1. There are a number of reasons given to explain the fact that this Shabbos is called Shabbos HaGadol (the great Shabbos). The reason given by the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch is as follows: In that year the 10th of Nissan fell on Shabbos. On that day the Jews selected the sheep to be used for the Pesach sacrifice. The first-born of Egypt came and asked what they were doing. They replied that the sheep were being brought as a sacrifice, for G‑d would slay the first-born of Egypt. Upon hearing this, they went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded them to send out the Jewish people. When they refused, the first-born attacked them. This event is alluded to in the verse, “to smite Egypt with their first-born.” Because of this great miracle, this Shabbos is called the great Shabbos.

The above explanation seems to be problematic. What occurred does not appear to be a miracle,1 and surely not a “great miracle.” Rather, it seems like a very natural course of events. The Egyptian first-born had seen that all that Moshe predicted had come true. A person is willing to sacrifice everything for his life. Therefore, it was completely natural for the first-born of Egypt to try to prevail against Pharaoh in order to free the Jewish people.

The miracle that occurred centers around the transformation of darkness into light. This series of events took place before the redemption from Egypt. Even then the first-born — the major strength2 — of Egypt, were transformed into the agent of the Jewish people. They should have been the one’s who did not believe, and who refused to free the Jewish people. Instead, they demanded their freedom, attacking Pharaoh’s forces in an effort to secure it. This transformation of darkness into light — in the words of the Zohar, “from it itself (darkness), I will drive a nail into it” — constitutes the “great miracle.”

The behavior of the first-born provides us with a lesson. We must take entities that appear to be “the first-born of Egypt” and use them to destroy the “Goyishkeit” (non-Jewish nature) of the world around us. In the first stages we must “make ourselves holy with what is permitted to us.” After this we must proceed further and transform our environment into holiness.3

The above can be related to our present efforts to “return the hearts of the fathers through the children.” The Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Aruch that the Egyptian first-born came to their fathers4 and asked them to free the Jewish people. Today Jewish children must also approach their parents, asking them to fulfill Mitzvos — especially those Mitzvos connected with Pesach. When the first-born in Egypt came to their parents and told them that it was a matter of extreme importance, their parents should have been effected. It was only because of other factors that no change occurred. Therefore, at present, when Jewish children approach their parents, showing that their request is very important to them, they will surely be able to bring about a change.5 Then, the children’s efforts will bring about an increase in G‑d’s blessings, including the ultimate blessing, the coming of the Messianic redemption. And then we will bring the Pesach sacrifice, speedily in our days.

2. This year Shabbos HaGadol falls on the 12th of Nissan, the day when the last of the Nissi’im (princes) of the Jewish people brought his sacrifice. The 12th day has a unique quality. It concludes the entire process of the sanctuary’s dedication.

A comparison can be drawn between the first and the last days. Both have a unique advantage over the intervening days. Since we now find ourselves in the midst of the last day, it is proper to stress the aspects connected with it.6

A comparison between these two days is given in Likkutei Torah (Nasso 29b). There the Alter Rebbe explains that the unique quality of the first day of the dedication of the altar is related to drawing down the Or Makif — the encompassing light — (incense and plates), while the unique aspect of the 12th day is related to the Or Pnimi — the inner light (sacrifices). A similar contrast between the first and last day is found in a dispute in the realm of Niglah (the exoteric, legal realm of Torah study). The holiday of Chanukah is connected to the dedication of the sanctuary (the word Chanukah is etymologically related to the word Chinuch, which means dedication). For this reason the Torah reading on Chanukah describes the offerings given by the Nissi’im for the dedication of the sanctuary. The offering of the first day is read on the first day of Chanukah, and the offering of the 12th day is included in the reading of the eighth day.7 Just as there is an argument which is most important — the first or the twelfth day of the dedication — there is a similar argument in regard to the relative importance of the first and last days of Chanukah. Bais Shammai (the House of Shammai) maintains that all eight Chanukah candles should be lit on the first day, while Bais Hillel (the House of Hillel) argues that eight candles should be lit only on the last day. Commentators have explained that the source of this argument is the question as to whether the most important factor is potential or actuality. Bais Shammai maintains that the essential factor is potential. In the first day exists the potential for all eight days. Therefore, according to Bais Shammai, eight candles should be lit. Bais Hillel, on the other hand, stresses actuality. According to this perspective it is on the eighth day that the highest level occurs. Potential is similar to the encompassing light, actuality to the inner light. The 12th day stresses the quality of Pnimius, inner light, thus emphasizing the importance of actual expression, revelation, and the particular division of each day.

