Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XII, Number 18
8 Nisan 5758
April 4, 1998.
Mr. Moshe Cohen
on the yahrzeit of his father,
Aaron & Rona Lerner
on the yahrzeits of their fathers
Avraham ben Yaakov Hakohen a"h
and Yaakov Yonah ben Yisrael a"h
Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Edeson and family
on the first yahrzeit of mother and grandmother,
Mrs. Julia Edeson a"h
A well-known midrash states that the Shabbat before Pesach is
called "Shabbat Hagadol"/"The Great Shabbat" because of the
miracle which happened on the Shabbat preceding the Exodus. On
that day, the Jews set aside lambs to be sacrificed for the
Korban Pesach, and the Egyptians, who worshiped the lamb, did not
challenge the Jews or even object.
Why is this miracle particularly worthy of a day commemorating
it? asks R' Zalman Sorotzkin z"l (1881-1966; the "Lutzker Rav").
Surely, many more incredible miracles have taken place in our
The typical person, notes R' Sorotzkin, is much more moved by
an open miracle, i.e. one which is difficult to explain in
natural terms, than he is by a miracle which can be rationally
explained. In fact, however, the opposite should be true. G-d's
using nature to accomplish His ends should be much more
impressive than a sudden change in the course of nature. When G-
d uses nature to accomplish His goals, he demonstrates that when
He created the world thousands of years ago, He foresaw the
future and implanted in creation the tools that He would need in
The miracle which happened on the first Shabbat Hagadol is so
memorable because there, in the midst of the open miracles of the
plagues, Hashem performed this low-key and "natural" miracle, a
miracle which can easily be explained rationally. In all
likelihood, this miracle actually went unnoticed by the masses.
Chazal, however, recognized its greatness, and they therefore
called this day "Shabbat Hagadol." (Quoted in Birkat Chaim
There is a widespread custom to read a portion of the Haggadah
on Shabbat Hagadol because, say Chazal, the redemption began on
that day. (For a description of what happened on that day, see
page 1). However, says the Vilna Gaon z"l, the idea that Shabbat
Hagadol was the beginning of the redemption appears to be
contradicted by the Haggadah itself.
We read in the Haggadah, "One might think that the mitzvah of
sippur yetziat Mitzrayim/relating the story of the Exodus begins
at the beginning of the month . . . or on the 14th day of
Nisan." The Haggadah considers the possibility that those days
might be appropriate times to relate the story of the Exodus. On
the other hand, the Haggadah does not even consider the
possibility that sippur yetziat Mitzrayim should begin on Shabbat
Hagadol! If that day is considered the beginning of the
redemption, why doesn't the Haggadah at least consider the
possibility of beginning sippur yetziat Mitzrayim on that day?
R' David Cohen, shlita (of Brooklyn) suggests the following
explanation for the above-mentioned custom: Our Haggadah
actually consists of two Haggadot - that of the Talmudic sage
Shmuel and that of the Talmudic sage known as Rav. (The former
begins with "We were slaves in Egypt" and continues through "One
might think . . ." Rav's Haggadah begins with the next
paragraph: "In the beginning . . .") According to Rav, the
Haggadah should focus on our spiritual redemption; therefore we
read that our ancestors were once idol worshipers but that Hashem
has now given us the Torah. However, according to Shmuel, we
should focus on our physical redemption; therefore we read that
we were slaves in Egypt and Hashem took us out. (This is
consistent with Shmuel's view in the Talmud that the only
difference between today and the days of mashiach will be that
gentiles will not rule over Jews, i.e., there will be a physical
redemption. Spiritually, there will not necessarily be a
It is only according to Rav that Shabbat Hagadol is the
beginning of the redemption, that day being when the Jews severed
their ties to Egypt's idolatry by setting aside a lamb (an
Egyptian deity) to be sacrificed. As noted, however, the part of
the Haggadah which discusses when the mitzvah of relating the
Exodus begins is part of Shmuel's Haggadah.
