Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Shabbat Hagadol
To dedicate this lesson

Israel's Soul Redemption

We must stand before the nations of the world with pride and confidence. We need not threaten them with imminent death, of course, but rather simply know and recognize that we are different - and that with our great strength, we wish to bring blessing to the entire world and all of mankind...


Rabbi Elyakim Levanon

Nissan 9 5783
Translated by Hillel Fendel

This coming Shabbat is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Sabbath. Why was this name chosen?

Most authorities tell us that it is because of the great miracle that G-d performed for Israel on the Shabbat on the first-ever Passover, which was the night of the Exodus. The Midrash recounts that G-d instructed the Israelites to set aside a lamb on the 10
th day of Nissan to use as the Paschal sacrifice on the 15th. That year, as this year, the 10th of the month was on the Shabbat. When the Egyptians saw the Jews tying their gods – sheep – to the legs of their beds for safekeeping, they were shocked and outraged, and demanded an explanation. The Jews proudly declared that they were going to slaughter the lamb, as G-d had commanded. Whereupon, the Egyptians were left speechless – and thus the Israelites began their departure from the practice of idol worship.

The events of this "great" day were thus the beginning of Israel's soul redemption, which began its physical actualization five days later, on the 15th of Nissan.

But what was the big miracle? After all, there had already been nine plagues that left the Egyptians weakened and speechless; what was so special this time?

The answer is that this time, not only were the Egyptians and their property stricken, but even their gods! This was certainly a big deal, worthy of calling this Shabbat "Shabbat HaGadol."

Other explanations for this name have also been offered over the generations. Some say it stands for the great sermon delivered by the leading rabbi in every congregation on this Shabbat; others say it is symbolic of the preparations for the Great Day of G-d mentioned by the Prophets; others explain differently. But all agree that this Shabbat emphasizes the greatness of the Israelites who, even under conditions of poverty and enslavement, were able to stand tall before the Egyptians and speak proudly about their upcoming freedom and the end of their subservience to their past taskmasters.

In addition, the Midrash tells us that Israel informed the Egyptians that they were soon to suffer the Plague of the Firstborns, and that their families' oldest sons were to meet their deaths, along with their gods. The Egyptian overlords heard this abuse – and had no strength to respond.

This is a great lesson to us: We must stand before the nations of the world with pride and confidence. We need not threaten them with imminent death, of course, but rather simply know and recognize that we are different – and that with our great strength, we wish to bring blessing to the entire world and all of mankind.

We must always remember, without embarrassment or false modesty, that we are the chosen nation: "You have chosen us from among all the nations," we say in our Festival prayers. The gods of [most of] the other peoples are no longer sheep or cattle, as they were in Egypt; today they are various goals and visions, each nation according to its own beliefs. One nation believes in money and/or world control, another sets on a pedestal the ideals of killing all its opponents, and yet another is steeped in its belief of neutrality, even if it be imaginary, and its ability to preach to all other nations. And of course, the vision of anti-Semitism is common to more than one nation, which spurs them on to do whatever they can to block the ascent of Am Yisrael. All of these ideals and spiritual foundations of various nations, we must "slaughter," just as we slaughter the lambs in Egypt. But first and foremost, we must slaughter them for ourselves, i.e., make sure that we recognize their deception and falsehood – and then this awareness will gradually filter down to the other nations.

The Struggle of the Spirit

Another explanation of the name "Great Shabbat" involves the struggle of faith. On the second night of Passover, we will begin the Omer counting – 49 days, until the Festival of Shavuot. During Talmudic times, there were those, named Baitusim, who did not believe in the Oral Torah, and decided to start the counting from the day after Shabbat on Passover, as is written, "the morrow of the Sabbath." However, the Oral Law teaches that this Shabbat refers to the first day of Passover, on which we also cease work, like on Shabbat.

The Rabbinical interpretation, of course, won the day – but the question is: What was the depth of this dispute? What was it really about?

First and foremost, of course, it was over the question of when to celebrate Shavuot. According to our system, it always comes out 50 days after the first day of Passover (for instance, this year when Passover begins on Thursday, Shavuot will be on a Friday seven weeks later). But according to the Baitusim, Shavuot always falls on a Sunday, which might be some eight weeks after the beginning of Pesach. The issue then is: Does Shavuot depend on the first day of Pesah, as we hold today, or is it a function of Shabbat, as per the Baitusim?

And so the dispute is ideological: Is Shavuot, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah to Israel, directly connected to Israel's Exodus from Egypt? Or do we view the Torah as a universal asset, linked to the Sabbath day, the day of the Creation of the World and all of mankind?

The Sages knew how to define and delineate these two fundamental concepts – Shabbat and the Giving of the Torah – and declare that they belong exclusively to Israel! A Gentile is not allowed to keep Shabbat according to all its laws, nor is he permitted to study Torah if not for the purpose of keeping the Noahide Laws or to convert.

This is why the Sages emphasized that Shavuot must be seven weeks after "the morrow of the first day of Pesah," so that the Torah applies only to the people of the Exodus – and so that Shabbat remain a day exclusively for the Jewish Nation.

The Festival of Pesah actually begins on the 14th day of Nissan, the day on which the Paschal sacrifice is slaughtered. It is not a "Shabbat" day on which work is forbidden. The next day, however, when we eat the Paschal lamb, is a day of Shabbat-type rest. And so, in order that we not mistakenly think that the Omer counting begins on the morrow of the 14th, the non-Shabbat day, the Torah wrote "on the morrow of the Sabbath," i.e., the Pesah day that is like Shabbat, and not the Pesah day that is not like Shabbat.

Continuing this line of thought, if Pesah is called Shabbat, then it is a "small Shabbat," compared to the Sabbath before it – which will thus be called the "Great Shabbat." By calling this Shabbat the "Great Shabbat," it emphasizes that Pesah, too, is a Shabbat – albeit a small one [– and that the Rabbinic interpretation is correct – ed.].

The Torah belongs exclusively to Israel, not the other nations. If there are individuals or groups among us who wish to imitate the Gentiles in their prayers and the like, and they recruit the Torah for this purpose of waging foreign religious "services" at the Western Wall – this is actually a continuation of the Baitusim. The hand of Israel and the strength of Torah-true Judaism will overcome, the Torah will continue to be linked with Pesah, and the light of Israel will illuminate throughout the earth. 

In order to get articles like this delivered straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the Israel National Torah newsletter here.

את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר