Rabbi Dovid Saks
What Makes this Shabbos so Great
At our Seders we recount the ten plagues that G-d brought upon the Egyptians and while doing so, we traditionally pour off some wine from our cups.
A phenomenal feature of the plagues is that it never affected, disturbed or came upon any of the Jews!
However, the last plague, the slaying of the first born, stands apart from the rest of the plagues because the Jews were instructed to do something to prevent them from the consequences of the wrath of the plague. The Jews were instructed before this plague to collect the blood of the Pascal lamb and apply it to the inner doorposts and lintel of their doors. They were also instructed to remain indoors while they ate the roasted lamb, and throughout the entire night. By abiding by these rules G-d skipped over the homes of the Jews while all the Egyptian firstborn were slain.
Abarbanel wonders what special characteristic did the slaying of the first born have over the other plagues.
Rabbi Nissan Alpert o.b.m. explains that the function of the first nine plagues was to prove to Pharoh and the Egyptians that G-d exists and that He is in control of all happenings.
When they failed to raise themselves spiritually and to recognize G-d after the nine awesome plagues, G-d felt it unnecessary to perform another plague just prove His existence.
G-d specifically chose the first born Egyptians to be killed during this plague to convey that just as first born children possess a special role of leadership, direction and guidance within a family, this same notion of headship should have engendered the Egyptians to recognize G-d during the previous plagues, and since they didn’t capitalize on that capacity, G-d revealed an intense Personal revelation to the first born Egyptians as the verse states, “They will know during this plague that I am G-d.” This concentrated revelation of G-d caused them to expire thus conveying their failure of elevating themselves to a spiritual level of being able to handle this revelation.
If this was the nature of the plague, the Jews had to do something that proved their worthiness of salvation. How was this accomplished? G-d did not tell them to shoot and kill every lamb and goat - the Egyptian’s deity. Rather, He instructed that on the Shabbos before the Exodus the Jews take a lamb or goat, into their homes and to harness the animal to their bed posts and have it remain their for four days. By courageously doing this, the Jews displayed a remarkable defiance of the Egyptian onlookers and a commitment to G-d. The Shabbos preceding Passover has been emblazoned by the title, ‘Shabbos HaGodol’ – the great Shabbos – referring to the great display of defiance that the Jews proved towards the Egyptians.
The Hebrew word Godol also means to rise above. Through the Jews’ commitment to the command of G-d, they rose in levels of spirituality, and were labeled as a Godolim – indicating their enhancement of holiness.
Four days after this event, the Jews further displayed their commitment to G-d’s command and defiance of the idols when they slaughtered the animal, applied the blood to their door frames and then roasted and ate the Pascal lamb that night.
This process of elevated levels of spirituality and belief in the Almighty deemed the Jews worthy of G-d skipping over their homes and sparing the lives of the first born of the Jews, since they all proved themselves as ‘first born’- people who took spiritual responsibility and leadership seriously. In fact, the Almighty refers to the Jews as, ‘Beni Bechori Yisroel - My children, first born – Israel.” We are all categorized as first born because of the leadership qualities we displayed and continually demonstrate in our attachment and commitment to Almighty’s Will!