A “Great” Shabbat?

Every year on the Shabbat before Pesach, I give a Shabbat HaGadol drasha on (what I hope is) a compelling topic relating to the holiday of Pesach.  Over the last several years, we’ve studied the ‘four sons’ in depth, as well as other Mitzvot and customs of the Seder.  But often overlooked, in both my own speeches and others, is the status of this Shabbat itself – the “Great Shabbat”, Shabbat HaGadol.  Why, exactly, is this Shabbat so great?

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, in his classic Halachic work, the Tur, explains:

The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat.  The reason for this is that on this Shabbat, a great miracle occurred.  On that first Pesach celebrated in Egypt, there was a special commandment to set aside a lamb for the Passover sacrifice on the tenth day of Nissan (four days before the sacrifice was actually brought), as the verse states: ‘In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.’  The people of Israel left Egypt on Thursday (the 15th of Nissan), and so the tenth day of Nissan fell on Shabbat.  On that Shabbat, each Israelite family took a lamb and tied it to the legs of their bed.  When the Egyptians asked them why they were doing this, the Israelites answered: ‘These lambs will be slaughtered as a Passover offering according to G-d’s command.’  Hearing this, the Egyptians ground their teeth (in anger), for the Israelites were planning to slaughter lambs, which they considered to be gods.  But the Egyptians were not able to protest.  Because of this great miracle (that the […]