| Your Online Yeshiva with The Biggest Selection of Video Shiurim - Lectures on Any Torah Topic with Great Insights
Login / Register

Watch: in English - - בעברית - - на Русском - - Бухори - - en Español - - به زبان فارسی - - на Джуури - - Le Français - -


  • The Great Shabbat

    Rabbi Simon Jacobson

     What defines greatness? A closer look at the significance of Shabbat HaGadol (lit. the great Shabbat) – the traditional name for the Shabbat preceding Passover – can perhaps shed some light on the meaning of greatness. And also give us a laugh or two – hey who can’t use it a bit of humor?…

    If you thought that long, drawn-out Rabbinic sermons are a modern phenomenon, think again. None other than the great 11th century scholar and commentator, Rashi, writes in his Sefer ha’Pardes (p. 343), in the name of a Rabbi Yitzchak Yuskuntu that the customary lengthy Shabbat HaGadol speech makes the Shabbat feel long and drawn out. Hence they called the day Shabbat HaGadol, gadol as in long and protracted – the long Shabbat. “When people do not move around, but stay in one place for an extended time and don’t have what to do, they customarily will say: ‘what a long day…’”

    I tried researching the identity of Rabbi Yitzchak Yuskuntu that Rashi cites, but with no success. All Rashi writes is that he was a “katzin” (which usually means a prominent individual, a magistrate), and that he was from Hungary (“eretz hagar”). If anyone has any more information on this Rabbi, I would appreciate you letting let me know.

    Just in case you think that this was an anomaly only in Rashi’s town (and in the vicinity of the above-cited Rabbi Yitzchak), this reason for Shabbat haGadol is brought down by quite a few other Torah authorities, like the 13th century scholar, R’ Tzidkiyahu ben Avraham in his Shibolei Haleket, R’ Yechiel in Tanya Rabsi and others.

    I guess the difference between the Synagogue sermons in the Middle Ages and today is that people then stuck around even if the sermons dragged on and the day turned long and drawn out. While today most congregants would simply leave and not hang around too long… Was it the sermon or the people? Probably both: The sermons were better and the people were more committed. Today, on the other hand… – you can fill in the blanks.

    Before drawing any bizarre conclusions that the Shabbat before Passover is so named (The Long Shabbat) simply due to people’s feelings about the lengthy sermons, we must qualify this statement with a very clear and loud declaration that our sages, including Rashi himself, offer other reasons for this Shabbat being called Shabbat HaGadol.

    Primary among these reasons is the one given by the legal (halachik) authorities, namely the Tur, Shulchan Oruch (code of Jewish law) and the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Oruch (Orech Chaim sec. 430) – that a great miracle happened on this Shabbat a few days preceding the Egyptian Exodus. There are various opinions as to the nature of this great miracle. Here is a summary of them:

    1) The Jewish people were commanded by Moses to take a lamb and tie it to their bedposts on Shabbat, the 10th day of Nissan, five days before they were to leave Egypt. When the Egyptians inquired by the Jews why they were buying lambs en masse, they were told that these lambs were intended for the Paschal Offering, which would be sacrificed in preparation of the Plague of the Firstborn. For some reason, this information rattled the Egyptian firstborn, who immediately insisted that Pharaoh grant the Jews the liberty they demanded. When Pharaoh refused their request, the Egyptian firstborn waged war with Pharaoh’s army, and many Egyptians who were guilty of atrocities against the Jews were killed on that day. This is the meaning of the verse (Psalms 136:10): “Who struck Egypt through its first born; for His kindness is eternal” (Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, from Tosafot Shabbat 87b).

    2) On this day it was demonstrated that the Egyptians were powerless against the Jews. They were very disturbed by the fact that the Jews were planning to slaughter lambs, an Egyptian deity – but were incapable of doing anything to hamper their plans (Tur. Levush).

    3) The Egyptians wanted to kill the Jews for slaughtering their deity, and G-d miraculously spared them (Rabboseinu Baalei haTosafos Bo 12:3. Rashi in Sefer HaPardes cited above, as well as in Sefer haOrah and Siddur Rashi).

