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Why is the Shabbat before Passover called the “Great Shabbat”?

Why is the Shabbat before Passover called the “Great Shabbat”?


The Shabbat before Pesach is called "Shabbat Hagadol" (the "Great Shabbat") for a number of reasons:

1) The primary event commemorated on this Shabbat is a great miracle which occurred on this day, several days before the Exodus. The Jewish people were commanded by Moses to take a lamb and tie it to their bedposts on Shabbat, the 10th day of Nissan, five days before they were to leave Egypt. When the Egyptians inquired by the Jews why they were buying lambs en masse, they were told that these lambs were intended for the Paschal Offering, which would be sacrificed in preparation of the Plague of the Firstborn. For some reason, this information rattled the Egyptian firstborn, who immediately insisted that Pharaoh grant the Jews the liberty they demanded. When Pharaoh refused their request, the Egyptian firstborn waged war with Pharaoh's army, and many Egyptians who were guilty of atrocities against the Jews were killed on that day.

2) Furthermore, on this day it was demonstrated that the Egyptians were powerless against the Jews. They must have been mightily peeved by the fact that the Jews were planning to slaughter lambs, an Egyptian deity -- but were incapable of doing anything to hamper their plans.

3) Some suggest that this Shabbat earned the title "Gadol," because it is the day when the rabbis traditionally deliver extensive lectures about the laws of Passover, and pontificate about the lessons to be learned from the holiday.

4) The Haftorah read in many communities on this Shabbat speaks of the coming of Moshiach, referring to the day of his arrival as the "yom Hashem hagadol v'hanora" -- the "great" and awesome day of the L-rd.1

Click here for more about Shabbat Hagadol.

Have a Happy and Kosher Pesach!

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin for April 3, 2016

Re: killing of the firstborn children It should be noted that he plague was not against "children;" it was against firstborn, which does not necessarily mean children. In other words, its not that the "children of the wicked were punished" rather, they themselves were part of the guilty Egyptians. Were there some children included in the firstborn? Most probably yes.
But why limit the question to the plague of the firstborn? What about the times throughout history that G-d let innocent children be killed? After all, since G-d runs the world, he is in the end responsible for all that as well…

No, I don’t have any good answers, but here is an article that offers some perspective G-d, How Could You Do This?

But getting back to Passover, Holidays were not given to Israel to mark the downfall of her enemies. Rather, they were ordained to commemorate Israel's salvation. The Holy One, blessed is He, does not rejoice when the wicked are destroyed, and Israel is also not to celebrate these instances. However, we celebrate our salvation independently of what happened to those who were punished.

As a side note there are a number of reasons why the firstborn were punished. We find that G-d had commanded Moshe to tell Pharaoh (shemos 4:22) "And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'So said the Lord, "My firstborn son is Israel." '" In other words, the Jews are called G-d's firstborn, therefore, just like the Egyptians made G-ds firstborn suffer (and killed many of them) G-d punished the Egyptians firstborn.

Additionally, Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar - the Ohr Ha-Chaim - explains on the verse in Shemos\Exodus 11:5, that everything in holiness has its corresponding attribute in impurity. Therefore since the Jews were "G-ds firstborn," their counterpart in the world of impurity was the Egyptian firstborn. Therefore, in order to free the "attribute" of the firstborn in holiness, its counterpart had to be taken away. Reply

Craig Yuma March 28, 2015

I always told the story that it was sweet potatoes, you know the Pascal yam! Reply

Tannachton Farm March 28, 2015

All the translations I've read say "Israelites' not 'Jews.' Didn't He bring out all the tribes?

Shabbat Shalom! Reply

Norton Mezvinsky New York City March 26, 2015

The Israeli historian, Shlomo Sand, in one of his books related the following question that his five year old daughter asked at a Seder a few years ago. The question was;" Did the last plague, issued by G-d, in the Passover story, of killing all the firstborn Egyptians include young children?" The answer is "yes." Does this not raise a moral question about G-d? Reply

rena munich, germany April 15, 2011

the haftora read in many communities? don't all synagogues read the same haftara on the same day? Reply

Gisele Brooklyn, NY March 27, 2007

Thanks for explaning this complicated and special Shabbat. I had no idea about the sacrificing of the lambs.
Thanks for the explaination. Reply

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