Most of the major festivals involve ritual practices, such as blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and waving the lulav on Sukkot. Although these are Biblically mandated commandments that carry great importance, the Talmudic sages recognized that when the festivals coincide with Shabbat, and carrying in public is prohibited, fulfilling these rituals could lead to violating Shabbat.1

Their main concern was that a person may take their shofar or lulav to consult an expert for guidance on how to correctly fulfil the mitzvah. The rule was therefore instituted that when the festivals occur on Shabbat, the rituals would not be practiced by individuals (only in the Temple, or according to some, in a central court of law). In practice, this means that should Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot or Purim fall on Shabbat, the rituals mandated for that day – shofar, lulav and megillah reading respectively – are suspended.

According to this logic, should Passover coincide with Shabbat – a fairly regular occurrence – the Seder night should be cancelled. After all, there is no occasion more replete with ritual than the Seder night: eating the matzah and maror (bitter herbs), drinking four cups of wine, and many other practices, each of which comes with an abundance of detailed regulations.

Yet the seder night goes ahead even on Shabbat. We do not cancel the rituals out of concern that a person may accidentally carry their matzah, maror, or wine to consult an expert.

The cancellation of shofar, lulav or megillah on Shabbat is no small matter. It involves suspending major rituals that normally carry utmost significance. That Passover is treated so differently is not just a blatant contradiction, but poses a truly perplexing conundrum. Is there something so very different about Passover?

Some commentators try to draw distinctions between Passover and the other festivals, but each attempt leaves more questions than answers. The Rebbe, in his usual style, avoids splitting hairs and looks at the fundamental concept instead, leading to an entirely new understanding.

The Rebbe returns to the basic question: How could the rabbis cancel these important rituals just because of a relatively far-fetched concern that some isolated individuals may carry in public on Shabbat?

Drawing on complex mystical ideas, this question is explored extensively in Chabad Chassidic teachings.2The basic conclusion is that on a Shabbat those rituals are not required. Much as we do not wear tefillin on Shabbat – despite it being afforded the highest importance during the week – blowing the shofar and waving the lulav are not suited to Shabbat.

Why? The sacredness of Shabbat itself achieves the elevation that these rituals contribute. In contrast, however, the rabbis judged that Shabbat could not accomplish whatever would be achieved by the Seder night. Cancelling the rituals of the Seder would deprive us of something that Shabbat itself can not provide. They therefore permitted the Seder to proceed even on Shabbat.

We may ask, though, what is so unique about Passover? Why can we manage on Shabbat without shofar, lulav, and megillah – but not without matzah?

To address this question, the Rebbe points out something extremely interesting but largely overlooked: Passover is unique in that we know the exact time it happened. No other festival is like this.

Take Sukkot, for example. No historic event happened on that day at all. It is possible for Shavuot to fall on either the fifth, sixth, or seventh of the Hebrew month of Sivan, and we are not aware of the precise time of day that the Sinai revelation occurred.

Rosh Hashanah marks the birth of humankind, but we do not know of the exact moment that took place. On Yom Kippur, G‑d granted full forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf, but we are not told at what time of day this occurred. And so on.

The major exception to this is Passover. We are given an exact time: At the stroke of midnight.3 We know when the redemption came – to the second.

We also know the exact moment the Israelites began to leave Egypt. The Torah tells us that this took place at exactly the middle of the day.4

Moreover, when Moses confronted Pharaoh for the last time, he warned him of the disaster that was about to befall the Egyptians – the striking of the firstborns. On that occasion, Moses declares to Pharaoh that this would occur at exactly midnight.5

The rabbis6 were aware that giving an exact time to Pharaoh was a liability, as Pharaoh may not get his timing right and think that G‑d’s promise was inaccurate. Still, Moses insisted on giving a precise time. Why? Because he wanted to demonstrate G‑d’s complete mastery over time.

Having shown His mastery of successive aspects of nature over the course of the previous nine plagues, Moses wanted it to be clear that even the most elusive aspect of nature – time itself – was well within the grasp of the Almighty.

With this insight, we now understand that Passover – and especially the Passover Seder – is closely connected to the issue of time. So much of the culmination of the Passover story is associated with an exact time.

Given that Passover is so related to a particular moment in time, the rabbis considered it essential to have the Seder at its proper time, even on Shabbat. This unique connection to time can not be replaced by the sanctity of the Day of Rest; it can only be achieved by having the Seder at its designated time.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichot vol. 7, Pesach (pg. 48-53); vol. 21, Bo (pg. 55-61); Hitvaaduyot 5744, pg. 1437