The lesson which we derive from the above is the importance of bringing every concept down into particular application. It is necessary to have a general, encompassing light as well, but the full completion of every concept comes through its particular application. For example, in Torah study, every particular concept learned adds completion to all the aspects of Torah previously studied (note footnote F).

This applies to the campaign to “return the hearts of the fathers through the children.” The efforts that have been carried out till now have been successful, but more work is necessary. These new efforts must stress particular application. They must influence the children to demand from their parents that they observe the Mitzvos of Pesach. Though the children must be careful to show their parents proper respect, in fulfillment of the commandment, “honor your father and mother,” nevertheless, they must observe all aspects of Pesach. These efforts, in turn, will lead to the fulfillment of the prophecy, “a great congregation will return there,” with the coming of Moshiach, speedily, in our days.

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3. The Torah reading of this week is Parshas Tzav. Our sages explain that the word Tzav implies an “encouragement applicable immediately and for future generations.” Since this year Parshas Tzav falls in conjunction with the dedication offerings of the Nissi’im, it follows that the “encouragement...immediately and for future generations” must be applicable to these offerings as well. Yet, it is difficult to understand how the offerings of the Nissi’im are relevant to future generations. They were offered only once, at the time of the dedication of the sanctuary. Furthermore, on the surface the sacrifices of the Nissi’im seem to teach an opposite lesson than Tzav. The Nissi’im were anxious to bring these offerings. In fact, because of their great desire they would have all brought their offerings on the first day. G‑d specifically commanded them to hold back their offering and bring them on consecutive days.

The above explanation can be understood in terms of another concept. Our sages declared, “the works of Moshe’s hands are eternal.” For example, the sanctuary which Moshe built is an eternal structure. It was never destroyed; rather, it was buried and will be revealed at the time of Moshiach’s coming. This fact brings up the following question: Why is it necessary for the sanctuary to be revealed in Messianic times? At that time, we will have the third Temple, the Temple which G‑d Himself built.

The reason is that there is a quality which is present in the sanctuary (and was also present in the first and second Temples) that will be lacking in the third Temple — the quality of our own effort and achievement. The Talmud states that “a person wants one Kav of his own more than nine Kavim of his friends.” Although his friend’s possession has a quantative advantage he derives more pleasure and satisfaction of something of his own, albeit much less. Therefore, the sanctuary has an advantage even over the third Temple.8

From this we realize that all the elements that are connected with the sanctuary, including the offerings of dedication, cannot be considered as events relating to only one time period. Rather, they must be viewed as “a continuous activity,” effecting our service as well. Torah law provides an example of this principle. A Jewish king was anointed in a special manner. If the monarchy passes in direct succession from father to son, the son need not be anointed. The anointment of his father effects him as well. Similarly, the sacrifices of the Nissi’im effect the “future generations.”

A related concept explains the second question asked before: How can Tzav be related to the sacrifices of the Nissi’im. The Nissi’im displayed eagerness, but their “eagerness” was a “human” (and therefore limited) response. The “encouragement” of Tzav added a Divine influence, thus greatly enhancing their sacrifices.

The above is related to our own personal service. The word Nassi means ‘the uplifted one.’ In our souls we each have a potential that is a Nassi, that is, the power of Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice). The commitment of Mesirus Nefesh need only be made once. However, it must encompass and include every aspect of our behavior, thus becoming a “continuous activity.”9 When we study Torah, we cannot be openly involved with Mesirus Nefesh; doing so would prevent our understanding of the subject matter. However, before study and as a preparation for study, we must feel the motivation of Mesirus Nefesh. This, in turn, will effect the manner in which we study. The same concept applies to Mitzvos. Each Mitzvah has a specific intention aside from Mesirus Nefesh. For example, the intention behind Tefillin is to subjugate the mind and heart. We cannot focus on both that specific intention, and Mesirus Nefesh, at the same time. But before doing the Mitzvah, while making the brochah, we must concentrate on Mesirus Nefesh — giving our wills entirely over to G‑d. This will enhance our fulfillment of the Mitzvos.

The above applies to the efforts in the Mivtzoim and Mivtza Pesach. When we approach another Jew we cannot demand of him Mesirus Nefesh. We have to speak to him about specific things which he can accomplish — the destruction of Chometz, the eating of Matzah, etc. However, our efforts must be so charged with Mesirus Nefesh that the person we are speaking to is also effected by it.10