A young man went on a date. After the first meeting he told his friends that he was impressed with the young lady’s character, but not with the shape of her nose. After several further dates, the young man fell in love. When his friends asked about the nose, he replied, “When I look at her I see a lovely face, not an unattractive nose.”

For the first few months the young husband didn’t notice the shape of his wife’s nose, but soon he began to notice it again. Only, this time he surprised himself when he actually came to adore it.

First his love blinded him to the faults in her appearance, and he subconsciously learned to ignore them. Then he came to love her so much that he was infatuated with her every attribute. The unappealing became appealing. The unattractive nose was transformed into a source of even greater attraction.


The love between husband and wife is a metaphor for the love between ourselves and G‑d.

G‑d instructed our ancestors to build an altar in the Tabernacle and to maintain a continuous fire upon it. As the Torah puts it, “The flame may not be extinguished” (Leviticus 6:6). The mystics rendered this instruction in a slightly different manner. The altar represents our hearts; the fire, our love for G‑d. We must keep our love for G‑d aflame, palpable in our hearts at all times; and when we do, “the ‘not’ will be extinguished.”1

The “not” is our desire to refuse G‑d’s wishes periodically. This “not” is stimulated by our attraction to worldly pleasures. Nurturing a continuous love for G‑d reduces our attraction to worldly pleasures, thus also extinguishing our “not,” our desire to say no to G‑d.

The first step is to extinguish the “not.” The second step is to turn the “not” into a “shall,” by harnessing our desire for worldly pleasures to the service of G‑d. When our passion for worldly pleasures becomes a passion for G‑d, when the desire to avoid G‑d becomes a desire to embrace Him, then we, like the young husband in the story, have turned a formerly unappealing attribute into a conduit for greater love.

A Great Miracle

Our sages relate how, on the last Shabbat before our ancestors left Egypt, they designated lambs for the upcoming Passover sacrifice. They explained to their Egyptian neighbors that they had been instructed by G‑d to offer up a sacrifice, because the night of their redemption was at hand. On that night, they told their neighbors, all firstborn Egyptian males would die.

Upon hearing this, the Egyptian firstborn men pleaded with Pharaoh to liberate the Jews, but Pharaoh refused, and an armed clash erupted between the firstborn Egyptians and the royal forces. Many died in this battle, but Pharaoh’s forces ultimately prevailed. This revolt was titled a “great miracle,” and it is commemorated every year on the Shabbat before Passover.2

The astute reader will ask, “Where is the miracle?” The revolt was a completely natural occurrence, and furthermore, it failed. What is there to celebrate?

Opposition Transformed

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that the miracle lay not in the outcome of the battle, but in the very fact that it was waged. For many years Egypt enslaved our ancestors and expended its resources on persecuting them. The firstborn were the most revered in all Egypt. They were also the principal taskmasters and antagonizers of our people.

For nine long plagues the Egyptians held out. They scoffed at G‑d and opposed His demand to liberate our people.

Like the young husband who silenced his ambivalence in order to love his bride, so did G‑d silence the voices of Egyptian opposition in order to liberate His people. The tenth and final plague miraculously accomplished this goal. It terminated Egypt’s opposition to G‑d and to His demand to liberate our people.

The civil war, however, went beyond this step. It not only stopped the opposition, but also turned the oppressors into supporters. For the first time, Egyptians rallied in support of the Jewish cause. This was the first time that the forces arrayed against G‑d crossed the line in support of G‑d.

This was a miracle. Not a simple miracle, but a “great miracle.” Most miracles change the natural order by forcing the natural order to work against itself. Rarely does the natural order transform itself to the point that it desires and embraces the change G‑d wants. This time it did.3

It was the Egyptians’ natural inclination to deny the existence of G‑d despite all evidence to the contrary.4 But the civil war erupted because the firstborn's natural opposition to G‑d changed into an inclination to embrace G‑d and His instruction to liberate the Jews. This transformation was not forced upon them against their nature. Their natural inclination simply changed when they realized that supporting the Jews would enable their own survival and is thus in their best interest. Like the young man whose ambivalence was ultimately turned by his love into a conduit for greater love, so did their realization transform their opposition to G‑d into faith and advocacy for His people.

This explains why we refer to the Shabbat that commemorates this great miracle as Shabbat HaGadol, “The Great Shabbat.” Shabbat is about escaping the tangled web of worldly affairs. G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Similarly, we are required to rest from our worldly affairs on the seventh day and concentrate on G‑d. In a sense, we silence the voices of the distracting world so that we can devote ourselves to G‑d.

But on this Shabbat we go one step further. Instead of silencing the world, we celebrate it. Rather than escaping the world on this Shabbat, we highlight its divine origin. As the Egyptian firstborn did, we recognize that the weekday world was also created by G‑d, and, rather than view it as a possible distraction, we invite it to worship in Shabbat-style devotion. Among the Shabbatot of the year, this one is “great” because it integrates the world with G‑d, enabling all other Shabbatot to influence the weekday world that is ushered in behind them.5