By 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 will explain.
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 HaShem's Omnipresence.
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!
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.