The Great Shabbat

Remember when you were a child and someone told you that you were going to receive a present in a few days? The anticipation was overwhelming and you likely kept asking, “Please give me a hint as to what it is? Can I have a little of it now?” This is exactly how the people of Israel felt when they were told that if they live by the precepts and values of the Torah, there would be an indescribable reward awaiting them in the world to come. Our ancestors requested of G-d, “Could we possibly see and experience some of what is to come in the here and now?” G-d conceded and shared with them a taste of the world to come.

This coming Shabbat we will read Parshat Metzorah which is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. Why is this the name attributed to the Shabbat before Pesach?

1. Tongue and Cheek - some say it is because the rabbi is supposed to deliver an extra-long sermon reviewing the laws and customs of Passover.

2. A more realistic answer is that because the Haftarah chanted from the book of Malachi concludes with the “great day of salvation” therefore we call this the Great Shabbat:

הִנֵּ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ שֹׁלֵ֣חַ לָכֶ֔ם אֵ֖ת אֵלִיָּ֣ה הַנָּבִ֑יא לִפְנֵ֗י בּ֚וֹא י֣וֹם יְוָ֔ה הַגָּד֖וֹל וְהַנּוֹרָֽא׃
Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, great day of the LORD.

3. The great scholar Rav Matisyahu Salomon Shlita advances yet another answer. He explains that the reason this Shabbat is called the Great Shabbat is that it was the first Shabbat our nation ever celebrated together. It was in effect the prerequisite for the Exodus. G-d was demonstrating that Shabbat is the centerpiece of our nation’s identity and religion. Therefore, we should embrace the Shabbat as we exit Egypt and journey forward as a people. It was truly a great Shabbat.

The Talmud states that the Torah was transmitted at Sinai on Shabbat as well. The sages also write that Shabbat provides us a glimpse and a taste of the world to come. When we asked G-d for a small piece of the world to come for us to experience, He gave us the Shabbat. Shabbat has been the cornerstone of our nation ever since. As the great philosopher, Ahad Ha'am once quipped, “More than Jews have kept the Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

At the Federation and our family of agencies, we give honor to Shabbat week in and week out. We are so fortunate to live at a time and in a place where we can celebrate and observe Shabbat freely and unchallenged.

Here's wishing everyone a great Shabbat HaGadol!

Rabbi Ephraim Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence