Drash on Parashat Tzav (Shabbat HaGadol)
Rabbi Nicole Roberts
North Shore Temple Emanuel, Chatswood, NSW
This coming Shabbat—the final Shabbat before the festival of Pesach—is known as Shabbat HaGadol—the “big” or “great” Shabbat. Nu? So why is this Shabbat so big and great? Our tradition offers many reasons:
- There was a big sermon! In rabbinic times, there were only two days (out of the entire year) on which the rabbi would deliver a sermon: on Shabbat Shuvah, which falls between the High Holy Days, and on Shabbat HaGadol. On Shabbat Shuvah, the rabbi would talk about repentance, prayer, and charity, and on the Shabbat before Pesach, the rabbi would go over the very lengthy list of Passover laws: searching for chametz and what to do when you find it; what foods you can and cannot eat during the festival; what you need to conduct a seder; and so on. Some said that because the rabbi spoke for so very long on that night, this Shabbat came to be known as Shabbat HaGadol – the “big” Shabbat.
- Our people became big! This Shabbat celebrates the day when God gave the Israelites their very first commandment: that each household should take a lamb to prepare for the Pesach sacrifice. This was the first commandment for which our community became responsible—our communal b’mitzvah! When a child turns old enough to take responsibility for the commandments, we begin to refer to the child as a gadol (a big person, or an adult). Likewise, we refer to the Shabbat on which our communal b’mitzvah fell as Gadol—when Israel became a Jewish grown-up, poised and ready for freedom and responsibility.
- A big thing happened! Midrash teaches that “when the days of the week were created, each day was given a partner: Sunday had Monday; Tuesday had Wednesday; and Thursday had Friday”; but Shabbat was left all alone. So God reassured Shabbat that the “people of Israel shall be your partner,” and therefore “from the moment that Israel became a free people,” we became the partner of Shabbat, and we could finally revel in Shabbat joy and Shabbat rest. This was big. It was a great thing. It was gadol.
- Shabbat became big! The Torah gives two reasons for the mitzvah of observing Shabbat. The first time the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the Torah, we’re told: Remember the Shabbos…for in six days God created the heavens and the earth. The second time we are commanded: Observe the Shabbos…so that you remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt. Until the time of their redemption from slavery, the Israelites observed Shabbat for only the first reason. But on this last Shabbat in Egypt, the second reason came into being. And “as their reasons for observing Shabbat became greater in number,” it is said, “Shabbat itself became greater in their eyes.” It became gadol.
Are you on the verge of something big? What does that next big thing in your life involve leaving behind, or learning? Will it come with new responsibilities, new freedoms, new perspectives on old routines? What role will God play?
Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom.