Vol 12.04 - Shabbat HaGadol            Spanish French Audio Video

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Shabbat HaGadol - because a great miracle occurred . . The smiting of the firstborn ( Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch O.C 430:1). The connection to Parshat Tzav

"In every generation one is obligated to view himself  etc" (Rambam Hil. Chametz u'Matzah 7:6).

Explanation of Rambam in the aforementioned halacha and the differences to the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch 472:7)


The Shabbos that precedes Pesach is known as Shabbos HaGadol, “ The Great Shabbos.” The Alter Rebbe1 offers the following reason for the name:

“The Shabbos that precedes Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol because a great miracle occurred on that day. For … when the Jews took the lambs for their Paschal offerings on that Shabbos, the Egyptian firstborn assembled before them and asked why they were doing so. The Jews responded: ‘This is our Paschal offering, for G‑d shall slay the Egyptian firstborn.’

“The first-born thereupon went to their parents and to Pharaoh and requested that they send the Jews out of Egypt. When their demand was refused, the first-born engaged them in battle and killed many of them. It was instituted that this miracle be remembered in future generations on this Shabbos, which is therefore known as Shabbos HaGadol.”

The Alter Rebbe’s words, “since a great miracle occurred on that day,” emphasizes the fact that the Shabbos is called “The Great Shabbos,” specifically because of the extraordinary nature of the miracle that took place. This, however, must be understood:

What was so “great” about this miracle, especially since the benefit for the Jewish people seems quite limited? For even though the firstborn “killed many of them,” the Jews were still unable to leave Egypt until after the “Plague of the Firstborn.” Why, then, is this considered a “great” miracle?

The Jewish people have often been miraculously saved from our enemies. To quote the text of the Hagaddah : “In every generation there are those who rise against us to destroy us, and G‑d saves us from their hands.” Many of these miracles were accompanied by the death of a great number of our enemies, such as the miracle at the Crossing of the Sea, the miracles of Chanukah and Purim, etc. In this regard, the miracle of Shabbos HaGadol is not unique.

The greatness of the miracle of Shabbos HaGadol , however, lies in the fact that our Egyptians enemies were destroyed by none other than the Egyptians themselves. This takes on even greater significance when we realize that at that time the Jewish people were still mired in exile, and Pharaoh emphatically refused to let us leave his land.

It was during this difficult time that the firstborn, the mightiest2 Egyptians and greatest oppressors of the Jewish people, demanded that we be set free. Moreover, the demands they made were so vociferous that they “declared war on the rest of the Egyptians and killed many of them.” The fact that the miracle took such a form caused it to be truly “great” — one not seen at any other time.

The salvation of the Jews from the hands of our enemies during the Crossing of the Sea and the miracles of Chanukah and Purim, etc., saw our enemies drowned in the sea or killed or vanquished by the Jewish people.

Here, however, it was the mightiest Egyptian themselves, the great persecutors and torturers of our people, who were miraculously transformed by G‑d into people who — while remaining Egyptians — took up the Jewish cause. This was a striking instance of “darkness being transformed into light.”

This event becomes even more remarkable if we realize that a miracle usually involves a change in the natural order of things. Understandably, if this change is so great that it “goes against nature” even as “nature” is perceived by Torah, the miracle becomes even greater.

According to the natural Torah order, the more extreme forms of unholiness must be “cast aside” rather than refined or elevated.3 Accordingly, for the unholy Egyptian firstborn to take up the holy cause of the Jewish slaves involved a change within the forces of nature even as these are dictated by Torah — a very great miracle indeed,4 a miracle wherein G‑d demonstrated His unique deliverance.5


1.    Shulchan Aruch Admur HaZakein, Orach Chayim beginning of Section 430.
2.    See Targum Onkelos on Bereishis 49:3.
3.    See Tanya ch. 7-8; Likkutei Torah , Shir HaShirim, p. 6d.
4.    See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VI, p. 50ff.
5.    See Tehillim 91:16.


