1. This Shabbos1 is singled out by Jewish tradition and labeled as Shabbos HaGadol2 — “The Great Shabbos.” Its celebration is connected with and serves as a preparation for the holiday of Passover.3

In the Shulchan Aruch, in his description of Shabbos HaGadol, the Alter Rebbe writes “This was the day which the Jews selected and took the lamb for their Paschal sacrifices. How do we know this? Since we know that the Exodus took place on Thursday, the 15th of Nissan, and the Paschal sacrifice was to have been selected on the 10th. We can conclude that the day was Shabbos.”4 He continues describing how “a great miracle” took place in consequence to the Jewish people’s action that, “The Egyptians gathered around them and asked ‘Why are you doing this?’ They answered that it was a Passover sacrifice to G‑d, who would slay the Egyptian first-born. Then the first-born went to their parents and to Pharoah and demanded that the Jews be released. Pharoah refused and in response, they attacked him and fought a battle in which many Egyptians were killed. This battle is referred to in the verse in Tehillim “You smote the Egyptians with their first-born.” The commemoration of this miracle was fixed for the Shabbos before Passover and that Shabbos is called Shabbos HaGadol.”

The “great miracle” which happened because of the Jewish people taking the Paschal sacrifice,5 served as a preparation for the Exodus from Egypt. The nature of this preparation can be understood, through a deeper understanding of the Exodus from Egypt.

The Sefer HaChinuch calls the Exodus “one of Torah’s general principles.” Torah and Mitzvos are “our life and the length of our days” and are intrinsically related to the Exodus from Egypt, therefore a Jew must bring every aspect of his life into connection with the Exodus from Egypt. Awareness of the Exodus must permeate a Jew’s entire existence, therefore, we are commanded to recall it twice daily, in the morning and evening.6

In a personal sense, the Exodus from Egypt refers to each individual’s personal departure from all the restrictions and constraints on his G‑dly soul. The Hebrew word for Egypt — “Mitzrayim” — is related to the word “meitzorim” meaning boundaries or limitations. That transcendence is accomplished through Torah and Mitzvos. Torah and Mitzvos take a Jew beyond the limits of the physical world and bring him into connection with G‑d.

At this point a question arises: The Talmud quite often repeats the principle “a prisoner cannot free himself from jail.” With this concept in mind, how can we ask a Jew, whose whole life is made up of boundaries and limitations, “to leave Egypt” and transcend those confines?

The redemption from Egypt demonstrates an answer to that question. There, “I, the L‑rd, your G‑d, took you out of the land of Egypt.” Similarly, in terms of each person’s individual exodus from Egypt, “G‑d helps him.” Each Jew possesses a spark of G‑dliness within his soul, his “Pintele Yid.” This point of soul is “truly a part of G‑d.” From it, stem all the Jew’s G‑dly powers. This level of the soul was never subjected to Golus and it was never placed under the constraints of “the law of your country is your law.” Therefore, within it lies the potential to leave Egypt, rise above all restrictions and limits.7

Even though the ability to leave Egypt, i.e. transcend all limitations stems from a Jew’s G‑dly soul, the command to do so is addressed to his personal self. Hence he has the responsibility of activating the G‑dly energies he possesses. He must try to “spring forth” (the meaning of the word “Pesach”) of all of his personal boundaries. Then he gives room for his G‑dly essence to effect all of his powers, even his thought, speech, and action making him a truly “free” man.

The above is intrinsically related to Torah study. The Mishnah proclaims “There is no free man except one who is involved in Torah study.”8 A Jew’s state of freedom is connected with his Torah activity. The Medrashic narrative of the Exodus reflects this concept. When Moshe asked G‑d, “Because of what merit will the Jews be redeemed?” G‑d answered, “When you take the Jews out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d on this mountain,” i.e. the redemption of the Jewish people was dependent on their future acceptance of the Torah. Then they truly achieved freedom from slavery.

As explained earlier the Exodus from Egypt was preceded and prepared for by the “great miracle” of Shabbos HaGadol. Even though generally Torah prescribes an order of steady, systematic growth (as evident from the verse Shemos 23:30 “Little by little I will drive them out before you,”) nevertheless in this case a “great miracle” was necessary.9

All miracles represent a step beyond the limitations of nature, the Hebrew word for miracle “Nais” also means “masthead” implying an uplifted state. However, within miracles themselves a certain order exists. Some miracles represent a greater departure from the limits of nature than others. A “great miracle” implies the achievement of a totally unlimited state.

