Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Tzav) Bold and Daring!
The title of this Shabbat is, ‘Shabbat Hagadol.’ The Hebrew word Gadol can mean either great or big in size. Commentators explain that both meanings of the word apply to this Shabbat.
It is customary that the rabbi of the congregation speaks on the Shabbat that precedes Pesach to present and clarify the many laws that apply to Pesach. There are commentators that explain amusingly that the name Shabbat Hagadol – the long Shabbos – came about since the rabbi’s Drosha – lecture is more lengthy than usual!
The classical explanation why this Shabbat is called Shabbat Hagadol is because five days before the Jews were freed from Egypt, on the day of Shabbat, they did something very daring. Each family took a male one year old sheep - which was the Egyptian deity - into their home and attached it with a leash to their bedposts. During the next four days they fed and cared for the lamb and inspected it to make sure that it was blemish free so that it would qualify to be offered as the Pascal sacrifice.
Taking the free roaming deity of the Egyptians into their homes was extremely daring, because the Egyptians, in their devotion and loyalty to their deity, might have brutally and viciously attacked them. Miraculously, the Egyptians were unable to respond violently. Because the Jews displayed such devotion to G-d’s instruction in the face of a possible harmful reaction, the Shabbat before Pesach is called the great Shabbat!
I came across an interesting question: Why do we commemorate the miracle of the Jews not being harmed, on Shabbat, the day of the week it occurred, rather than on the tenth of Nisan the date of the month it occurred, which is the standard way we commemorate events?
An answer offered is that if it would have been established based on the calendar date, the 10th day of Nissan, people may think that we are commemorating another miracle that happened on that same date, because the 10th of Nissan is also the date the Jewish nation miraculously crossed the Jordan River and entered into the land of Israel after their 40 year sojourn in the desert.
What would be so bad if people think this special day commemorates the miracle of crossing the Jordan River? We read four special Torah/Haftorah portions in the weeks before Passover. In some synagogues, they include certain prayers that pertain to the additional readings. I noticed something very interesting in one of the stanzas. The Jews miraculously crossed the Jordan on the 10th of Nissan in the merit of bringing the lamb into their homes in Egypt of the 10th of Nissan.
Perhaps we can explain that since the miracle of the Jordan River came about in the merit of the Jews taking the sheep into their homes, we celebrate on the Shabbat – the day of the week it occurred – to highlight that our main celebration is the original event which occurred on Shabbat. Commentators also point out that the Shabbat always infuses the coming week with holiness, therefore the Shabbat that precedes a holiday has special significance since it spiritually energizes the upcoming holiday. We emphasize Shabbat because the spiritual energy that affected the redemption from Egypt came from the holiness of Shabbat.
The Talmud tells us that one who recites on Shabbat the passage of Vayechulu – which describes that G-d ceased creating on Shabbat, becomes a partner in the creation of the world. Orach Chaim Hakodosh asks the obvious question: How is it possible to partner in something that happened in the past?
He explains with the following amazing concept: G-d created the world in such a way that it only has the ability to exist for six days. Then the Shabbat comes and gives the world the energy for the weekly cycle to recreate itself. This is only possible through our observance of the holy day of Shabbat.
This sheds light on the statement, ‘One who believes and observes the Shabbat and expresses it by reciting Vayechulu – that G-d ceased from creative activities, it is as if he is a partner in creation.” He is considered a partner because through his observance he actually enables the world to continue!
Last Shabbat night a tragedy beyond description or comprehension occurred to an observant family when seven of their children were tragically killed by fire. I have been asked several times, ‘They were observing Shabbat; and this happened?’
I am not worthy to comment… Perhaps, we can focus on a different perspective… Our Sages teach us that it is a special merit to a soul when it is taken while in the midst of a Mitzvah observance. The holy soul rises to the Heavens clothed in the Kedusha – sanctity of a sacred Mitzvah, thus one who dies on Shabbat has special merit. A meaningful way to respond to this tragedy is by making our observance and appreciation of the Shabbat that much greater, especially on the Shabbat of the year that is called Great!
Wishing you a most enjoyable and uplifting Shabbat!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks and family