which was to be set aside for the paschal sacrifice. This day, the 10th of Nisan, occurred four days before the first Passover (Pesach Mitzrayim, i.e. Passover from Egypt) which the sages determined to be on a Thursday.
The rabbis have attempted to explain the term Gadol applied to this Sabbath by reflecting upon the significance of the lamb (a deity to the Egyptians) and the instruction to select the lamb four days prior to the sacrifice.
This day was Gadol (Great) because The Great God (HaGadol) of the Hebrews commanded and miraculously allowed it to happen that, despite the affront to the Egyptians against their deity, the people of Israel where enabled to take this action. The Egyptians were not able to prevent the people of Israel from taking their lambs; a great miracle (nes gadol) indeed.
It is related in midrash that when the people of Israel explained their action as their protection against the coming plague of the firstborn [the tenth and last of the plagues], the firstborn of Egypt begged their fathers to let the Israelites go. When this cry was refused war broke out between them and many Egyptians died (Tosafot, Shabbat 87b; Midrash Tehillim 136:6; Tanchuma, Bo). This event alone warranted the designation Gadol to this day.
Others have espoused the teaching that because many Israelites who had adopted Egyptian practices repented and returned to their Jewish roots on this day, this Shabbat was honoured with the distinction Gadol in honor of God, who is referred to as “HaGadol”.
According to the Pri Chadash (Rav Chizkiah Silva, 1657-1696) it was on this day that the people of Israel performed their first mitzvah, an achievement which alone should be called Gadol. Additionally they, in performing this first mitzvah, showed their maturity. It was, in effect, their bar mitzvah. These Jews, this day, became mature (gadol) adults. In a similar vein the Chatam Sofer (Moses Schreiber, 1762-1839) taught that on this day the people of Israel did teshuvah, fully returning to God in faith and commitment. Therefore they themselves are called gadol because God is Gadol.