Shabbos HaGadol 5769
A Message from the Kalever Rebbe
A “Great” Shabbos for a “Great” Nation of G-d
The Shabbos immediately preceding Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol (the Great Shabbos) on account of the events that transpired on the Shabbos before the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. On that day the Jews followed Hashem’s command to openly rebel against their Egyptian slave-masters by taking lambs, which were the Egyptian deities, and denigrating them by tying them to their bedposts with the stated purpose of slaughtering and eating them four days later.
These actions on the part of the Jewish people were nothing less than an astounding show of effrontery toward their oppressors. After all, as history later demonstrated, Jews often suffered severe persecution at the hands of gentiles who accused them of heresy against their gods and beliefs. Nevertheless, Hashem commanded the Jews to publicly take these objects of Egyptian veneration and utterly destroy them by eating them, an action sure to arouse the anger of their Egyptian masters who would find themselves incapable of responding in any way.
The turning of events began on the holy Shabbos when the Jews tied the lambs to their bedposts and informed the Egyptians of their intentions--that four days later they planned to slaughter and eat the lambs as a Paschal offering to Hashem, after which, they would leave the land of Egypt forever. No manner of protestation by Pharaoh to the contrary would thwart the plan of Hashem – the King of Kings – to redeem His People from Egyptian enslavement.
Hence the title “Shabbos HaGadol” (the “Great Shabbos”), for what occurred on that Shabbos signaled the beginning of Jewish independence from the physical danger and psychological terror of their erstwhile oppressors.
The Jews’ rebellion took the form of dedicating themselves to observing Hashem’s mitzvos, “for they are our life and the length of our days.” The point of the redemption from Egypt was not merely to bring relief from the yoke of Egyptian enslavement; for that, it would have sufficed to have the Jewish people assimilate into Egyptian society. Rather, the Jews were brought forth from Egypt solely to enable them to serve Hashem with great sacrifice, to surrender themselves as a nation to Him and to perform His will faithfully even when doing so defied logic. In this way they transformed themselves from lowly slaves into a Nation of G-d, a holy nation. Thus was it that on the “Great Shabbos” the Jews did indeed achieve true national greatness.
It is of particular significance that this perilous rebellion against Egypt began on Shabbos, for the holy Shabbos bears testament to Hashem’s creation of the world and His orchestration of all the affairs of man in accordance with His divine will. It is a paradoxical reality that the greater one’s observance and sanctification of Shabbos by ceasing from all creative physical activity, the greater will be the blessing he realizes in his material pursuits during the rest of the week. Clearly, this defies the laws of nature which dictate that the more one works the more he profits. Jews, however, place their faith in Hashem as the Creator of all that exists, who rewards those who heed His Mitzvos (commandments). They live with the spiritual reality that the more one increases his spiritual pursuits of Torah study, prayer, and praise of G-d on Shabbos, even at the expense of minimizing material pursuits, the more will he reap blessings in the pursuit of his livelihood during the rest of the week!
This theme is expressed in the Shabbos Shemona Esrei prayers, in which we recognize that ”a great and holy day You have given Your nation.” Shabbos is not merely a day of relaxation from physical work in the manner akin to a “day off” that is enjoyed by the rest of the world. Rather, the Shabbos respite provides the opportunity in which, as the prayer continues, “through their rest they sanctify Your name.”
Jews understand that transgressing Hashem’s will by violating the Shabbos will never bring them any enduring profit. The extra income one might seem to gain through working on Shabbos can be easily taken away by Hashem in manifold ways, e.g. He can “steer traffic” away from one’s business, strike him with natural disasters or even sickness. In the end, no one can outwit G-d.
Shabbos HaGadol, then, was the first Shabbos in which a mere day of rest was elevated to the level of complete dedication to the service and will of G-d. On that “Great” Shabbos, the Jewish people clearly demonstrated to the world three great truths:
a) Hashem is the creator, b) the Jewish people are His chosen nation whose purpose is to perform Hashem’s mitzvos and c) observance of mitzvos in general, and Shabbos in particular, brings abundant blessing. In fact, in the Zohar it is written that all blessings derive from the holiness of Shabbos.
May our continuing dedicated observance of Shabbos herald redemption for our people today as it did so many thousands of years ago when the Children of Israel emerged from Egypt as the holy nation of G-d.