Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Shabbos HaGadol, 5631
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar with some thoughts that he had from
his grandfather. The Chiddushei HaRim posed a basic question: Why is
this Shabbos called "HaGadol" ("the Great")? To address this
question, the Chiddushei HaRim (and the Sfas Emes) look at oher cases
in which Chazal used the word "gadol." The objective is to conclude
from those other contexts what Chazal may have had in mind when they
used the word "gadol."
One such case is the term "Anshei Kenesses HaGedola" -- the men of the
Great Assembly. This term refers to our Torah leaders in the early
years of the Second Beis HaMikdash. The Gemara (Yoma, 69b) explains
that the assembly was called "Gedola" because they restored HaShem's
crown to its former glory. This answer, however, only deepens the
puzzle. Because to say "restored" implies that the glory of HaShem's
crown had somehow been diminished in an earlier time period. But how
could that have happened? Have no fear. The Gemara and the Sfas Emes
Chazal note that Moshe Rabbeinu referred to HaShem (Devarim, 10:17) as
"HaGadol, HaGibor, VehaNorah" ("the Great, the Mighty, and the
Awesome"). But later generations could not in all honesty apply those
words to HaShem. Thus, Yirmiyahu witnessed the Babylonians
desecrating the Beis HaMikdash, and asked: "Where is His
awesomeness?" And seeing no sign of HaShem as being awesome, he
deleted the word "Nora". Thus we see Yirmiyahu (32:18) referring to
HaShem only as "HaGadol, HaGibor".
Similarly, when Daniel saw how the Babylonians oppressed their Jewish
captives, he asked: "Where is His might?" And seeing no evidence of
HaShem's "might," Daniel deleted the word "HaGibor" and referred to
HaShem (Daniel, 9:4) only as: "HaGadol (Vehanora").
Then came Anshei Kenneses HaGedola and said: Adrabba! (On the
contrary!) What you have witnessed is in fact powerful evidence of
HaShem's might and awesomeness. For were it not for His great might,
He could not stand by as His people are oppressed. And were it not for
His awesomeness, the Jewish people could never have survived -- let
alone maintained its identity among the nations of the world as Ovdei
HaShem. Thus, interpreting the evidence differently, Anshei Kenesses
HaGedola recognized that HaShem is indeed mighty and awesome.
Therefore, they reinserted the attributes of "HaGibor VeHanora" into
our conception of HaShem. And to this day, we utter those words in
the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei. This was indeed "restoring
HaShem"s crown to its former glory"!
The Sfas Emes cites another context -- Creation -- in which Chazal
employ the word "Gadol." Chazal comment: "'Gedula,' -- zeh ma'aseh
bereishis." ("The word Gedula - Greatness -- refers to HaShem's
having created the world.") The Sfas Emes explains. The world that
HaShem created -- i.e., nature -- appears to be contrary to a
perception that HaShem rules the world. But a closer look enables us
to see that nature exists only because HaShem gives it existence.
Thus, Creation -- and nature -- also testify to HaShem's greatness.
The Sfas Emes cites one more case where the word "Gadol" appears.
That place is in parshas Lech Lecha, (Bereishis, 12:2)., where HaShem
promised Avraham Avinu: "Ve'eh'escha legoy gadol" ("I will make you a
great nation.") The Rambam gives us the context of this promise.
Avraham had been able to penetrate and see through the fiction of the
many false gods worshiped in his milieu. Thus, he was able to
perceive HaShem's Omnipresence in the world. However, Avraham Avinu
wanted to see an entire nation that would provide testimony to
HaShem's dominion. In that context, HaShem assured Avraham that He
would make Avraham into a "great nation." Thus, once again we
encounter the word "gadol."
To conclude, the Sfas Emes is saying that the word "gadol" (as in
"Shabbos HaGadol") refers to the capacity to see through apparent
reality -- whether in history or nature -- and thus to perceive
Our ancestors demonstrated this capacity many years ago, in Egypt.
They did so when on, the day now known as Shabbos HaGadol, they dared
to prepare for slaughter the deity of their former masters. This
action required personal bravery. It also required a key intellectual
attribute: namely, the ability to peirce the Hester with which HaShem
chooses to cloak the true real world ,and thus to see reality as it
truly is. Clearly, we need more of both of these qualities -- both
individual courage and intellectual integrity. May HaShem help us to
develop these strengths in our everyday lives!
Copyright © 2004 by Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org