By Rafi Ostroff
Head of the Religious Council of Gush Etzion
Why is this Shabbat called “Shabbat Hagadol” – the Great Shabbat? We will discuss this question, which has been answered in many ways throughout the generations, by bringing the approach of the Rebbe of Husiatyn. As usual, this will take us through a long and very special journey.
The Rebbe gives a reason for this name, quoting the words of the Maggid of Kuznitz, based on a Chassidic approach. There is a Chassidic concept of “ Mochin D’Ketanot” and “Mochin D’Gedolot” – miniscule minds and great minds. This refers to ideas of miniscule thoughts or great thoughts - thoughts of fear or thoughts of courage. One can say, “I am tiny and I cannot accomplish anything,” or “I am the son of a king, and I can do anything.”
The feeling of “great minds” began to shine in the nation of Yisrael with the holiday of Pesach, and it actually started on the Shabbat before Pesach. What was special about this day? On that Shabbat the people chose the lamb which would be prepared for use as the Pesach Sacrifice. The animals which they set aside were the idols of the Egyptians, and Bnei Yisrael gathered their courage and were willing to act against their Egyptian masters, who in the end did not do them any harm because of what they did.
While in exile, the people were at the peak of “miniscule minds.” When somebody is in this state they cannot get close to the Master of the World. The beginning of the approach of Yisrael to G-d was on Shabbat Hagadol, when they took positive action to fulfill G-d’s command.
Understanding that Takes on an Approach of Royalty
And because of this we mark “Shabbat Hagadol” every year. But we not only remember the day, we use it to expand the concept of “great minds” to include us, today:
“Every year when this time arrives, it is a time of Divine favor. Yisrael can move with G-d’s help from tiny thoughts to great thoughts, for in Nissan we were redeemed and in Nissan we will be redeemed in the future. Thus, the name ‘Gadol’ refers not only to a memory from the past but also points to the present and the future.”
Our service of G-d during the holiday of Pesach is different from what we do during the holidays of Tishrei. At the time of the awakening of nature on the holiday of spring, the labor of Pesach stems from love and not from fear. The ARI writes about Pesach that the redemption from Egypt was through the trait of “binah” – understanding – which clothed itself in the trait of “malchut” – royalty. The act of setting aside the lamb for the sacrifice was an act of understanding, repentance which depends on binah. The trait of royalty is relevant because the people began to accept their independence and independent thinking, as opposed to the thought processes of a slave.
“His Banner shows His Love for Me” [Shir Hashirim 4:2]
In the name of Rebbe Shmelke of Nicholsberg, the Rebbe of Husiatyn adds the following idea: In the month of Tishrei we serve G-d out of fear, and our repentance is also based on fear. However, on Pesach, the repentance is from love. In Tishrei we go to a river and rid ourselves of sin. In Nissan, we go to draw water and let it settle through the night (“ mayim shelanu”). We do not throw anything into the water, we bring it to us. This is symbolic of repentance from love, when the sins are transformed into good deeds. When we repent out of fear we throw the sins away from us. When we repent out of love, we can keep the sins and transform them into merits, and therefore we draw the water to us. We take back the sins which we threw away and make them into merits.
The extension of our service of G-d at this time is to take the “great mind” of the holiday of Pesach and continue on with it for the rest of the year. That is why we begin to count the Omer from Pesach to Shavuot, which is the time of the redemption (according to Tikunei HaZohar, Bnei Yisrael left the exile on Shavuot). That is, if we merit in our service to G-d, we will rise up to higher and higher levels from the Exodus until Shavuot, and then we will be redeemed:
“...for Yisrael will be redeemed in Nissan, and then the ‘Great Mind’ will be complete. Therefore the Haftarah that we read ends with the verse, ‘Behold, I am sending you Eliyah the Prophet... before the arrival of G-d’s great day’ [Malachi 3:23] – on this day knowledge of G-d will reach a state of perfection, and ‘the earth will be filled with knowledge as water covers the sea’ [Yeshayahu 11:9].
“Let us merit the revelation of the great light which flows out over us on this holy day; Amen!”