Shabbat HaGadol 5779 – What’s the Connection?

By: Larry Tobin

So today is Shabbat Hagadol—The Great Shabbat. Guess I’m supposed to give a long Drash. Sorry to disappoint you, but that isn’t about to happen. Let’s start with some basics. What is Shabbat Hagadol and what makes it so great? It turns out that the first Shabbat Hagadol was actually observed in Egypt five days before the redemption of our ancestors from slavery. That Shabbat fell on the tenth of Nissan. A one- time commandment was given by G-d ordering each man to get a lamb and tie it to his bedpost. Huh? You heard me right. The lamb was to be sacrificed four days later as a Passover sacrifice. Thus, the creation of the Pascal lamb. The Egyptians instead of wondering what the crazy Jews were up to, instead were really steamed. It turns out that the lamb was an Egyptian deity. Amazingly, nothing bad happened to the Children of Israel as a result of the commandment. Everyone agreed that the lack of reprisal by the Egyptians must be a miracle. Therefore, the Shabbat when lambs were taken became known as the Great Shabbat—Shabbat Hagadol.

Let’s move on now to this week’s Parsha, Parshat Metzorah. The Parsha deals primarily with two matters: How to purify a leper who is healed and a discussion of laws concerning the emission of bodily fluids. Query: What is the connection between Metzorah and Shabbat Hagadol? Why are we reading this Parsha today?

The answer bluntly is that I really have no idea how these two things are related and I am not able to find any help on the subject. So, the best I can do is give you an opinion. Let me premise this by reminding you that I am neither a Rabbi nor a scholar. I am just a guy who innocently raised a question that he can’t answer and who will now attempt to come up with something that at least makes sense.It strikes me that the main theme of Metzorah is purification. Could it be that the Pascal lamb that gave rise to the notion of a Shabbat Hagadol was part of a purification process that the Children of Israel had to go through before undertaking the Exodus from Egypt? Was it a test of faith as well?  Our ancestors  witnessed one miracle after another. As the Haggadah notes, G-d made everything happen by Himself. Not through a messenger. Not through any other means. All that our ancestors had to do was sit back and watch. But what would they do if their necks were on the line? The Pascal lamb was an abomination to the Egyptians. G-d wasn’t gathering lambs. G-d wasn’t killing them. People were gathering them and preparing them for slaughter. Perhaps the question of the day was: Are these people mere bystanders or do they purely and genuinely have faith in G-d to the extent that they will actively involve themselves in the overall freedom process and put themselves potentially in harm’s way? Do they have faith that G-d will not allow the angry throngs to seek revenge and harm them?

It seems to me, therefore, that when the Haggadah compels us to consider it as if we too were freed from slavery, the Haggadah is not only speaking about the time of the Exodus. The message, I maintain, is just as relevant today. On this Shabbat preceding Passover, are you fully purified? Are you spiritually prepared for the upcoming holiday of Passover? If so, then next Shabbat can be a Shabbat Hagadol V’Hakadosh. As you prepare to face the drudgery of purifying your home for Passover, recognize that freedom does not come about without sacrifice. After the misery of purifying our home and preparing for Passover is completed, I like to reflect on a few matters. When I see the beautiful and smiling faces of Terry, my children and my grandchildren at the Passover Seders, I realize that the hardship of preparing for the holiday is somehow worth the effort. At that moment, I recognize that I am free—free at last.

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