A well- known midrash states that the Shabbat before Pesach is
called "Shabbat Hagadol" / "The Great Shabbat" because of the miracle
that 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
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 history!
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 future.
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 p.103)
"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.]
Our Sages 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 nation?"
Hashem answered him, "You will see!" He meant: You will see that
from every tragedy comes something good; from exile and persecution
The Midrash says that when Yosef died, the Jews wanted to assimilate
into Egypt. Hashem therefore made the Egyptians hate the Jews,
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.
Thus, it is not a bad tiding that a korban todah will always be
necessary. Good comes from what is seemingly bad.
(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
material nature and purify him.
(Darchei Noam: Introduction)
"Take Aharon and his sons with him . . . Hakhel/Gather the entire
assembly to the entrance of the ohel mo'ed/Tent of Meeting."
Rashi writes: "Take Aharon with persuasive words." R' Baruch
Sorotzkin z"l (1917-1979; rosh yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland) explains
Being Kohen Gadol means giving up all semblance of a "normal" life.
This is a tremendous commitment to ask of a person, even a person of
the caliber of Aharon. One has to be persuaded that being Kohen Gadol
is the greatest fortune possible, notwithstanding the inconveniences
involved. Therefore Moshe had to "take Aharon with persuasive words."
To ease Aharon's transition, he was appointed be'hakhel / in an
assembly of the entire congregation. Very few mitzvot had to be done
be'hakhel, but Aharon's appointment was done before all of the Jewish
people so that he would see that they accepted him. A leader who is
not accepted by a segment of the people cannot influence the people.
(For similar reasons, Pirkei Avot teaches, "Make for yourself a
teacher." Only if you accept the teacher upon yourself can he
(Ha'binah Ve'ha'berachah pp. 216 & 204)
From the Pesach Haggadah
"This year, we are here; next year may we be in Eretz Yisrael!
This year, we are slaves, next year may we be free men!"
R' Yehoshua Heschel of Cracow z"l (known as "the rebbe, Reb
Heschel"; died 1663) notes that the above statements appear to be
redundant. He explains:
We have a tradition that the enslavement in Egypt ceased six months
before the actual Exodus. Presumably, says Reb Heschel, the same will
be true when the Complete Redemption arrives. Six months before
mashiach arrives we will notice a marked improvement in the Jewish
People's condition. [In the discussion below, we will refer to the
Complete Redemption as "Step 2" and the lightening of the burden of
exile that will take place six months beforehand as "Step 1."]
There is a dispute in the Gemara whether the Complete Redemption
will take place in the month of Nisan (the opinion of the sage Rabbi
Yehoshua) or the month of Tishrei (the opinion of the sage Rabbi
Eliezer). Our passage from Haggadah refers to both of those views.
[For greater clarity, we will explain the second sentence first.]
According to Rabbi Eliezer, it is not likely that we will be in Eretz
Yisrael next year, for if the Complete Redemption (Step 2) were
destined to occur in this coming Tishrei, we would already have seen
signs of Step 1 now, six months before. If we have not seen those
signs, then the most we can hope for is that Step 1 will occur by next
Pesach, and Step 2 will occur six months afterward, in the second
Tishrei from now. Hence, "This year, we are slaves, next year may we
be free men [i.e., by next Pesach, Step 1 will occur]."
According to Rabbi Yehoshua, the Complete Redemption (Step 2) could
indeed happen by next Pesach. Perhaps Step 1 will indeed occur by
next Tishrei, six months before Pesach. Therefore, "This year, we are
here; next year may we be in Eretz Yisrael [i.e., even Step 2 may
occur by next Pesach]."
In many homes, the Seder begins with the poem "Kadaish U'rechatz."
Numerous commentators have found homiletical meaning in this poem,
aside from its obvious purpose of reminding us how to conduct the
Seder. R' Yehoshua Segal Deutsch z"l (mid-20th century rabbi of
Yerushalayim's Katamon neighborhood) offers the following:
King David asks (Tehilim 24:3): "Who will climb Hashem's mountain,
and who can stand in His holy place?" This poem tells us how one can
stand before Hashem and not worry about falling: "Kadaish u'rechatz" /
"Sanctify yourself and be confident!" ("Rechatz" in Aramaic means "be
How does one accomplish this? "Karpas yachatz" / Man's material
nature (which, like karpas, comes form the earth) cannot be reined in
overnight. Indeed, according to one commentator, Bnei Yisrael's
defense for the sin of the Golden Calf was that Matan Torah / the
giving of the Torah had been too sudden for them, and left them
confused and disoriented. Rather, divide ("Yachatz") and conquer.
Another tactic is "Maggid rochtzah" / Tell others to cleanse
themselves. This will inspire you to do the same.
One might ask, however, "Who am I to rebuke others?" The answer to
this is "Motzi matzah" / Get rid of that humility, that view of
oneself as being lowly as matzah. As important as humility is, there
is no place for it when one sees others violating the Torah. But do
not become arrogant or haughty. Rather, "Maror koraich" / - Wrap
yourself in a cloak of authority (= "marah") which you can use when
rebuking others, but can shed at other times.
In order to be an effective teacher, "Shulchan oraich" / Make sure
your Torah knowledge is like a set table before you so that it will
always be at your fingertips. Also, make sure that your rebuke does
not become a weapon of the Heavenly prosecutor. Make sure that
"Tzafun baraich" / Hidden ("Tzafun") within your heart should be
blessings for your fellow Jews. You should also "Hallel" / Praise
your brethren before Hashem.
If you do this, your deeds will be "Nirtzah" / Accepted by Hashem.
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