The goal of a Jew is to reach true greatness, i.e. a state which is not confined by any limits. Any restraints (no matter how much room they give) would confine and fetter the unbounded potential of his G‑dly soul. On Pesach, a Jew must “spring forth” and attempt to reach such a level of unlimited freedom. As a preparation, in order to stimulate his potential, on the Shabbos before G‑d performs a “great miracle” revealing a state of total limitlessness.

2. The Midrash describes the state of the Jewish people in Egypt as “naked and uncovered,” they had no merit to deserve redemption.10 For this reason, G‑d commanded them to bring the Paschal sacrifice.

The bringing of the Paschal sacrifice demanded a total transition of character from being “naked and uncovered,” they had to progress to the highest levels of self-sacrifice and devotion to G‑d. The selection of the lamb for slaughter involved a very real threat to their lives, as Moshe himself told Pharoah “If we sacrifice the Egyptians’ god before them, surely they will stone us.” Nevertheless, after the selection of the Paschal sacrifice, the lamb was tied to the bed posts of the Jewish people, to excite the Egyptian curiosity. They wanted the Egyptians to ask and then learn that it would be slaughtered, roasted, and eaten. Despite the tremendous gap between their present state (“naked and uncovered”) and the service demanded of them, the Jews were able to summon up their power of Mesirus Nefesh (self-sacrifice) and make a public display of selecting the lamb. This total transition, in turn, brought about the “great miracle” of “you smote the Egyptians with their first-born.”

These days are to be remembered and celebrated.” Our sages explained that through proper remembrance, they are celebrated with the same intensity as the first time, i.e., the same G‑dly energies are generated. By reliving the process of bringing the Paschal sacrifice, a Jew causes G‑d to bring about a “great miracle,” and bring closer the exodus from our present state of “Egypt.”

So may it be for us. May our firm decision to “draw away and take” the Paschal sacrifice — in line with our sages’ comment “draw away your hands from idol worship”11 — bring about the complete redemption led by Moshiach. May he come soon and lead us to our land.

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3. As mentioned above, each day we must not only remember but also relive the Exodus from Egypt. We must be involved in a constant process of trying to rise above the limitations we face. In every aspect of Torah and Mitzvos, which we perform, we must seek to rise above our boundaries12 and those of the world around us, viewing Torah as truly unlimited, transcending all the limits of the world.

Furthermore, this awareness must be achieved “in the mornings and in the evenings,” — in spiritual terms when G‑dliness shines in his life and when it doesn’t. Constantly, all of us must be “springing forth” from our personal Egypt’s and utilizing G‑d’s help in accomplishing this service. If so, if this service must be constant and continued throughout the entire year, what importance does the celebration of Shabbos HaGadol and the festival of Passover do?

The potential for the reliving of the Exodus from Egypt in the entire year to come is derived from the proper celebration of the holiday of Passover. This concept can be better illustrated through the example of the holiday of Shavuos, the celebration of the Giving of the Torah. On one hand during every moment of every day a Jew is obligated to study Torah. However, on Shavuos the whole day is permeated with Torah. The Rambam writes that a wise man is appreciated by the way he eats, drinks, sleeps, walks etc. Similarly on Shavuos every aspect of our behavior is infused with Torah. During the rest of the year, Torah is also important, but then the main emphasis is placed on how Torah is connected with the deed. A Jew wants to eat, drink; and in order to do so he studies Torah, learns the laws of the meal, of washing hands, etc. and finds out how he should conduct himself. On Shavuos, the Torah is received and accepted in a manner above any connection to deed.

The same concept can be applied to the Exodus from Egypt. During the entire year we must experience the Exodus in terms of (and in relation to) mundane activities. On Pesach, our entire experience for eight straight days is focused on the Exodus from Egypt. To that end, we destroy all Chometz and all remnants of Egypt, taking care to annihilate every trace. This experience of total involvement adds strength and power to the “Yetzias Mitzrayim” we will undergo in all the days following Pesach.

The reverse is also true. The only way an individual can bring himself to a state of arousal on Shabbos HaGadol and Pesach is if he had worked to gain a full experience of Exodus during the previous year. If during the year his approach to the recalling of the departure from Egypt has been habitual, merely a formality without any feeling, it will be difficult for him to have a full experience of Pesach. Even so, Torah obligates him to perform all the laws, however, it will be harder for him to appreciate the life and vitality of the holiday.13

The same process can be seen on a larger scale. Just as the service during the entire year serves as a preparation for Pesach, similarly, the slavery in Egypt served as a preparation for the redemption that followed. Egypt was called the “iron furnace,” serving to refine the Jewish people and separate them from their impurities.

