A GREAT SABBATH – Shabat hagadol – by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
The Sabbath just before Passover is traditionally called shabat hagadol – the Great Sabbath. Why is this Sabbath greater than any other? Same length, same rituals. What’s different?
Historically, of course, we could look back to Biblical times and observe that this was the last Sabbath our ancestors spent in slavery. By next week they would be out of Egypt. Free. Likewise for us this Sabbath could be a day to anticipate the future freedom, when the Messiah will arrive to make the whole human race free. So, appropriately, in the special Haftorah scheduled for this week, the last prophet, Malachi, speaks of the great prophet Elijah who will come to announce the Messianic age when the hearts of parents will turn to their children and the hearts of children to their parents. Only a few thousand years we are waiting for Elijah to arrive and lead us to that future. No wonder we open the door for him every Seder night.
Very possibly this year we could learn something more from Malachi. Reading his message on Shabat hagadol, think of the times he lived in. Judging from his other preachings, we gather that many of his contemporaries rejected his message. In fact they increasingly rejected G-d and the whole religious approach to life. If they had a Pew report, it would probably show a majority of non-practicing Jews. As Malachi quotes them, “it is vain to serve G-d!” True, the Second Temple was standing and would stand for some five more centuries, but things happened slowly back then. The people of Israel were losing interest in what it meant to be the people of Israel. Malachi saw this and tried to wake their spirits.
Gathering with our families this Seder night, can we fulfill his dream? Can we turn generations to each other and to G-d, for family unity and Divine inspiration? It’s worth a try. Hag Sameach!