Friday, March 27, 2015
Shabbos HaGadol 5634 First Ma'amar
Much has been written about the name of the Shabbos preceding Pesach – Shabbos HaGadol, the great Shabbos. Why is it called the great Shabbos?
In order to answer this question, we need to understand what significance keeping Shabbos has for us. Of course, keeping Shabbos is our testimony that God created the world. However, in addition to this, keeping Shabbos has significance for each of us personally. It is, after all, a day of rest. At the very least, on Shabbos we do not “go to work”. We stay home with our families.
A day of rest signifies that whoever is controlling our lives during the week, is not in control on Shabbos. Shabbos, then, sets us free from the rule of flesh and blood. At least for one day a week, we can subordinate ourselves to God. On this level of keeping Shabbos, Chazal1 tell us that even in Egypt, Moshe Rabbeinu requested and received permission from Pharaoh to grant the nation one day of rest per week from their backbreaking physical labor. In addition to the welcome physical rest, for one day a week the nation was free from the rule of Pharaoh and was able to accept the rule of God.
The Zohar2, however, mentions two levels of keeping Shabbos. There is the level of those who are enslaved and the level of those who are not enslaved and are able to subordinate themselves to God during the week as well. The significance of Shabbos for these people is that on Shabbos it takes less effort to experience God. To these people, Shabbos signifies a day on which they are free from the distractions of weekday activities. Spiritually as well, it is a day on which it is easier to experience God. This is a much higher level of keeping Shabbos.
We first experienced this higher level of Shabbos as a nation on the Shabbos preceding the redemption. Prior to this Shabbos Moshe Rabbeinu promised us that after the coming plague we would be leaving Egypt for good. We finally left the servitude of Pharaoh and became subordinate to God alone. We were thus able to experience the higher level of Shabbos. In commemoration of the first time we experienced the higher level of Shabbos, we refer to the Shabbos before Pesach as the great Shabbos.
1 Shmos R. 1:28
2 Zohar Raya Mehimna 3:29b