Back to this week's parsha| Previous Issues

by Daneal Weiner

This Shabbos is a going to be a big Shabbos! It's

Parshas Tsav - Shabbos Hagadol!
And 'Hagadol' means 'Big'! It just so happens that my Aunt Shirley is referred to by the family as Big Shirley. It's so as not to confuse her, in conversation, with my mother's Aunt Shirley who is referred to as little Shirley. So if this Shabbos is the Big Shabbos then where or who is the little Shabbos?

Now some will say that the Shabbos Hagadol is a 'Great' Shabbos in and of itself. Called as such because of the great events that happened that Shabbos, 3310 years ago in Egypt. We said last week that on the first of the month of Nissan Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael that on the 10th, which was a Shabbos, they should take for themselves the Pascal lamb or kid. Both animals were considered to be gods by the Egyptians. When the Egyptians asked, "Where you going with our goat god and lord lamb" Bnei Yisrael answered, "We're gonna keep an eye on him a few days then eat him for desert." It was a miracle that the Egyptians did not react violently (not even verbally violent) to this blatant desecration, not to mention digestation, of their god. We celebrate this miracle calling Shabbos prior to Pesach, Shabbos Hagadol. But Hashem's command was for the 10th of the month which just happened to be Shabbos?! Chazal( our Sages) even explain that an animal designated for sacrifice has to be watched the 4 days prior to it's offering, that it doesn't become blemished. Why not let the 10th of the month be the 10th Hagadol and Shabbos will fall when it may?

The Magen Avraham offers an answer. Miriam, Moshe's sister in whose merit we drank water 40 years in the desert, she died on the 10th of Nissan. We don't make it a day to celebrate. This is a reason not to celebrate the 10th but it is not a reason to attach the celebration to Shabbos! There is an idea that the Shabbos is inclusive of the days of the week it precedes. Before Yom Kippur is Shabbos Shuva. Before the 9th of Av is Shabbos Chazone. We think of Shabbos as the weekEND but our calendar clearly labels Shabbos the weekBEGINNING. So the Shabbos before the Pesach will be the Shabbos Hagadol because it 'includes' the 10th. The only problem with that is a year when Shabbos falls out on the 11th of Nissan. The big day has passed unnoticed. So why is the Shabbos the Shabbos Hagadol?

A related note; in the Gemorah Shabbos, Tosofos brings a Midrash that it was the first born who asked Bnei Yisrael what they were doing with their gods. Bnei Yisrael answered that it is a sacrifice of praise to Hashem for the 10th plague-to-be, the killing of the first born! These first born went to their parents and Pharaoh and demanded the Jews be sent. Guess what? They weren't successful. The first born then declard war on Pharaoh and their phathers! (yes, I know.) I once learned the figure to be 600,000 killed in this battle. (A unique number, which is why I remembered it, though Tosofos only says 'they killed many'.)

In Psalm 136, "Hodu l'Hashem ki tov"- Give thanks to Hashem for He is good, (said in the morning services of Shabbos and Holidays and in the Haggadah) we list many of the things Hashem has done for us. One of them is, "l'mockay Mitsrayim bivchorayhem"-to Him Who struck Egypt through their first born. For those who were unfamiliar with the above Midrash, these words in the Psalm take on a whole new meaning. In fact, Chazal say that IS the meaning! So we have to ask one more question. Even if Tosofos' 'many' are as many as 600,000, it doesn't compare to the killing of the first born where, Chazal learn that not a single house was spared from multiple deaths! 'First born' meant of every man and woman. A wife who had children from affairs with three different men, to the surprise of her husband, all three died! Adultry was so common that every house had multiple deaths. And the first born of the animals died as well. What a miracle that was!!! So if we are going to thank Hashem for striking Egypt through its first born, why thank Him for the lesser event and not for the greater?

While some of you are no doubt marveling at my sharp perception and tremendously analytical mind, I must confess; I don't like sardines. Also, it just so happened that all these questions are the same ones I've taken from the Torah of Rav Moshe Wolfson, shlita. What a coincidence! Let's see if his answers match mine?