1. Our Sages tell us that the Shabbos before Pesach is called “Shabbos Hagadol – The Great Shabbos”.

Almost every year we read the Torah portion of Tzav on the Shabbos before Pesach, on “Shabbos Hagadol”.
The Shelah Hakodesh (lit. The Holy Shelah, Rabbi Yishaya Halevi Howrowitz) says that that every Torah portion which we read on Shabbos has a connection to the time of year in which we read it. In our case this would mean that the portion of Tzav has a connection to Shabbos Hagadol – The Great Shabbos”. 
Q: What is the connection between Shabbos Hagadol (“The Great Shabbos”) and Parshas Tzav (the Torah portion of Tzav)?
2. The Rebbe will now start the explanation by first telling us what Shabbos Hagadol is:
The Alter Rebbe (the first Chabad Rebbe, the author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch) says: “The Shabbos before Pesach is called “Shabbos Hagadol – The Great Shabbos” because a great miracle happened on this Shabbos to the Jewish people when they were still in Egypt: Four days before the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt (on the 14th of Nissan), on the Tenth of Nissan, the Jewish people took sheep for themselves to hold till the 14th (of Nissan) when they were to slaughter it and eat it. The sheep were one of the idols of the Egyptian people and the Egyptian people asked the Jews why they were taking sheep to their homes. The Jewish people answered that they are holding them until the 14th and then they will sacrifice them to Hashem so that He will kill all the first-born Egyptians. Upon hearing this, all the firstborn Egyptians went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded that the Jewish people be sent away. When their requests were rejected they started a civil war and killed many of their own Egyptian people.
Because of all this a special remembrance was set up on the Shabbos of the Tenth of Nissan and we call it “Shabbos Hagadol – The Great Shabbos”. And the reason we do not set up this special remembrance to be on the exact day it happened, on the 10th of Nissan, is because on this day (the 10th of Nissan) Miriam (Moshe Rabbeinu’s sister) passed away (39 years after this story) and this day is set up to be a day of fasting (if it doesn’t fall out on Shabbos which you are not allowed to fast on)”.
3. The Rebbe now asks 2 questions on the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of Shabbos Hagadol:
Question #1: The Alter Rebbe says that (not only did a miracle happen on the Shabbos before Pesach, but) a great miracle happened on the Shabbos before the Jewish people were redeemed. What was so great about this? On the contrary, it seems that this had no bearing whatsoever on the Jewish people’s situation! The Jewish people still needed Hashem to make the tenth plague and kill all the firstborn in order for them to be freed from Egypt!?
Question #2: Why does the death of Miriam push off the remembrance of the miracle of the 10th of Nissan? How is it possible to change the day of remembrance? If the miracle happened on the 10th of Nissan how can we say that we will remember the miracle on the Shabbos before Pesach (even though it is not the 10th of Nissan)?
4. The Rebbe now answers the first question that we have on the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of Shabbos Hagadol (“What was so great about this miracle?”):
Many miracles happened to the Jewish people throughout history which saved them from the hands of their enemies. In fact in every generation Hashem performs miracles for the Jewish people to save them from their enemies, as we say in the Haggadah (at the Seder table) “In every generation they stand against us to annihilate us and Hashem saves us from their hands”. And not only does Hashem save us, He even kills them (at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, Purim and Chanukah etc.).
But the miracle of the Tenth of Nissan is so great because the Egyptians were killing their own people on behalf of the Jews. At the height of Egypt’s strength, when Pharaoh was ruler galore, his own people rebelled against him and started a civil war because they wanted the Jewish people to be sent out of Egypt! The darkness itself (the Egyptian firstborn) was turned into light (they fought for the Jewish people)!
Since this miracle has something which the other miracles don’t have (that the darkness itself turned into light) we have coined it “a great miracle” and named the Shabbos “Shabbos Hagadol – The Great Shabbos”.
5. Based on this answer the Rebbe now lays down the foundation-work for the answer to the second question (on the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of Shabbos Hagadol:
According to our new understanding of what the greatness of the miracle on the Tenth of Nissan was (that the darkness itself turned into light) we will see how the death of Miriam also accomplished the same thing (that the darkness itself turns into light):
The Talmud tells us that the reason the Torah put the story of Miriam’s death right near the explanation of the Red Heifer is to tell us that just like the Red Heifer atones and cleanses the person from the worst type of impurity (touching a dead person) so-too the death of Tzadikim (the saintly/righteous ones) atone for the Jewish people’s sins and impurities.
Now since the death of Miriam atoned and cleansed the Jewish peoples sins, which is “turning the darkness into light”, it accomplished the same thing as the great miracle which happened on the Tenth of Nissan (turning the darkness into light).
6. The Rebbe now answers the second question we had on the Alter Rebbe’s explanation of Shabbos Hagadol (“How could we push off the remembrance of the miracle from the 10th of Nissan to Shabbos Hagadol?”):
We will understand this by looking at a similar case: With regards to Rosh Hashanah the Talmud tells us that if it falls out on Shabbos we do not blow the Shofar. The reason being, says Rabbah, is because someone might forget and carry the Shofar in the public domain (which is not allowed).
Chassidus asks “How is it possible to push off a Mitzvah from the Torah (blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah) because of a possible mishap? And even furthermore, this mistake will only be done by people who don’t know the Halachah (law), so how could we take away such a great Mitzvah as the Shofar from many righteous and saintly people because of those people?”.
Chassidus answers that what is really going on here is that when Rosh Hashanah falls out on Shabbos we do not need to blow the Shofar because Shabbos on its own (when it falls out on Rosh Hashanah) accomplishes whatever the Shofar would accomplish. The spiritual affects that we accomplish through blowing the Shofar is done on its own by the Holy day of Shabbos.
The same goes for our case: The reason we do not remember the miracle of the 10th of Nissan is because it happens on its own through the death of Miriam. Like we explained, the accomplishments of the miracle on the 10th of Nissan and the death of Miriam were the same- turning darkness itself into light, therefore we do not need to celebrate on the 10th of Nissan because the death of Miriam accomplishes it for us.
7. The Rebbe now answers our original question as to what the connection between Shabbos Hagadol and Parshas Tzav is:
The seven days of inauguration in Hebrew are called “The Shivas Yimay Ha’me’loo’yim”. The word Me’loo’yim comes from the family of words meaning filling-up and completing. This is because through setting up the Tabernacle we started to complete the purpose of creation- to turn darkness into light. And this is the whole theme of Shabbos Hagadol- to turn darkness into light.
Translated and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Goldberg. Taken from Likutei Sichos Chelek Yud Beis.
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