Candles March 27th 6:55pm
Havadalah March 28th 7:51pm
The Shabbat before Pesach is always called “Shabbat HaGadol,” “the Great Shabbat.” It’s very unclear why. Explanations range from the past to present to the future.
The Exodus itself was such a miracle that it merited special treatment. Taking a sheep, sacred to the ancient Egyptians was an act of rebellion and the failure of the Egyptians to respond was a miracle.
Easter was the beginning of the season of persecutions when after hearing in Church about the crucifixion Christians were urged to avenge it by attacking Jews.
The Ka’arites believed that Pesach should always start on a Shabbat. So in order to distinguish our Pesach the rabbis called the Shabbat they called Pesah Shabbat HaGadol instead.
It was the occasion of extended study in preparation for Pesach. In Medieval times the rabbi would only give sermons, derashot, on this Shabbat and the one before Yom Kipur. It’s “greatness” lay in its emphasis on communal study.
The Haftarah from the book of Malachi (and Joel) mentions the Great Day of the Lord when we will be redeemed in the future and all able to live in peace. Shabbat HaGadol is that day.
The custom is Medieval in origin and probably was indeed a response to persecution. But in traditional rabbinic fashion their response was to look back to history and the past, to give the occasion immediate and present significance and to prepare and look forward to a better future.
That really is an encapsulation of the Jewish spirit, to revere tradition, to make it inspire and enrich our present and to strive to improve the future for us and our children.
Pesach begins next Friday night.