The Eternal Power of Shabbos Hagadol

Last year, at this time, we discussed the meaning of Shabbos Hagadol in the writings of the Gerrer rebbes. This year, we will explore other approaches to understanding the power and potential of this wonderful day.

Rav Yechezkel Halberstam zt”l, the Shinover Rebbe (Divrei Yechezkel, Shabbos Hagadol, page 58) suggests an original reason for the name Shabbos Hagadol. He notes that every Shabbos constitutes a sign and testimony to the fact that Hashem created the universe (Shemos 31:17). However, when Klal Yisroel left Mitzrayim on Shabbos, the tenth of Nissan, the Egyptians saw us preparing to slaughter their idol, the lamb, but were paralyzed with fear and could not utter a sound (Tur 430). That Shabbos and all ensuing Shabbos Hagadols thereupon became testimony to the fact that Hashem not only created the world, but “runs the universe,” manages all its events, provides all its needs and oversees every detail of His domain. In short, we might add, Shabbos Hagadol was and remains the day our Creator also demonstrated His Hashgacha Protis, Divine Providence.

The Izhbitzer Rebbe (Mei Hashiloach, Likkutei HaShas, page 182) also contemplates what changed in the world with the advent of Shabbos Hagadol. He points out that until Yetzias Mitzrayim, the only “time of holiness” was the weekly Shabbos. However, with the advent of the day of our redemption, “the kedusha of Shabbos began to overflow and spread until it elevated all the other six days of creation. This, in turn, became the matrix of the six mundane days which became sanctified – Rosh Hashonoh, Yom Kippur, Shavuos, Sukkos, Pesach and Shemini Atzeres. For this reason, that day became known as Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos.”

The Izhbitzer has revealed here an amazing secret about the Jewish calendar and indeed about the foundation of Am Yisroel. Not only is Shabbos the techilah lemikraei kodesh – the beginning of all the Yomim Tovim – but their very existence came about directly through Shabbos Hagadol. To understand this more fully and to glean how we can access this powerful engine, let us listen to the Sheim MiShmuel’s understanding of Shabbos Hagadol.

The Sheim MiShmuel (Shabbos Hagadol, page 10) shares with us that the term gadol or gedolah refers to the middah of chesed, loving-kindness. The world, which was created for chesed – “olam chesed yiboneh” – is called gedulah, as stated in the posuk of “lecha Hashem hagedulah – You Hashem have gedulah” (Brachos 58a). Furthermore, Yetzias Mitzrayim itself is called gedolah in the posuk of “And the Bnei Yisroel saw the Yad Hagedolah” (Shemos 14:31). The Sheim MiShmuel goes on to demonstrate that the miracle that happened on Shabbos Hagadol was in fact not the greatest of the series of miracles associated with Yetzias Mitzrayim. Each of the makkos was actually greater. However, whereas all the other nissim were dual in nature, constituting a plague upon the Egyptians and a refuah for us (Zohar Hakadosh), the neis of Shabbos Hagadol did not hurt the Egyptians at all. It was only to grant us the eternal middah of mesirus nefesh, to be enable us to withstand fear of our enemies and perform mitzvos with courage and conviction. That was what made it Shabbos Hagadol, the great Shabbos devoted solely to our needs, with no reference whatsoever to punishing our enemies.

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, put it somewhat differently. He explained (Pachad Yitzchok, Pesach 47:10) that Yetzias Mitzrayim represented the “second edition of Adam” (see also Avodah Zarah 5a), and therefore all the major components of creation were revisited. This ultimately included a reversal of all of nature in the form of the ten makkos abolishing the Asarah Maamaros with which the world was created so that the world was recreated for the Bnei Yisroel (see Maharal, Gevuros Hashem, chapter 57). That process began with Shabbos Hagadol, thus making it the greatest Shabbos of all. For us, therefore, Shabbos Hagadol is the moment when we became the focus of the universe, as the rightful and only heir of Adam Harishon’s lofty status as the pinnacle of creation. In this marvelous way, we not only went from slavery to freedom as the Haggadah relates, but from lowly slaves to the purpose of all that is. Indeed, as we lean over like kings, dress in royalty and are served regally as the earthly embodiments of the heavenly monarchy, we sit upon our thrones with humility, knowing that we are but stand-ins for the true King of all (see Maamorei Pachad Yitzchok 109:3).