(Mas'at Kapi II p.60)
Why is it relevant to the story of the Exodus that our
ancestors were idolators? R' Moshe ben Machir z"l (16th century)
explains that the Haggadah is contrasting Avraham with our
ancestors in Egypt and with ourselves. In the process, we see
Hashem's greatness and kindness.
Avraham abandoned the idolatry of his fathers and rose to great
heights. His descendants in Egypt again became idolators.
Depite Bnei Yisrael's idolatry, Hashem redeemed them. So, too,
he redeems us repeatedly from our oppressors in the merit of His
covenant with Avraham.
"If he shall offer it as a todah/thanksgiving offering ..."
The gemara (Berachot 54a) teaches, "Four types of people are
obligated to give thanks: one who traverses the sea, one who
traverses a desert, one who was sick and is healed, and one who
is released from prison." Why these four?
R' Shmuel Eliezer Eidels z"l ("Maharsha") explains that there
are four types of problems that commonly impact on a person's
spiritual growth: earning a living, enemies, sickness and wealth.
The four types of people who must give thanks correspond to
these. Also, the four cups of wine at the seder correspond to
these four types of problems. [Unfortunately, Maharsha's
explanation is too lengthy and complex for this space.]
Chazal say: "The Todah will never cease to be brought." R'
Aryeh Levin z"l (died 1969) asks: Why is this a happy tiding?
The korban todah is brought, after all, by one who has been saved
from danger! If the todah will never cease to brought, that
means that people will never cease to find themselves in danger!
R' Levin answers: When Pharaoh refused to release Bnei Yisrael
from Egypt and instead decreed that they work harder, Moshe asked
Hashem (Shmot 5:22-23), "Why have You made things worse for this
Hashem answered him, "You will see!" He meant: You will see,
Hashem told him, that from every tragedy comes something good;
from exile and persecution comes redemption.
The midrash says that when Yosef died, the Jews wanted to
assimilate into Egypt. Hashem therefore made the Egyptians hate
the Jews, thus causing the Jews to reunite and to support each
other. This is an example of how good - the continued existence
of the Jewish people - came from bad - the Egyptians' hatred.
So, too, Chazal say that the gift of Eretz Yisrael is acquired
through suffering. The Torah (Devarim 8:5) tells us, however,
that it is the type of "suffering" which a loving parent imposes
on a child for the child's own well-being.
(Quoted in Ish Tzaddik Hayah p.303)
Why is it that Eretz Yisrael can be acquired only through
suffering? Why, similarly, do Chazal say that the gift of Torah
is acquired through suffering? What kind of gift is that?
R' Yehuda Alkali z"l (of Saraevo; 1798-1878) explains that the
holiness of these gifts requires that man be purified before he
receives them. The purpose of suffering is to break down man's
(Darchei Noam: Introduction)
R' Moshe de Leon z"l
born approx. 1250 - died 1305
R' Moshe ben Yom Tov de Leon was born in Leon, Spain. He was
the author of a number of works on kabbalah, and was an opponent
R' Moshe earned his living as a traveling scribe, copying old
manuscripts. On one of his trips he discovered the Zohar, the
kabbalistic midrash traditionally ascribed to the sage of the
mishnah, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
The 18th century halachic authority, kabbalist, bibliographer
and traveler, R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai ("Chida"), writes that
the Zohar was lost not long after R' Shimon bar Yochai and his
son passed away. Centuries later, it was uncovered by an
"eastern king" who sought, in vain, a scholar who could decipher
it. Not until the manuscript reached the Jews of far-away
Toledo, Spain, could anyone make sense of the work. Chida also
quotes a sage who wrote that the Zohar was hidden in the library
of the University of Heidelberg, Germany until it was uncovered
there. (Interestingly, Chida does not mention R' Moshe in
connection with the Zohar.)
Many opponents of kabbalah have claimed that R' Moshe himself
was the author of the Zohar. It has been shown, however, that R'
Moshe's own kabbalistic teachings, as found in his works, do not
comport with those of the Zohar. (Sources: The Artscroll
Rishonim p. 98; Shem Ha'gedolim: Erech Zohar)
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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