Chagim U Zemanim - Shabbat Hagadol and Pesach
Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
The Tur in Orech Hayim writes that the Shabbat before Pesach is called
Shabbat HaGadol because a great miracle was performed for Israel. Each
family took a lamb, the god of Egypt, and tied it to their doorposts and
kept it there for four days. They told the Egyptians they were going to
slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan and the Egyptians were powerless to do
anything to them. That year the 10th of Nisan was a Shabbat.
There are many questions that have to be raised in connection with this.
We call the Shabbat before Pesach Shabbat HaGadol, even though in some
years it does not fall on the 10th of Nisan. It seems we should rather
call the 10th of Nisan, irrespecitive of what day of the week it falls,
Ha’asiri HaGadol. We also know that many miracles were done for Israel in
Egypt before they were commanded to take the Pascal lamb. Those miracles
were very great ones in which the forces of nature were radically changed
and shown to be powerless before HaShems’ will. Therefore, those days
should be known as HaGadol.; alternatively, if we wish to go to the end of
everything, then the day of Makat Bechorot, should be known as HaGadol.
“Yours, HaShem, is the greatness and the strength” (1 Chronicles, 29:12);
the greatness in the verse refers to the creation, while the strength
refers to the Exodus from Egypt (Brachot 58). The act of creation was an
act of pure chesed as there was nobody or nothing in the world that was
entitled to such an act. HaShem did a chesed in that he diminished himself
to create the world and everything in it. Chesed is known as greatness,
and the world is built on chesed.
All the plagues that were visited on Israel were only a judgment on the
Egyptians as Israel had no benefit from them. Now the merit of justice,
Midat HaDin, demanded that before they were redeemed, the people had to
have performed some mitzvot. Without these, they would have been the same
as the Egyptians, and so there would be no justification for their
redemption. So God gave them milah and the chorban Pesach, so that their
redemption would not only be a chesed to the Avot.
These two attributes, chesed and din, are two contradictory merits, but
Shabbat has the ability to contain these two contradictory and opposing
merits. In the Ten Commandments in Shmot, the reason for Shabbat is the
Creation, whereas in Ve Etchanan the reason given for Shabbat is the
Exodus. So Shabbat is both chesed and din. That is why the first time that
Israel took the Pascal lamb, the 10th of Nisan had to be on Shabbat; and
that is why we call the Shabbat before Pesach Shabbat HaGadol,
irrespective of whether it is the 10th day or not.
The Shem MeShmuel elsewhere sees a similar idea that can explain why the
shofar is blown on Rosh HaShannah that falls on Shabbat, only in the Beit
HaMikdash, whereas elsewhere the shofar is not blown on Shabbat. True
teshuva and atonement require both din and chesed. Only the Beit HaMikdash
has the power to integrate these two contradictory and opposing concepts.
“It was necessary to instruct them to take the Pascal Lamb 4 days before
slaughtering it because Bnei Yisrael in Egypt were without mitzvot- even
as it is written (Yechezkiel, 17:7) ‘but you were naked and bare’ –so
Hashem gave them 2 mitzvot to busy themselves with, the blood of korban
pesch and the blood of milah” (Rashi quoting the Mechilta).
Why was it necessary to mention milah that was only performed on that
night? Why was it necessary for them to busy themselves with the care of
the lamb for 4 days and insufficient for them only to visit it as is the
case in Pesach dorot? Why was the commandment to take the lamb on the 10th
given to Moshe on Rosh Chodesh, whereas the actual work and care connected
with it only started on the 10th?; [This would be correct according to
Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel who taught that we should study the laws of
Pesach 2 Shabbatot before Pesach but not according to the Chachamim who
say that one asks and teaches the laws from a month before].
Understanding the essence of the two mitzvot, mila and korban pesach and
their relationship to the redemption from Egypt will help to clarify our
problem as well as how busying themselves specifically with those 2 would
help them merit redemption as the Mechilta teaches.
The Zohar teaches us that when Israel said they remembered the food that
they ate free of charge in Egypt, they were referring to free of mitzvot.
Now we know that we were slaves to Pharaoh and one cannot serve 2 masters
simultaneously so they were free of the yoke of Heaven; that is fear
of Hashem like the fear of a king. Pharaoh’s oppression of us weaned us
from recognizing the Lordship of Hashem and that led us to idolatry, the
serving of others in stead of Him. However, we were subject to a hard
king, Pharaoh, who ruled over a hard people, Egypt, and they were immoral,
led by their animal instincts and given over to unbridled lusts, so they
brought about the subjection of Israel to desires and lust, in addition to
When Hashem wanted to redeem Israel He gave them the 2 mitzvot to busy
themselves as counter-weights to both idolatry and immorality.
The korban Pesach that corresponds to worship through fear, since in
bringing the korban a person is required to see himself as a servant of
Hashem and take upon himself the yoke of Heaven. The Avnei Nezer taught
that when we eat the Pesach, that is from on High we are showing that we
are like the eved whose whole sustenance is dependent on his master (Yoreh
Deah, Section 474, subsection 12). That mitzvah was the antidote to the
substitution of idols for the Kingship of Hashem and rejection of the yoke
of Heaven that they had been brought to by Pharaoh. The lamb was the god
of Egypt and for them to eat its flesh was an abomination to the
Egyptians. When they took the lambs on the 10th of Nissan, kept them tied
to the legs of their beds and busied themselves with looking after them,
the noise caused by those lambs and the public attention to their act, was
an open rebellion against the kingship of Pharaoh.. Once having made that
declaration of rebellion and the contrary acceptance of Hashem’s rule
during the 4 days, they warranted eating the korban Pesach.
Shem Mi Shmuel, Haggadah Shhel Pesach, Pekudei- Hachodesh 5675.
Milah was the antidote to the immorality and hedonism that they had gained
from the Egyptians. Milah is essential for one to be allowed to eat of the
Korban Pesach. This is because the Pesach is Avodah MeiYirah and that is
incomplete teshuva; the removal of the orlah demonstrates that we are
accepting His Yoke with simcha and love.
The 10 days that they waited between the taking of the lamb and its
slaughter correspond to the 10 days of teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and
Yom Kippur. During those days, each day we intensify our self-
examination, increase our dedication to repentance and accept His yoke as
King, thereby being worthy of atonement. So, Israel in Egypt, too, had 10
days to intensify and to strengthen both their yirah and their ahavah and
so to merit being redeemed.
Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.