To return to the Sheim MiShmuel (page 12), he offers us a profound gematria for understanding Yetzias Mitzrayim and, by extension, all of history. The words Mitzrayma – to Mitzrayim – and Shechinah, the holy presence of Hashem, both equal 385. He explains the significance of this strange confluence as “Egypt [must have had] some attachment to kedusha, which allowed them to conquer the world.” The Sheim MiShmuel sees makkas bechoros as the moment that removed Mitzrayim from any such connection, thus abolishing their ability to have any control over us. This is because the only hold that Mitzrayim had over us was their temporary status as a bechor (Tehillim 78:51). Once Klal Yisroel was established forever as Hashem’s only bechor, Mitzrayim no longer had any status to enslave or even hurt Am Yisroel anymore.

As Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Purim) reminds us, we continue to have to deal with Amaleik, who also retains a semblance of the “first” quality of the bechor as “reishis goyim Amaleik” (Bamidbar 24:20). The first time Hashem pried Mitzrayim’s hands off us, freeing us of his deadly grasp, was Shabbos Hagadol, when they stood helpless as we slaughtered the idol they foolishly worshipped as their deity.

We know (Rama 430) that there is a strong custom to recite part of the Haggadah on Shabbos Hagadol. The Vilna Gaon writes that this is because the redemption began on that day. Rav Dovid Cohen (Haggadas Simchas Yaavetz, page 54) suggests that according to Rashi (Shemos 12:27), it was on this day that we received the triple good news that we would be redeemed, enter Eretz Yisroel and have children. We may add that since Hashem’s word is considered as if it has already happened, Shabbos Hagadol becomes de facto the most important day of the entire redemption process.

We know that all Jewish dates are cyclical in that they are not commemorated but relived. We, too, re-experience Shabbos Hagadol annually as the day we threw off the yoke of Egypt both physically and spiritually. They no longer had any hold on us in mind, soul or body. This Shabbos is the ideal time to shed any attachment we may have to foreign culture, philosophy or obsessions with their ostensible glory or attraction. The “greatness” of Shabbos Hagadol, as we have learned, is that we now understand that Hashem is constantly involved in our lives, guiding us with his love and caring. It is also the day we received the profound gift of Yomim Tovim to elevate us and set us apart from the nations.

It gave us the DNA to be moser nefesh, if G-d forbid necessary. One of the most striking examples of this gift is a story told by the Bluzhever Rebbe zt”l (through the eloquent pen of Rav Nosson Scherman). The capo Schneiweiss was a cruel Nazi collaborator who often placed his own needs ahead of his suffering brethren. However, one day he saw a Nazi attempting to force a Jew to eat on Yom Kippur. “Leave him alone,” demanded Schneiweiss. “I am fasting too.” The Nazi gave his Capo a moment to recant, but Schneiweiss opened his shirt, announcing, “I will not eat, so kill me first.” The Nazi did just that and the hated Schneiweiss became the holy Schneiweiss. Where did this sudden greatness come from? It entered his soul from that first Shabbos Hagadol.

Shabbos Hagadol also gives us the ultimate self-esteem of knowing that the world was altered and recreated for us, so that nothing else matters but that we justify Hashem’s trust in us and that we follow His Word. The Sheim MiShmuel’s gematria reminds us that we are no longer going Mitzrayma, to Mitzrayim, but from Mitzrayim, and so that ancient nation has no hold on us and we are free to serve Hashem and be His royal beloved children. May we all have an uplifting Shabbos Hagadol, gleaning all of its treasures in anticipation of the great geulah ahead.