The same pattern is followed by every particular Jew. He possesses a soul given by G‑d. That soul descends “from a high peak to a deep pit,” and becomes enveloped in the body. Yet, even as it enters that prison the Jew has been given the key to his release. The spark of G‑d in his soul is not restricted by the body’s confines, on the contrary, it can “despoil the Egyptians,” take away all its riches.

And through carrying out this service, may we witness fulfillment of the prophecy “as in the days of Egypt I will show you wonders” with the redemption from Golus when we will greet Moshiach with happiness and joy.

4. The sicha above described how every aspect of Torah not only performs a function of its own but also effects other elements of service. For example, the Mitzvah of remembering the Exodus each day, besides being a Mitzvah in its own right it contributes to the intensity of the Passover celebration. Likewise, in reverse, the celebration of Passover, besides the fulfilling of all the laws and customs appropriate to that time, it also brings about a deeper experience of the Exodus to all the days of the following year.

This idea relates very closely to the concept of Chinuch (education). The aim of Chinuch is to provide the child with an experience which is simultaneously valuable in its own right in the present and will also shape and mold the child’s character so that he will continue in this path in the years to come.

A unique bond exists between education and the holiday of Passover. The prophet Yechezkel describes Pesach as the birthday of the Jewish people.14 It is understandable that immediately afterwards, G‑d began a process of education, guiding them in the direction that will lead to acceptance of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. This connection brings about a unique stress on education throughout the Pesach celebration. Therefore, the children ask the four questions. Also, the narrative of the four sons is recited where parents even approach the son who does not know how to ask; in order to arouse his desire to learn and teach him to ask questions.15

5. A question arises: Why does the “Maggid” (reciting of the miracle) portion of the Haggadah begin with “Ma Nishtaneh” (the four questions)? Why not begin with the narrative of the four sons? Then even the son who does not know how to ask will be aroused and included in the Seder.

Despite the force of this question, we see that the Haggadah does not choose this order. That fact implies that even if the son “who cannot ask” is not able to verbalize his question, in his own way he asks “Ma Nishtaneh.” His very presence at the Seder, is a sign of his interest and involvement. He must be stimulated and taught how to express his questions. However, his attendance of the Seder allows for that possibility.

Unfortunately though, today there exist other children who do not even attend the Seder, who don’t give their fathers an opportunity to educate them, to open them up to the importance of the Seder. In fact, there are fathers who do not even understand the need to educate their children. They, themselves, must be classified as “sons who do not know how to ask.” Many of them will not even come to the Seder.

The awareness of this situation should motivate us to work to bring every Jewish child to the Seder table. We must bring them at least to a level of participation of the “son who does not know how to ask.”

We must spread Mivtza Pesach, the campaign to insure that each Jew is provided with the necessities, both physical and spiritual, to celebrate the holiday properly.

This campaign shares a connection with Shabbos HaGadol, as mentioned above — Shabbos HaGadol commemorates the taking of the Paschal sacrifice. The Paschal sacrifice was brought by a group who were specifically registered as its owners. A father, however, had the power of registering his younger children without their knowledge.

This is the connection between Shabbos HaGadol and the Pesach campaign. Now, the registration for Peach begins. It is our responsibility to register all our younger (as the Talmud comments, age and maturity are a matter of knowledge) children (students being also called children) even without their knowledge to bring the Paschal sacrifice.

However, just as then that the registration was not enough but the child had to actually come and eat the Paschal sacrifice, similarly, now, we must undertake efforts to insure that these individuals actually celebrate Pesach. This implies a necessity to work harder in the realm of Chinuch16 with the goal of bringing every Jew to the Seder and motivating him to at least ask “Ma Nishtaneh.” This simple question opens the way for us to the answer: “Avodim Hayeinu,” to explain all the aspects of Pesach until he reaches and even surpasses the level of “the wise son.”17

Likewise, Mivtza Pesach should bring about activity in all the other Ten Mivtzoim: Mivtza Ahavas Yisroel, Mivtza Chinuch, Mivtza Torah, Mivtza Mezuzah, Mivtza Tefillin, Mivtza Tzedakah, Bayis Maley Seforim, Mivtza Neiros Shabbos Kodesh, Mivtza Kashrus, Mivtza Taharas HaMishpochah.

And may the entire Jewish people sit down together at the Seder table with the same desires, purposes, and goals. May we all prepare for the future redemption and as the Talmud states: “In Nissan the Jewish people were redeemed, and in Nissan they will be redeemed” in the complete and total redemption, led by Moshiach.