Shabbat HaGadol (“Great Shabbat” שבת הגדול) is the Shabbat immediately before Passover. The first Shabbat HaGadol took place in Egypt on 10 Nisan five days before the Israelite Exodus. On that day, the Israelites were given their first commandment which applied only to that Shabbat, “On the tenth day of this month (Nisan)… each man should take a lamb for the household, a lamb for each home (Exodus 12:3). There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat of the book of Malachi. Traditionally a lengthy and expansive sermon is given to the general community in the afternoon.
Torah Portion: Leviticus 6:1-8:36
- 1: Leviticus 6:1-11 (11 p’sukim)
- 2: Leviticus 6:12-7:10 (22 p’sukim)
- 3: Leviticus 7:11-38 (28 p’sukim)
- 4: Leviticus 8:1-13 (13 p’sukim)
- 5: Leviticus 8:14-21 (8 p’sukim)
- 6: Leviticus 8:22-29 (8 p’sukim)
- 7: Leviticus 8:30-36 (7 p’sukim)
- maf: Leviticus 8:33-36 (4 p’sukim)
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4 – 3:24
Various reasons are given for the name of this Shabbat:
The Midrash Rabbah states: “When they (the Jewish people) set aside their paschal lamb on that Shabbat, the first-born gentiles gathered near the Israelites and asked them why they were doing this. The following was their response: “This is a Pesach offering to God who will kill the firstborn Egyptians.” They (the firstborn) went to their fathers and to Pharaoh to request that they grant permission to send the Jewish people free – but they refused. The first-born then waged a war against them and many of them (the Egyptians) were killed. This is the meaning of the verse (Psalms 136:10): “Who struck Egypt through its first born; for His kindness is eternal”.
The Tur states: The lamb was the Egyptian deity. Many Jews, after 210 years of immersion within Egyptian civilization, had also adopted this animal as their god. When God commanded that a lamb be set aside and tied to the bed for four days in anticipation of sacrifice, the Jewish people abandoned their idolatrous practice and courageously fulfilled this mitzvah in the eyes of the Egyptian people, thereby demonstrating their complete trust and faith in God. Nothing could have been more abominable to the Egyptians, for their god was to be slaughtered. Nevertheless, miraculously the Egyptians were unable to utter a word or lift a hand. They watched helplessly as their god was being prepared for slaughter. This miracle was a great miracle (nes gadol) and gives this Shabbat its name.
The Peri Hadash writes: On this day the Jewish people were commanded to fulfill their first mitzvah – to set aside the lamb as a sacrifice. (Note: The mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh was not one they practically fulfilled at that time on that month.) This significant achievement is therefore called Gadol. Additionally, by fulfilling this first mitzvah they became like a child maturing into adulthood – they celebrated their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In this light, the name Shabbat HaGadol would translate: The Shabbat the Jews became gadol/mature adults.
The Hatam Sofer writes: On this day the Jewish people fully ‘returned’ (Teshuvah) to their commitment and faith in God (as explained in reason #1). God is called gadol. Therefore, the Jewish People who embraced and subjugated themselves to God earned the title gadol as well.
The Shibolei Haleket writes: The customary lengthy Shabbat HaGadol speech makes the Shabbat feel long, drawn out, and ‘gadol’. (A similar reason is given for Yom Kippur being called Tzoma Rabba / The Big Fast – it feels long!).
Rabbi David ben Joseph Abudarham writes: In the Haftarah of the Shabbat prior to Pesach we read the possuk [Malachi 3:23]: “Hinei Anochi Shole’ach Lachem Et Eliyahu Hanavi Lifnei Bo Yom H-shem HaGadol V’hanorah,”, or “Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.” This reason places Shabbat HaGadol in the same category as Shabbat Hazon, Shabbat Nahamu, and Shabbat Shuva for their name is derived from the Haftarah.
Every Shabbat preceding a festival or festival season is known as Shabbat Hagadol. (Shibolei Haleket)