Torah Fax
Friday, April 11, 2003 - 9 Nissan, 5763

Torah Reading: Metzorah (Leviticus 14:1 - 15:33) 
Candle Lighting Time: 7:12 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:15 PM
Shabbat HaGadol

Ancient Maturity

One of the Sabbaths of the year that have been accorded special status is this Shabbat, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Passover. It is called "Shabbat Hagadol-The great Shabbat." Many reasons have been advanced for the distinction of this Shabbat. The most frequently cited explanation is that prior to the tenth plague of the first born, the Egyptian first born who knew their lives were doomed demanded that the Egyptian officials release the Jews from bondage. When the Egyptian officials refused, a civil war broke out. This "great" miracle occurred on the Shabbat before the Exodus. Thus, this Shabbat is called "The great Shabbat."

There are at least two obvious questions that arise. In the Passover style, the first question is: What makes this particular miracle different from all other miracles? Why is this miracle deemed so special, that it, and only it, is designated as a great miracle? Second, of what use was that miracle? Did it hasten the release of the Jews by even one minute? The answer is no! The Jews did not leave until the day after the plague of the first born. Why then do we regard this as such a great miracle?

To answer these questions, let us focus on another translation of the words Shabbat Hagadol. In addition to meaning the "Great Shabbat" it has also been translated as: "The Shabbat of maturity." When the Jewish people were in Egypt they were like children. They did not have the knowledge and background to develop a mature understanding of their role in this world. And while they knew that they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they did not have the proper appreciation for their unique historical role. While they were part of a process that would make them into a nation that would serve as a light to the world, they hardly realized that they were a part of history. This can be compared to a child who is the center of attention, but has no clue as to the central role he or she may be playing. Only with the emancipation of the Jews from slavery-and especially when they received the Torah at Mount Sinai- did they develop a sense of who they were and what their destiny was.

And while we must always be humble, following Abraham's example who said, "I am but dust and ashes," our Talmudic sages taught us that we should also know that  "The entire world was created for me." Chassidic thought interprets this to mean that we must never underestimate the power each and every one of us possesses to change the world for the good. We are the center of the universe in the sense that we are responsible for it.

To appreciate this duality-that we are no more than dust and ashes, and yet the entire world revolves around us-one requires a sense of sophistication that is a telling sign that we are mature.  This maturation process for the Jewish people really began when they saw the way the Egyptians were fighting with each other, demanding that the Jews be released. At that point, they suddenly realized their own centrality and importance. People were fighting for their independence! When the Jews witnessed the Ten Plagues, by contrast, they thought that they were intended to punish the Egyptians and demonstrate G‑d's power to them. They had no notion that all the miracles were designed for them. The Jewish nation then were like little children, who - while innocent - were also incapable of assuming responsibility for others because they did not understand their own value and destiny.

Only when they saw how a miracle was happening overtly for their sake-Egyptians fighting to have the Jews freed-did they begin to understand the immense love G‑d had for them and the fact that they were chosen for a major mission, the details of which were to become apparent at Sinai.

This is why this Shabbat is called "the great Shabbat," or the "Shabbat of maturity" because the greatness of the miracle that occurred then was that it made us mature and ready for liberation and the assumption of responsibility. The miracle revealed our own greatness.

A similar sentiment has been expressed by our Sages in a Midrashic comment that predicted the War in Iraq and its successful outcome. The Midrash states that the conflict will initially cause great consternation amongst all the nations of the world and cause the Jewish nation to panic. G‑d, however, says to them: "All of what I have done I have done for your sake."  The Midrash continues that the Messiah declares to the Jewish people "Humble ones, the time of your liberation has come." The Midrash was in effect emphasizing the need for us to not let the realization of our centrality go to our heads. We must nevertheless know that all of these miracles have indeed been performed for our sake. We must possess the maturity to combine humility with responsibility. This Shabbat Hagadol, is the time once again for us to become mature in our preparation for the Festival of Liberation and for the ultimate Redemption through Moshiach at which time we will celebrate the ultimate Shabbat Hagadol-Great Shabbat.

Moshiach Matters

The yearning for Moshiach alone is enough to bring about his revelation, as it says in the Midrash: "A generation that searches for my sovereignty will be immediately redeemed." (Yalkut Shimoni)

Moshiach - Its a Jewish issue. For more info, visit

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