We generally think of Shabbos Hagadol as the prelude to Pesach, when some have the minhag to recite part of the Haggadah and the rov reviews hilchos Pesach. In recent generations, the custom has arisen of the rov offering various chiddushei Torah, which stimulate communal learning, a reference to the fact that Yetzias Mitzrayim was always designated to culminate in Mattan Torah (Shemos 3:12).
However, there is a much deeper significance to this Shabbos, which can help us in our avodas Hashem in this wondrous season. Let us begin with several maamorim (32, 34, 38) by Rav Yonasan David, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok of Yerushalayim. He begins with the well-known halacha (Orach Chaim 430) that Shabbos Hagadol commemorates the miracle that in the year 2448 after creation, Klal Yisroel shechted the lamb, which was the main Egyptian idol, yet not one Mitzri said a word. Their teeth were frozen in their mouths, apparently in fear of Hashem and His people. Rav Yonasan notes that the entire process leading up to Yetzias Mitzrayim was replete with countless nissim, as enumerated in the Haggadah. These include the ten plagues, splitting of the sea, etc., yet none of these resulted in a special day. Furthermore, the miracle associated with Shabbos Hagadol is not even mentioned specifically in the Torah, whereas so many others are described in detail.
Rav Yonasan explains the difference between the event that happened on the tenth of Nissan (Shabbos Hagadol) and all other aspects of the exodus. The nissim of Yetzias Mitzrayim helped create the new Adam who would now be the purpose of creation. Each detail contributed to the birth and development of this nation. As Rashi tells us in the beginning of his commentary on Chumash, the saga of Yetzias Mitzrayim should have begun the Torah itself. That is how important this occurrence was and is. Nevertheless, when examined objectively, we must realize that no open miracle happened on the tenth of Nissan, nor were the Egyptians pummeled and decimated as they were during the eser makkos. What happened was that their bechirah – free will – was taken away so that the new Adam could be born with the free will to serve Hashem in perfection.
As Rav Yonasan reformulates the Shabbos Hagadol event, its uniqueness flowed from the fact that it was a partnership between the Creator and the newborn nation. Hashem removed their free will, but we had to act on our own. It was the nation that had to begin its avodas Hashem by offering a korban, which is the ultimate avodah. That sacrifice, the Korban Pesach, became the korban associated with Klal Yisroel’s own creation (Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach, Maamar 33). Neither a private sacrifice nor fully a communal one, it signified the actual creation of the nation itself. Therefore, this new korban became associated with reciting the Haggadah, words of praise to the Creator, because that is the essence of the new nation. We know this from the words of the novi, “This people which I fashioned for myself that they might declare My praise (Yeshayahu 43:21). In other words, all of the words spoken through the ages at the Seder and in coordination with the Korban Pesach cry out that we have been created for just this purpose, to utter and sing songs of shevach to our Creator.
All of this is very true. However, Rav Yonasan takes us one giant step deeper as well. The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem 39) reveals that the word gadol in Shabbos Hagadol is rooted in the posuk, “Behold I send you Eliyahu Hanovi before the coming of the Yom Hashem hagadol vehanorah, the great and awesome day” (Malachi 3:23). Rav Yonasan explains the Maharal to mean that Yetzias Mitzrayim was only a beginning. We gained many levels of understanding and greatness when we left Egypt. However, in the future world, we will not be limited to the type of freedom we gained in 2448. In the future world, our cheirus will be limitless and eternal, in keeping with the geulah, which, at that time, will indeed be sheleimah. Rav Yonasan goes on to explicate with this approach why Shabbos Hagadol is commemorated with a public teaching of Torah. Since the future geulah will reflect a time when “the world will be filled with knowledge of G-d as the water covers the sea,” the beginning of that process must also start with the public manifestation of talmud Torah.
The Sefas Emes, too (Vayikra, “Shabbos Hagadol” 5654), enumerates the three aspects of Shabbos as reflected in the three Shemoneh Esreis. Friday night corresponds to Shabbos Bereishis, Shabbos morning to Shabbos Mattan Torah, and Mincha to the Shabbos of Moshiach, when all will reach perfection. As we know, Pesach itself is called Shabbos, reiterating that both Shabbos and Pesach are conduits and venues for reaching the ultimate madreigah of geulah. We might add that Shabbos Hagadol encompasses all three of these stages and steps. It begins with the creation of the world before Klal Yisroel and its ascension to the pinnacle of what mankind was supposed to be but failed. Then, during the Shabbos itself, we grow from just being part of the world to its purpose and goal. Then we recall that we received the Torah so that we could fulfill our purpose, eventually reaching the glory of the future world. Shabbos Hagadol unifies these stages with the mystical moment when we joined Hashem in making this day into one that was both miraculous and a fulfillment of our own destiny.
We can now also answer the famous question of the Bach (to the Tur 430): “Why is the miracle [of the Egyptian silence] associated with Shabbos? The 10th of Nissan should have been designated as the day for remembering this amazing occurrence.”
The answer is that just as Shabbos is the most important day of the week and its culmination (Kuzari), so will the Shabbos Hagadol – the ultimate Shabbos of the World to Come – be the culmination of all the millennia of history. As we learned from the Maharal, Yetzias Mitzrayim was only the beginning of the eschatological process leading to Moshiach. Thus, the novi Micha (7:15) teaches us that “As in the days when you left the land of Egypt, I will show it wonders.” This has been understood for centuries as the guidebook for what will happen in the future geulah. It will mirror and even surpass Yetzias Mitzrayim, but it will follow similar patterns. Although much has still been withheld from us, it is clear that there will be a renaissance of Torah learning and observance, which will come sadly but predictably after tremendous sacrifice and travail. Surely we have already seen and experienced much of the suffering, but we have also witnessed the explosion of Torah and return to Hashem.
Our avodah at this time, especially with the tragic loss of Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, is to add as much Torah as each of us can, both to attempt to restore what has been lost and to bring the true geulah. May this Shabbos Hagadol indeed be the harbinger of the serenity and tranquility of Shabbos for all of our people bimeheirah beyomeinu.