    Despite these reasons, it still seems kind of puzzling that a sage on the caliber of Rashi should cite the above-mentioned reason that people felt that the sermon made the day seem so long. Why would it be important to tell us this? And why would anyone suggest such a satirical name to a day so special like the Shabbat before Passover?! Especially considering that there are many other very positive reasons for calling this day Shabbat HaGadol – reasons that reflect the special and great miracles that transpired on that day! In addition to the reasons cited above, many scholars over the generations have posited different beautiful insights into this name (like the Avudraham and the Pri Chadash. – Many are gathered in Rabbi Menachem Kasher’s Hagoda Shelemah. See also Bnei Yissachar and Shaar Yissachar, among others).

    Another oddity about Shabbat HaGadol is the fact that this name is not mentioned in any Biblical or Talmudic literature.* The first time we find it mentioned is in the writings of Rashi (cited above) and his contemporaries, like R’ Simcha ben Samuel of Vitry in his Machzor Vitri (section 259). And they both write that the name is shrouded in mystery: “The Shabbat prior to Passover people are accustomed to call Shabbat HaGadol. And they don’t know why it’s called Shabbat Hagadol, [why it is distinguished as being] greater than the other Sabbaths of the year.”

    And yet, they continue to provide the reason for this name due to the great miracle that happened on that Shabbat in Egypt! Since Rashi and the other sages know and are giving us the reason, why are they emphasizing the ignorance of the people in their time who call it by that name without knowing why?! And why is it that people at the time were not aware of the reason? Clearly the name of the Shabbat was quite popular, suggesting that it was passed on by word-of-mouth from generation to generation. Yet, the reason was not passed on except to a select few. The question remains: Where did this name originate? How far back?

    The history of Shabbat HaGadol and its name seems to be muddled, almost intentionally, in obscurity. Not to say that Jewish law is unclear about the matter; the Shulchan Aruch is very lucid about the great miracle that happened on that Shabbat, and how we honor that every year on this Shabbat HaGadol. Many eloquent thoughts and yes, sermons, have been delivered over the years explaining the moral and spiritual lessons from these miracles. And yet, when we go back and explore the past, the origins of the name seem to fade in the annals of history.

    I will not attempt to unravel the mysteries of Shabbat HaGadol. Instead, allow me to just point out that perhaps we may have here a full-blown manifestation of the paradoxes and absurdities of life, which is acutely reflected in Jewish life.

    On one hand, Shabbat HaGadol celebrates the great miracles that preceded the Exodus. After years of oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, the oppressors finally got their due, as they turned on each other and witnessed their gods being destroyed, helpless to do anything about it. Year after year on this Shabbat throughout the millennia, sermons upon sermons were delivered, educating, inspiring, motivating, cajoling the people to honor these miracles, improve their lives and heighten their consciousness.

    On the other hand, the Jewish people, though free at last, are never allowed to gloat and succumb to pride and self-importance.

    To remind us of that fact, we don’t really know when and where the “Great Shabbat” got its name. Furthermore, in an almost tongue-in-cheek way – quite refreshing if you ask me – we are reminded that some of these sermons (even back then) may have gone too long; or if that sounds too harsh, that the long sermons made the people feel that the day was very, very long… “What a long day?”

    They say that there is a very thin line between comedy and tragedy, as well as between intensity and lightness of being. Sometimes the only way to survive and not be trampled by existential loneliness and the contradictions of life is with a bit of humor and self-deprecation; not to take yourself too seriously. Not becoming smug in the face of success; and not to be depressed in the face of (perceived) failure.

    Balancing the two – seriousness and cheerfulness, intensity and buoyancy, realism and optimism, sadness and laughter, pain and joy, success and humility – is the secret to resilience and success; the power to withstand all challenges and endure. The mystery of immortality.

    And in some strange way, this is the secret of greatness. The mystique behind the Great Shabbat.

    May everyone be blessed with a very meaningful, transcendent – and disarming – Passover.


    *) The term Shabbat Hagadol is mentioned Zohar II 204a and Tikkunei Zohar 40b. But it is not referring there (at least explicitly) to the Shabbat preceding Passover.


