A Low-Key Miracle
Volume 21, No. 24
12 Nissan 5767
March 31, 2007
Martin and Michelle Swartz
in memory of Martin's grandmother
Eva K. Lichman (Chava bat Dov Ber) a"h
Aaron and Rona Lerner
in memory of their fathers
Avraham ben Yaakov Hakohen a"h and
Yaakov Yonah ben Yisrael a"h
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Mo'ed Kattan 21
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Eruvin 57
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 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 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)
"Take Aharon and his sons with him . . . Hakhel/Gather the entire
assembly to the entrance of the ohel mo'ed/Tent of Meeting." (8:2-3)
Rashi writes: "Take Aharon with persuasive words." R' Baruch Sorotzkin z"l
(1917-1979; rosh yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland) explains as follows:
Being Kohen Gadol means giving up all semblance of a "normal" life. This
is a major commitment to ask of a person, even one 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 influence you.)
(Ha'binah Ve'ha'berachah pp. 216 & 204)
"If he shall offer it as a todah / thanksgiving offering . . ."
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 comes
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
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
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)
From the Haftarah . . .
"Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a path before
Me; suddenly, the Lord Whom you seek will come to His sanctuary . . ."
"Yet you say, `For what should we repent? . . . How have we robbed
"You have spoken harshly against Me, says Hashem, yet you say, `How
have we spoken against You?' You said, `To serve G-d is useless,and what
did we gain for keeping His charge or for walking submissively
before Hashem, Master of Legions?'" (ibid. 3:13-14)
"Then those who fear Hashem spoke to one another, and Hashem
listened and heard; it was inscribed before Him in a book of remembrance
of those who fear Hashem and meditate upon His Name." (ibid. 3:16)
R' Shlomo Kluger z"l (rabbi in Brody, Galicia; died 1869) comments that
these verses parallel the four sons of the Pesach Haggadah, though in
reverse order. [Note that the first verse is not part of the haftarah,
which, according to the prevalent custom, begins with Malachi 3:3.] He
The principal purpose of eating matzah and maror and retelling the story of
the Exodus is to reassure us that we will be redeemed again. Therefore,
to the son who does not know how to ask, we must open up and tell him,
paraphrasing the first verse quoted above, that G-d will send an angel who
will prepare a path, and prepare us, for G-d's return to the Sanctuary.
The innocent or naive son asks, "What is this?" The simple-minded
questions in verses 7 and 8, "For what should we repent? . . . How have we
robbed You?" are characteristic of the naive son. And we answer him by
telling him for what he should he repent and how he has robbed Hashem.
(See verse 8.)
The wicked son mocks the laws of Pesach. He says, "To serve G-d is
useless, and what did we gain for keeping His charge or for walking
submissively before Hashem, Master of Legions?" They add (verse 15), "So
now we praise wanton sinners, those who did evil were even built up, they
have even tested G-d and been spared." We have even seen people eating
chametz on Pesach for the specific purpose of angering G-d, yet they live
to tell about it.
Finally, about the wise son, we read, "Then those who fear Hashem spoke to
one another . . ." In the Haggadah, we do not answer the wicked son, but
rather talk about him - "If he had been there, he would not have been
redeemed." One should avoid talking to wicked people. In contrast, we do
talk to the wise son - "those who fear Hashem spoke to one another."
Unlike the wicked son, who thinks that good deeds and sins have no
consequences, the wise son understands that, "it was inscribed before Him
in a book of remembrance of those who fear Hashem and meditate upon His
(Kohelet Yaakov - Shabbat Hagadol: Drush 2)
"Behold! I send you Elyah the prophet, before the great and awesome
day of Hashem." (Malachi 3:23)
R' Yitzchak Weiss z"l (rabbi of Verbau, Slovakia; killed in the Holocaust)
notes that the initial Hebrew letters in the phrase, "Behold! I send you
Elyah the prophet," have a gematria of 343. This alludes to the 343 out
of the 613 mitzvot which cannot be practiced today. After Eliyahu Hanavi
heralds the redemption and mashiach arrives, we will again practice these
(Siach Yitzchak p.151)
This week we present two related excerpts from Ma'agal Tov, the diary of R'
Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l ("Chida"; 1724-1806), describing the author's
travels as a "Shelucha D'rabbanan" ("Shadar" or "meshulach") on behalf of
the Jewish community of Chevron. The first entry is dated Adar 23, while
the second appears to have been written soon after Pesach, both in 5534
We present these two excerpts this week because of their relevance to the
custom that the rabbi delivers a special derashah on Shabbat Ha'gadol.
As if my own distress was not sufficient [on the death of his wife], that
week Qayid [an Arabic title] Yehuda Hakohen, the in-law of the gvir [rich
man, leading citizen], died. He [the gvir?] wanted me to preach on the
Shabbat after the funeral. Now, preaching there is a difficult thing, for
their style of preaching is with halachic discourse and they may all throw
questions at the preacher, and he has to answer. And how much
embarrassment this causes.
We have already written above concerning their nasty custom of throwing out
questions during sermons; and sometimes I was obliged to speak on short
notice. One Shabbat, the gvir asked a question against R' Avraham Khavat,
an elder chacham and a well-known dayan, who was expounding in Masechet
Ketubot and in the commentaries of Tosafot and the Maharsha. I said to
him that his question was nothing and I would explain it to him at home.
Also, another day, a certain Torah scholar was discoursing and took great
pains, in order to impress me, in posing a number of questions against the
commentaries of Tosafot, Ritva and the Masal [an ambiguous acronym] based
on the Talmudic text and accepted halachah. And the gvir was greatly
impressed. However, after we came home, I said to him, "For your
information, all these questions are nothing, but one does not interrupt a
lecture and cause shame, Heaven forbid." I then proceed to answer all the
questions, except for one [which Chida acknowledges was a strong
question]. . . . Many were the matters and kindnesses with which His
loving-kindness overwhelmed me, blessed be the Holy Name. [This last
sentence apparently refers to the idea expressed in a previous excerpt,
i.e., that for the honor of the Holy Land, Chida wished to impress others
with his scholarship.]
Copyright © 2007 by Shlomo Katz
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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