Friday, April 03, 2009

Shabbos HaGadol (Tzav) 5631 First Ma'amar

Why do we call the Shabbos before Pesach, Shabbos HaGadol – The Great Shabbos? Various reasons are brought. The Chiddushei HaRim[1] gives two answers. The first one follows.

The Chiddushei HaRim associates this question with a similar question we find in a Gemara[2] regarding the name of the assembly of Torah greats that functioned during the Babylonian exile and at the beginning of the second Beis HaMikdash.

R’ Yehoshua ben Levi asks, “Why are they called Anshei K’nesses HaGedola – Men of the Great Assembly? Because they returned the crown to its former glory. Moshe said, ‘God, the great, the strong and the awesome.’ Yirmiyahu said, ‘Gentiles are cackling in His sanctuary. Where is the awe?’ (Therefore), he did not say, ‘the awesome.’ Daniel said, ‘Gentiles are enslaving His children. Where is His strength?’ (Therefore), he did not say, ‘the strong.’ They came and said, ‘Just the opposite. His strength is because He overcomes His anger and displays patience to the wicked. His awesomeness is because if it weren’t for the fear of God, one nation (Israel) would not be able to exist amidst all the others.”

Yirmiyahu and Daniel never removed the appellation “great” and it therefore never had to be returned. It is true that the Anshei K’nesses HaGedola returned, “the strong” and, “the awesome” but why is this a reason to call their assembly, “great?” The Chiddushei HaRim explains that the Anshei K’nesses HaGedola did more than give a novel definition to God’s awesomeness and strength during the exile. They realized that God’s patience towards our enemies and the trying circumstances in which we survived the exile were the very key to making the subsequent redemption complete. After the redemption from our enemies in Persia and the miracle of Purim, it became clear that everything that we endured, that His “awesomeness” and “strength,” were indications of God’s great love for us. This realization was understandably missing during the tribulations of the exile. For this reason they were called the “great” assembly. They really returned the understanding of God’s greatness.

The Chiddushei HaRim applies this same concept to the Creation. The Creation is an expression of God’s glory. However, this only became apparent when the Creation was completed, on Shabbos. Then it became clear that the entire Creation is really one tool, each part of which works toward the common goal of revealing God’s glory. When we say that it became clear, the meaning is that it became clear to man. God created the world for man to recognize Him through it. Before the nation of Israel accepted the Torah, only individuals recognized God in the Creation. The first time that an entire nation did a collective act recognizing God as the Creator was on the Shabbos before the Exodus when we performed the mitzvah of taking the lamb in preparation for the Korban Pesach. In terms of recognizing God in the Creation, this Shabbos was the culmination of Shabbos Breishis. On this Shabbos, it finally became clear to an entire people that everything that happened until this point in history including the Creation itself was the hand of the Creator. God’s greatness was finally revealed in the Creation. We commemorate the revelation of God’s greatness on this Shabbos by calling it Shabbos HaGadol – the great Shabbos.

The Sfas Emes adds to this. The Rambam[3] says that Avraham Avinu yearned for an entire nation to affirm God’s rule. God then promised him, “I will make you into a great nation.”[4] The pasuk tells us, though, that the nation of Israel is the smallest of the nations. In what way, then, is Israel considered a great nation? The Zohar[5] answers that the nation is considered great because of the mitzvos that we were commanded to fulfill, “וּמִי גּוֹי גָּדוֹל אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים .../And who is a great nation who has statutes and laws …” (Devarim 4:8) This Shabbos which commemorates the first time the nation performed a mitzvah is appropriately called Shabbos HaGadol – the Great Shabbos.

[1] Chidushei HaRim Shabbos HaGadol

[2] Sotah 69b

[3] Moreh Nevuchim 3:51

[4] Breishis 12:2

[5] Zohar 2:164a (Cited in 5652)

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