    Read more »
  • Shabbat is the day to Relax and Be Happy

    by Rabbi Avi Matmon

     Rabbi Simcha Bunim (1767-1826) was a beloved Chassidic Rabbi whose many disciples would flock to be with their Rebbi. They would see him during the week or make arrangements to spend a Shabbat with him. One such devoted chassid, a very bitter and critical individual, traveled to see Rabbi Simcha but he arrived after Shabbat was over. When the Rebbi asked where he had been, he replied with an attitude that he had actually been detained so many times that he had to spend Shabbat elsewhere. The Rebbi listened to this harsh man's story and told him the following: "Shabbat is actually a very kind and gracious host and it treats its guests with dignity. For example, when Rosh Chodesh (1st day of the New moon) comes on Shabbat, Shabbat is kind enough to give up both the regular reading of the MAFTIR (Torah portion) and the MUSAF prayers to its guest - Rosh Chodesh. When YOM TOV (holiday) occurs with all its joy and splendor, Shabbat not only steps aside for the reading of the MAFTIR and its recitation of MUSSAF, it also gives a way for the reading of the Torah itself.

    When Yom Kippur comes and brings with it the wonderful opportunities of pardon and forgiveness, not only does Shabbat give a way to the Mussaf prayer and Torah reading, but even the Shabbat meals themselves are set aside in Yom Kippur's honor. However, when the somber Tisha Be Av with its unwelcome sadness and depression tries to come on Shabbat, a different attitude prevails. The Shabbat says: "No, you wait and come after Shabbat!! Perhaps you're not making it here this Shabbat is a message from above! Unhappiness, and those who bring it are not welcome until the joy of Shabbat is over. Change your ways and Shabbat will welcome you as well!"

    Rabbi Yehuda - the prince, who was the author of the MISHNA, happened to be good friends with Mark Anthony, the Roman High in command. One Friday night Anthony made a spontaneous surprise visit to Rav Yehuda. Rav Yehuda said: "Please, come, join me for Shabbat dinner". Anthony was amazed and delighted at the delicious soup that he had at the meal. He asked Rav Yehuda: "This is the most delicious soup I had ever tasted. What's the recipe?

    Rav Yehuda replied: "If you'd like - my chefs will give over to your chefs the recipe after Shabbat".

    After Shabbat Rav Yehuda's chefs did exactly as instructed. Six Months later, though, Mark Anthony visited Rav Yehuda, however he was very cold and distant. Rav Yehuda asked: "What's wrong?" Anthony replied: "I could not duplicate the delicious taste of the soup. Even though my chefs duplicated the exact instructions, it didn't come out the same. What was the missing ingredient?" He was almost demanding!

    Rav Yehuda smiled and said: "The missing ingredient is Shabbat!"

    Let's try to understand - why we should be happy on Shabbat and what is so special about the foods. The Torah says -SHABBAT VAYINAFASH. Shabbat means to return! Where are we returning to? We are returning to the ROOTS! What is the meaning of the ROOTS? At the Roots - WE ARE UNITED WITH OTHER SOULS!

    What does the word - VAYINAFASH mean? VAYINAFASH means - to REVIVE! We revive - what is important in life!

    Read more »
  • Solar Eclipse or MoonShine vs WifeShine

    by Shmuel Katanov

     During the total solar eclipse - moon covers the sun. Moon aligns with a sun, and sun allows the moon to bathe in its aura.

    This is a MoonShine.

    A husband is considered to be as a sun and wife as a moon.

    When he follows the Torah and she helps him in that task - aligns herself with him, being on the same page with him in life goals, values and priorities - he grows and one day he will become a luminary - a sun. That's when as the moon she will bathe in his aura.

    When Rachel wanted to go through the crowd to see Rabbi Akiva - no one allowed her and that's when Rabbi Akiva said: "Let her through. All the Torah that you have and all that you know is because of this woman. All that I have become is because of this woman".

    This is a WifeShine.

    Rachel was bathing in the aura of her husband - Rabbi Akiva. Just like the Moon bathes in the aura of a Sun during a total solar eclipse.

    Read more »
RSS      Subscribe in a reader