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Shabbat Message: Redemption

Friday, April 8, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

This Shabbat - the Shabaat before Pesach is called “Shabbat Hagadol” - the Great Shabbat. 

There are numerous explanations as to why the Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat Hagadol. According to some, it was because God inhibited the Egyptians from harming the Jews after they were told that the Jews were going to slaughter a lamb as a sacrifice, the lamb being revered by Egyptians as deity. 

Others teach that the Shabbat got its name from a verse from the Haftorah of the week from the prophet Malachi (3:23)

הִנֵּ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ שֹׁלֵ֣חַ לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֵלִיָּ֣ה הַנָּבִ֑יא לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם יְהֹוָ֔ה הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא׃ 

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great, fearful day of the LORD.

Notwithstanding these (and other) explanations, we still lack an answer as to why there is a Shabbat set aside specifically to mark the coming of Pesach.

Shabbat in the Torah is presented in two ways - as a reminder of the creation of the world and as a reminder of the exodus from Egypt.  The truth is, both of these events (creation and the exodus for Egypt) are conceptually related.

The idea that the world was created by God is a reminder that the world is not at the mercy of undirected forces of nature. Remembering God’s creation of the world points to an order and a Master of the universe who is in charge. 

בִּדְבַ֣ר יְ֭הֹוָה שָׁמַ֣יִם נַעֲשׂ֑וּ וּבְר֥וּחַ פִּ֝֗יו כּל־צְבָאָֽם׃ 

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, by the breath of His mouth, all their host. (Psalms 33:6)

The exodus from Egypt, similarly, reminds us that we may only serve God and that no person or entity has the right to enslave or suppress others into their service. When God took the Jews out of Egypt He was declaring that “might does not make right”. 

Worshiping nature and worshiping power, it turns out, are both the opposite of what Shabbat is supposed to teach us.

There is a wonderful Midrash that says that the Jewish slaves in Egypt had scrolls on which were written the hisroticla promise the God would redeem them from slavery. The Midrash teaches that they would read those scrolls on Shabbat. It was on Shabbat that the enslaved Jews recognized some hope for freedom. This Midrash beautifully ties together the ideas of Shabbat and liberty. 

Now we can understand the connection between Shabbat and the Exodus from Egypt and why there is a special Shabbat right before pesach.  In the celebration of Shabbat we testify to God’s presence in our life - as the creator and director of nature and as the ultimate claimant of our service.

This Shabbat Hagadol, this message carries special weight. As the war in Ukraine, now in its second month, continues, we naturally lose interest and the intensity of our horror wanes. Doing so would be a betrayal of the lessons of the Shabbat / Exodus partnership. 

The attempt of one group to enslave and overtake another belittles and debases the belief that we may not forcefully take away one's freedom and that only God may demand our service.  

דאמר רב פועל יכול לחזור בו אפילו בחצי היום…דכתיב (ויקרא כה, נה) כי לי בני ישראל עבדים ולא עבדים לעבדים 

Rav says: A laborer may retract his commitment to his employer even in the middle of the day…as it is written: “For unto Me the children of Israel are servants” (Leviticus 25:55), indicating that Jews are servants of God, but not servants of servants. 

Respecting others, allowing people to live in peace, building communities of concern and care embody the Shabbat / Exodus connection. As we near Pesach, let our thoughts and actions be on ways we can strengthen God’s presence in the world. 

May this Pesach be redemptive for us all and help remain focused on those who, before our very eyes, are being oppressed.

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of

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