Shabbat that precedes Pesach is truly the Great Shabbat of the year

There is no substitute for Shabbat, as all Jewish history has shown us the truth of this statement. We are a Shabbat people and Pesach is also called Shabbat in the Torah. 

Rabbi Berel Wein

Judaism World wide Shabbat
World wide Shabbat

This Shabbat which immediately precedes Pesach is crowned with the title of Shabbat Hagadol – the Great Shabbat. Since every Shabbat is also crowned with greatness then why does this pre-Pesach Shabbat merit a special appellation?  There is one basic principle that underlies all the many explanations. And that is that basically, without Shabbat there really can never be a truly meaningful Pesach.

Over the centuries of Jewish life, rabbis and scholars have dealt with this issue in various intuitive ways. However, the basic idea that permeates all rabbinic discussion on the matter is that there cannot be any meaningful Pesach if it is not built on the preceding value of Shabbat. 

Pesach represents the noble cause and idea of personal freedom and national independence. Shabbat on the other hand, at a superficial glance, seems to represent passivity, rest and even restrictions. It appears to be the antithesis of freedom.  Yet, such a view of Shabbat is far from being an accurate and truthful appraisal of Shabbat. 

Shabbat represents the actual freedom from the bondage of our everyday existence, from its pressures and myriad constraints.  The actual prohibitions that Shabbat imposes on its adherents are the tools of freedom that allows one to escape from the slavery that life and societal norms often impose upon us.  Someone who has been privileged to experience the sweetness of Shabbat will be able to appreciate and not abuse the gift of freedom.

It is ironic in the extreme that generations that have experienced Jewish national independence after millennia of dispersion and servitude have in a large measure lost their appreciation for Shabbat. And because of this one can easily note the lack of support for Jewish national independence amongst many Jews. 

I know this is an oversimplification on my part for there are thousands of Shabbat-observing Jews who for various theological reasons also do not support the State of Israel. But they do so for they do not feel that the creation of the state has the full and necessary picture of all Jewish existence.

Shabbat has always been a beacon of the world to come and thus has, so to speak, short-circuited the messianic era. I believe that the Shabbat will eventually lead them to the recognition of independent Jewish nationhood as a value, of praise and worth by itself.

Not so however is the case for those who abandon Shabbat completely.  No Shabbat inexorably leads to no Jewish descendants and to the ignominy of disappearance completely from the chain of Jewish eternity.  Pesach without Shabbat is something, but it alone is insufficient. Only when Pesach is joined with Shabbat does it retain its full gravitas and influence. 

For Jews, it is the indispensable ingredient in Jewish society and life. 

So, this Shabbat that precedes Pesach is truly the Great Shabbat of the year. It establishes the rule of the Creator over the affairs of humans – a lesson that we are currently so clearly learning. The Shabbat is the testimony of creation and the renewal of life. It is the eternal bond between the Creator and Israel.  It encompasses all that is holy, noble and worthy in our lives. It sets up the proper framework for understanding and valuing Pesach. It alone provides the proper framework for the observances of the Pesach holiday. 

The greatness of Shabbat lies in its ability to give meaning and nuance to all the commandments of the Torah and the rituals of Judaism. There is no substitute for Shabbat, as all Jewish history has shown us the truth of this statement. We are a Shabbat people and Pesach is also called Shabbat in the Torah. 

This was done to reinforce in our minds and hearts the connection between the two. The greatness of the Shabbat elevates  Pesach and gives our national existence meaning far beyond governmental independence. These are worthy ideas to contemplate as we sit down to the great Seder table that awaits us and inspires all our generations.

Parashat Tzav

In this week’s Torah reading we are taught that the sons of Aaron, the priestly clan of Israel, were charged with the responsibility of keeping an eternal permanent flame burning on the sacrificial altar of the Temple.  

This miraculous flame appeared to form the image of a crouching lion on the top of that altar.  This permanent flame was in addition to another permanent eternal light that emanated from one of the arms of the great candelabra of gold that was in the southern part of the Temple. 

So, the question naturally arises as to why there were two permanent flames necessary for the Temple service to be considered proper and valid.  There are no extraneous commandments or rituals in the Torah. Everything has a purpose and a meaning, a valuable lesson of eternal worth. 

The great commentators of the Torah over the ages have advanced many different reasons for this duality, of two eternal lights burning permanently in the Temple.

One of the well-known approaches to understanding the Torah is to appreciate that there are many different layers of interpretation regarding any given commandment. That is what the rabbis meant when they said that sometimes the words of the Torah appear lacking in one context but will be rich and meaningful when viewed in a different light and context.

The two eternal lights in the Temple represent the two basic ingredients required in order to live a truly rewarding Jewish life. One is sacrifice. Were train ourselves to consider others, for the future and for different causes and goals.  The selfish individual abhors the idea of sacrifice generally and of a lifetime of permanent sacrifice particularly.

Such a person never deals with the eternal and only lives in the temporary present. Such a life is eventually seen as without warmth and light. Life becomes a very cold altar of forced events, and the crouching lion of life’s events overwhelms all.  

It is the eternal light of sacrifice that makes life meaningful and human souls eternal. The other eternal light of the candelabra is meant to counter and remove the abyss of fear, superstition and emptiness. It is the knowledge of Torah that sustains us and grants necessary meaning to all human behavior and actions.  Both eternal lights point our way towards building our own personal sanctuary of holiness and purposeful living.

Shabbat shalom

Pesach kasher v’sameach

Berel Wein