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Torah Commentary
Tzav (March 23, 2013)

Prince H. Davis, Administrative Assistant

WE ARE NOW in Parashat Tzav, which incidentally coincides this year with Shabbat HaGadol (The Great Sabbath), which precedes the Pesach holiday. While the phrase “Shabbat HaGadol” appears in other contexts earlier in Rabbinic literature, it is first mentioned in the works of Rashi. In his book Sefer Hapardes, Rashi explains the reason for this title by writing:

People are accustomed to calling the Shabbat before Pesach “Shabbat HaGadol,” but they do not know what makes this Shabbat greater than any other.

He then continues:

The Children of Israel went out of Egypt on a Thursday, as is recorded in Seder Olam. They prepared the lamb for the Pesach sacrifice on the previous Shabbat, on the tenth of Nisan. When they were instructed to do so, they wondered: “If we sacrifice an animal which the Egyptians hold sacred, before their very eyes, they will surely stone us.” But God told them: “Now you see the wondrous things which I will do for you.” The Children of Israel thereupon each took a lamb and kept it for four days. When the Egyptians saw this, they wanted to rise up and take revenge, but they were stricken with all kinds of horrible afflictions and could do no harm to the Children of Israel. Because of the miracles which God performed on that day, the Shabbat before Pesach, it became known as Shabbat HaGadol.

While this is a common explanation, we easily can infer from his introduction that Rashi is giving one answer to a question that many people have asked over the years. In fact, there are many other explanations given for the origin of the name. (Good luck in your quest to find them!)

Others say that the reason is found in Malachi 3:23 of this week’s Haftarah, which describes messianic times:

Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord.

Just as other special Shabbatot are named for their Haftarah (Shabbat Chazon before Tishah B’Av; Shabbat Nachamu after Tishah B’Av; Shabbat Shuvah, which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), according to this approach so is Shabbat HaGadol.

Wishing you all a wonderful Passover season! Chag Sameach! Zissen Pesach!

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