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Shabbat HaGadol - The Great Sabbath

April 11, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, April 11, 2014.

Shabbat HaGadol – The Great Sabbath

So… this Shabbat, the Shabbat before Passover, is traditionally called “Shabbat HaGadol,” The Great Sabbath. There are many theories about why this is, of course. One theory is that in the old days – 2000 years ago – it was the one time during the year that the rabbi gave a REALLY long sermon in the synagogue. (This is a practice today reserved for EVERY Shabbat… or perhaps for the High Holidays. However, in the old days it was just before Passover.) The sermon was primarily devoted to all the complicated rules of Passover. Passover cleaning. Passover cooking. When you can cook, and when you can’t cook. What you can eat and what you can’t eat. Etc.

Another theory was that in the original Pesach story, the tenth Nissan was the Sabbath before Passover.

On the tenth of this month (Nissan), each of the Community of Israel shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household… You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month; and… slaughter it at twilight. (Exodus 12:3-6).

According to the rabbis, the Israelites actually tied the lambs in their homes to protect them, and to keep the Egyptians from interfering since the lamb was considered an Egyptian deity. The sacrifice of the lamb just before the eve of Pesach was continued during the days of both the first and the second Temples in Jerusalem. However, unlike all the other sacrifices that were offered by the priests, this Passover (or “Paschal”) sacrifice was offered by the people, rather than the priests.

On many special Sabbaths such as this one, there is a special Torah Reading – often from a different part of the Torah than the regular reading, necessitating the use of a second Torah Scroll to read both readings. On Shabbat HaGadol, however, there is no additional Torah Reading. But... there IS a different Haftorah reading (a reading from the Prophets read after the Torah Reading). Taken from the Book of Mal’achi, the reading tells us that:

"Lo… I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord (Mal’achi 3:44)

Tradition has it that Elijah will appear on Passover to announce the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, we read from this prophetic statement on Shabbat HaGadol, and, five days later at the Seder, we put a special goblet of wine on the Seder table for Elijah.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sameach.