This week is Shabbos HaGadol, literally translated as the Great Shabbos. The standard explanation for this term is that the Jewish People, prior to the Exodus from Egypt, tied the sheep that they were going to slaughter for the Korban Pesach to the foot of their beds. The Egyptians were dismayed that the Jews would slaughter the very sheep that they, the Egyptians, worshipped as idols. Yet, the Egyptians were powerless to do anything, and because of this great miracle that occurred on the tenth of Nissan, which that year was Shabbos, we commemorate this event every year on the Shabbos that precedes Pesach.
The commentators offer many other explanations for the name Shabbos HaGadol. Perhaps we can suggest a novel approach to this title that will shed light on Shabbos, Pesach, and the entire Exodus. The word gadol, or gedulah, means greatness. Avraham Avinu is referred to as haadam hagadol baanakim, the biggest man among the Anakim (Yehoshua 14:15 see Rashi Ibid). The reason Avraham is thus referred is because he personified the attribute of chesed, kindness, which is reflected in gedulah. Avraham was the first person that we find in the Torah who employed the language of humility, when he declared before HaShem (Bereishis 18:27) veanochi afar vaeifer, but I am dust and ash. A Jew only achieves true greatness by humbling himself. A practical approach to achieve humility is when one does chesed, kindness, for others. When the Jewish People each took a sheep and tied it to the foot of their beds, they were not merely performing a sacrificial ritual. They were demonstrating with their actions that they were now becoming unified in their service of HaShem. There can be no greater kindness than the Jewish People uniting to serve HaShem, as the Zohar states, who is a Chasid, a pious person? One who performs kindness with his Master. Avraham embodied this idea when he disseminated to the entire world the concept that there is only one God, and that G-d is the one who cares for every person. HaShem promised Avraham by the Pact of the Parts that the Jewish People will serve the Egyptians for four hundred years. Regarding the liberation, it is said, veacharei chein yeitzu birchush gadol, and afterwards they will leave with great wealth. The word that is used for great is gadol. Thus, by being persecuted and afflicted by the Egyptians, the Jewish People would become humble, allowing them to be rewarded with great wealth.
The matzah that we eat on Pesach is referred to as lechem oni, the poor man’s bread. The Maharal explains that a poor man has nothing except himself, and in a similar vein, matzah only contains flour and water with no additives. One can only perform true kindness with another person if he feels that he himself is dust and ash. Although one must always declare that the world was created for him, he must balance this thought with the idea that he is merely dust and ash. (Kotzker Rebbe). The Sfas Emes explains in many instances that Shabbos is when everything returns to its original form. Thus, on both Shabbos and Pesach the Jewish People return to their roots, and our roots are founded in humility. When we reach true humility, we can perform kindness to Hashem and our fellow man.
This Shabbos HaGadol we should invoke the memory of our Patriarch Avraham, who humbled himself before HaShem and disseminated HaShem’s greatness to the entire world. Avraham merited that his descendants were liberated from the Egyptian exile with great material and spiritual wealth. May HaShem grant all of the Jewish People throughout the world a wonderful Shabbos and a Chag Kosher V’sameach, and may we all merit the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.