The Great Shabbat before Pesach - HaGadol 5782
Shabbat Hagadol, “the great Shabbat”, is the name given to the Shabbat before Pesach, receiving that name partly because of the greatness of the festival itself. Pesach celebrates our redemption from Egypt and the beginning of our national consciousness. Pesach becomes our seminal event – recalling our shared experience of slavery, of freedom and of service to God. Our leaving the oppression of Egypt is the event that more than any other gives the rationale for our mitzvot, particularly those concerned with doing right by others, having concern for the stranger and oppressed.
Other reasons for calling this Shabbat “hagadol” have been given: it was just before Pesach that we boldly took the lamb for the sacrifice from our Egyptian slave masters without being molested, a sign of our impending liberation; others say it may be called great in that it is the day that the rabbi gave a long, detailed sermon on the laws and traditions of Pesach, especially those concerning removing leaven from one’s home. One other suggestion is that the special haftarah reading from the prophet Malachi speaks of the “great day” of the Lord on which the Messiah will appear.
Pesach, with its great theme of redemption from slavery in Egypt naturally becomes the setting for the messianic redemption of the future. The entire Haggadah can be read as a reminder of our connection with the land of Israel, opening with “next year in the land of Israel” and closing with “next year in Jerusalem”, and the narration itself a reminder of that connection as well. We set a cup of wine on our table for Elijah who heralds the coming of the messiah. Our understanding of redemption requires the return of the people of Israel to the land of Israel – that story forms the basis of the daily Amida, our most important prayer, said 5 times a day (including quietly and with public repetition.) It is the reason that in the prayer for the State of Israel most congregations include the words “Israel, the beginning of the flowering of our redemption.” But the return of our people to the land is not the ultimate of redemption, it is necessary but not sufficient. We must continue to do the work of redemption – providing for the hungry and the stranger, working to end oppression.
This Shabbat indeed is great – it gives us the opportunity to think about all the traditions we have in preparation for Pesach, from cleaning our homes of leaven, to making contributions to those in need, to reflecting on our incredible journey of redemption we have taken as a people, from leaving Egypt to rebuilding Israel. Shabbat HaGadol and the festival of Pesach present us the great challenge of what we mean by redemption. When we open up the door for Elijah these Seder nights, when we read the words of the Haggadah that challenge us to think of a better future, let us take some time around our tables discussing not just our visions of redemption but concrete ways of achieving them.
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Shabbat, October 31, 2020
13th of Cheshvan, 5781
Friday, October 9 6:57PM
Motzei Shabbat 7:03PM
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