The Shabbat immediately prior to Passover is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. How it came to be called that is a topic of discussion. One opinion is that it is because of the Haftorah read this week which refers to a day in the future which will be “great” – the day of the re-establishment of God’s Kingdom on this earth, as described in Malachi 3.
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. (Malachi 3:23)
The prophet speaks of the day of redemption in the future. Passover, which represents the day of redemption of antiquity, serves as the model for the future redemption of the children of Israel.
This Shabbat in Egypt was different from all other previous Shabbatot. This time, man joined God in His holy day. Ironically, the mode of observance was not “resting” as we think of it in the context of today’s Shabbat. Historically, the Shabbat before Pesach was the day when the children of Israel were commanded to take to themselves a lamb, a symbolic action that stood in opposition to the lamb-worshiping Egyptians.
The Sages note that by taking the lamb the Jews observed Shabbat in Egypt as never before. This was their first Shabbat as a people, a moment of passage in the national sense: They had reached the age of majority, became adult (“gedolim”), with responsibilities. This was Shabbat “HaGadol”. The most basic teaching of Shabbat is the acknowledgement that God created the world in six days. By taking the lamb the Jews rejected idolatry and accepted God. This was not merely an action which took place on the tenth of Nissan. This was a watershed of Jewish history. Now the Jews joined God in a Shabbat.
The Talmud teaches that one who desecrates Shabbat is guilty of idolatry, for he has rejected the works of God. Now we see that those who rejected idolatry were viewed as “Shabbat observers.” Moreover, in taking the lamb, they kept their only Shabbat commandment. This “perfect track record” made it a truly great Shabbat.13
Our sages teach us that if all of Israel fully observe just two Shabbatot the Messiah would appear.
Interestingly, according to the mainstream Jewish approach the world was created in Nissan, which means that the Shabbat which takes place around the 10th of the month was the second Shabbat in the history of the world. Had those two Shabbatot been kept properly the world would have been redeemed back then.
In particular, the two Shabbatot which must be observed are Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbt Shuva. Each of these Shabbatot have a special power to them: One falls between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, it is a Shabbat which teaches man how to return to God. The other Shabbat is the first Shabbat observed in Egypt, the one we are about to celebrate. It is a Shabbat which contains within it the secret of redemption.
If man could master these two Shabbatot, the Messiah would quickly arrive. Would that it would be this year.
Torah reading this week is Acharie Mot found in Leviticus 16-18
Acharei Mot includes the Yom Kippur service where the High Priest cast lots to designate two goats — one to be sacrificed, the other to be driven to a place called Azazel after the High Priest confessed the sins of the people upon its head.
The goat sent to Azazel symbolically carried away the sins of the Jewish people. This, I surmise, is the source of the concept of using a scapegoat. One thing you can truly give credit to the Jewish people — when we use a scapegoat, at least we use a real goat!
Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between man and the Almighty. However, Yom Kippur only atones for transgressions between man and man if a person first attains the forgiveness of those whom he has offended or harmed.
While our main reason not to hurt others should be out of compassion and caring, we learn from here that we should be careful not to hurt others out of our own self interests — the embarrassment of having to ask others for forgiveness and the possibility that they won’t or can’t forgive you.
In Tune with Torah this week = as we prepare to celebrate the Festival of our Redemption, past and future, let us examine our relationships and make sure that we have no ‘unfinished business’ in that area. If we need to ask forgiveness for some offense, let’s do it from the heart. If we need to forgive someone else, likewise let’s forgive freely as God forgives us.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach!!! (A blessed Passover)