The Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. There are different explanations given for this. The Rav of the community gives a long Dvar Torah to explain the great many laws of Pesach. The Haftorah includes reference to the great and awesome day when Eliyahu the Prophet will lead in our Righteous Mashiach. But I have long felt that the most powerful explanation is that the greatness refers to the Jewish people and our special relationship with Hashem.
When Hashem commanded us to offer the Pesach sacrifice while in Egypt, He commanded us to tie the lamb to our beds and then, at the appointed time, to slaughter it and spread the blood on our door posts. This was the ultimate sacrilege to the Egyptians as we, their slaves, were killing one of their gods. Yet, despite the risk, we were willing to listen to Hashem. We remember this courageous step in our redemption every year on Shabbat Hagadol.
This was one of many miracles that Hashem performed as part of our redemption. The Egyptians, despite their anger, could do nothing to stop us from slaughtering their gods. And once we did as Hashem commanded, He passed over our homes and punished the Egyptians with the most severe of the Ten Plagues — the killing of the first born. Furthermore, we were freed from Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds and received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The question is often asked: Why did Hashem decide to free us from Egypt? As the rabbis have noted, as a nation we had descended to the 49th out of 50 levels of impurity, such that we were barely distinguishable from the idolatrous Egyptians.
As HaRav Avaraham Yitzchak Kook and his students have explained, the Jewish nation has a special segulah — inherent sacred character and relationship with Hashem. This isn’t a result of individual choices or actions. It is an inherent part of the Jewish people and is based on the promise He made to our fathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. As such, it is part and parcel of our being and unchangeable — no matter how far from Hashem any individual or group of individuals may stray. Therefore, Hashem freed us not because we were wonderful. He freed us and chose us as His Nation, as Maimonides says, “due to His great love for us.” (Mishna Torah, Laws of Idolatry, Chapter 1)
Of course, Hashem expects us to recognize our inner segulah and take action. He commanded us to slaughter the Paschal lamb and to spread its blood on our doorposts. He split the sea, but only after we marched into its raging waters. He gave us the Torah, but wanted us to accept it and follow its laws. He brought us into Eretz Yisrael, but made us conquer it. In our era, the redemption continues as He has brought us back to Eretz Yisrael, but requires us to labor to build and strengthen the State of Israel. This all shows His love for us, and our love for Him.
The greatness of Shabbat Hagadol — and Pesach itself — can be found in Hashem’s eternal, incredible love for the Jewish people, and our incredible love and willingness to sacrifice for Him. May we soon witness what will be the greatest expression of this love — the coming of our Righteous Mashiach.
Shabbat Shalom. Chag Kasher VeSameach.
Rabbi Shmuel Jablon is the Menahel (Principal) of Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, a member of the executive committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and the host of www.rabbijablon.com .