Begins Friday 30th March at 7 pm. Ends 31st at 8 pm
The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol, the great Shabbat. There are two ‘Great’ Shabbats, this one and the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur, called Shabbat Shuva.’
There is an amazing number array of different reasons given for calling it Shabbat HaGadol and each one reflects a different aspect of our long history.
In Egypt the Children of Israel were given the order to prepare their sacrificial lambs and have then ready on the Shabbat before Pesach. This was the first example of the slaves standing up to their maters because sacrificing sheep went against Egyptian traditions at that time. This is an example of a Biblical explanation and its relevance is in the idea that for a revolution or change, be it political or spiritual, one needs people committed to taking risks.
The Talmudic era gave us another explanation. Study, knowledge of our heritage and texts became the Rabbinic secret for survival in exile amongst much more powerful cultures and religions. As Pesach involved a great deal of preparation it became an obligation to study the laws and customs and the Shabbat before Pesach was devoted to study. This explanation puts the emphasis on study for survival.
Then with Christianity came another challenge. Christians celebrate Easter because that was when according to their traditions Jesus was crucified and the Jews were blamed. Throughout Christendom Easter was always a time of violence against Jews for this reason. But Christians also believed that the crucifixion took place on the Sabbath because according to their reading of the bible the first day of Passover always had to be brought forward to the nearest Saturday because Jesus. That was why the Jews gave the Shabbat before Passover a different title so as not to confuse them. This is an example of how important for Jewish survival to differentiate it from those subsequent religions who claimed that they had superseded Judaism.
And finally the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol mentions that in the future there will be a Great Day when human suffering and oppression will end, the messianic Era. So that here we have reasons based on the future as well as the past and present. And that indeed why Pesach itself is so important because it connects the dots and explains how and why we have survived and will continue to.
I am sorry that I will miss you all over the First Two Days of Pesach when I will be away but I will be back for the last days.
I wish you all wherever you might be a very happy, enjoyable and inspiring Pesach.