Mar 22 2018 Dvar Torah

Rabbi Robert Eisen

So this is it: SHABBAT HaGADOL – The GREAT BIG Sabbath! What makes it so special? MAH NISHTANAH: Why is this Sabbath different from all the others?

Take a hint from the second question, and answers begin to emerge.

According to some, this Sabbath is referred to as HaGADOL due to a “corruption of language.” Coming as it does immediately prior to Passover, it was originally embraced as “SHABBAT HaHAGADDAH” … the Sabbath when one would take some time to review the HAGGADAH and begin to mentally/spiritually prepare for our SEDERIM (plural for SEDER – the ritual meal held the first two nights of Passover). Say that name too many times too fast, and it is easy to see how it became slurred.

Others say this SHABBAT is considered special because on it we recall the beginning of the preparation for the Exodus itself ... when our ancestors chose the lambs that they were to slaughter as a sacrifice prior to The Plague of the Firstborn – as a statement of their faith in God as God.

And, just to mention one more (some things sound better in threes ), the HAFTARAH (special portion from the Prophets read after the conclusion of our Torah Reading) quotes Malachai (3:23) as speaking about the great and awesome day of the Lord … what is more GADOL than that ?!

At the same time, I think there is one more reason that this Sabbath which falls immediately prior to Passover is called HaGADOL, and that is because it is SHABBAT!

For so many days, weeks and/or months, we have been focused on preparing for Passover. We clean and scrub, throw more things out than we knew we had, and then end up acquiring that much and more (what we think we will need for the eight days – never thinking that “just one” would be enough). So focused on the preparation, we may have forgotten why we are so involved in the first place.

And then … and then comes SHABBAT! We are given the opportunity to hit our “pause button” … to take a break from all the things we think we “ought” to be doing, and focus on what we “need” to be doing. We are given a moment to remind ourselves of “why” what we are doing is so worth it.

SHABBAT HaGADOL enables us to remember the mission, vision, and values of what living Judaism is all about in the first place … to better appreciate the “why” of living Judaism … to begin to realize that we too were among those that were brought out of Egypt – that we too have much for which to give thanks.

So this is it: SHABBAT HaGADOL – The GREAT BIG Sabbath! What makes it so special? MAH NISHTANAH: Why is this Sabbath different from all the others?

Or: So, what does any of this have to do with me?

Many of the people who research this sort of thing report that of all the holidays in the Jewish calendar, Passover gets the most attention. It is observed in whole or part because of the hands-on practical manner in which it is celebrated, the family/communal factor of participating in a Seder, and because of its message of hope and redemption (no guilt ).

If it is true that we are drawn to this holiday, so can we get that much more from it if we begin to prepare ourselves physically and spiritually. That is what this Sabbath is all about … it is an opportunity to actually have a SHABBAT SHALOM – a Sabbath that reminds us of the peace we will be afforded when, on that fateful Passover yet to come, when we open the door for Elijah, he will be standing there with a staff in one hand and a smile on his face to lead us into a world that is redeemed.