The Rav starts off with a dvar Torah from the Chidushai Ha'rim (C'H) regarding Shabbos Hagadol. Chazal say that the Anshay Knesses Hagadol, The Men of the Great Assembly were called 'Hagadol' because they reinstated into the prayers that Hashem is "Hagibore v'hanorah"- Powerful and Awesome. The prophets Yermiyahu, who wrote Lamentations, and Daniel, who saw the length of the final exile, while they praised Hashem with "haGadol" did not praise Him with "haGibore v'haNorah". From the perspective of Bnei Yisrael in exile, while G-d's Greatness is imminent, His Power and Awesomeness are not, being that the Jews are at the non-existent mercy of the 70 nations. The Anshay Knesses Hagadol saw the small lamb, Israel, surviving amongst 70 wolves, the nations of the world and said THAT IS the power and awesomeness of Hashem! We now praise Hashem in prayer saying "haGadol, haGibore v'haNorah". The C'H asks that if the description 'haGadol' was already in use and the other two were reinstated, then why the isn't the Anshay Knesses called the 'Men of the Powerful and/or Awesome Assembly'?

The C'H answers that the time of the Anshay Knesses was after Purim. Purim was an awakening in awareness of how Hashem oversees the workings of nature. This aspect of Hashem, Chazal call "Gedulah", the same root word as in "Gadol". This denotation shows up repeatedly. Psalm 145, part of the Ashrai (in the evening and morning services) has the verse, "Gadol Hashem um'hullal me'ode, u'legedulaso ain cheker"- Hashem is great and exceedingly praised, His greatness is beyond investigation. The siddur Otser Ha'tfilos explains the first half of the verse to be describing Hashem's greatness in nature. Upon investigation it becomes apparent how exceedingly praiseworthy He is. The second half, refers to His, Hashem's, own greatness. That is beyond investigation. Don't even bother. Also, in Aleinu, at the end of every prayer service, we say, "[Aleinu...] lasais gedulah l'Yotsair breishis"- [It is our duty...] to ascribe greatness to the Molder of creation. Again the root of 'gadol' appears in a context of nature, e.g., the creation of the world. This aspect of G-d in nature is fresh in our minds being, again, the lesson of Purim; when we don't see Hashem at all He is very there.

By the way, while flipping through the siddur, Otser Ha'tfilos, I opened it to Psalm 136 and the commentary on "l'mockay Mitsrayim bivchorayhem" brings down the figure 600,000. Baruch Hashem!

The burning bush was symbolic of the Jews in Egypt. As the bush was protected from being consumed, so too was Bnei Yisrael protected from being consumed by Egypt. The nature of Egypt would have been to destroy Bnei Yisrael entirely. If not physically, certainly spiritually. Chazal say that Hashem took us out from the 49th gate of impurity and if we had fallen to the 50th gate we never would have gotten out. When Moshe saw the burning bush he says, "v'ereh es hamareh hagadol hazeh"- I will turn to see this great sight. We extend our understanding of Chazal's use of the word 'gadol' to mean Hashem control over nature safeguarding the ultimate survival of Bnei Yisrael. The observation (to use a bad word) by the Anshay Knesses, that Bnei Yisrael is a lamb amongst 70 wolves, is the same idea as Moshe's observation of the burning bush. Both should be utterly consumed but aren't. And so they were called the Anshay Knesses Hagadol! And now we can understand the use of the word in the prayer asking Hashem to, "tikah b'shofar GADOL l'chairusainu...v'kabtsainu yachad m'arbah confos ha'arets"- sound the Great Shofar for our freedom...and gather us together from the four corners of the earth."

This idea is also obvious in the juxtaposition of the miraculous salvation from Egypt just thirty days (on the calendar) after the miraculous salvation from Haman. Just as G-d can work miracles with the reversal and upheaval of nature, so too does He work miracles in seemingly natural strings of events. hidden miracles. And these hidden miracles are GREATER then the revealed miracles! When the holidays become obsolete, it's Purim which we will continue to celebrate. When Bnei Yisrael accepted the Torah amidst the miracles and wonders of the revelation of Mt. Sinai it came second to the 'kimu v'kiblu', the acceptance of the Torah at the time of Purim!

As great as the hidden miracles are, they have to be seen to be appreciated! That's our job. Rav Wolfson tells the story of the Rebbe from Kossen. When visiting one particular town he was received with tremendous honor. So much so that the Rav of the town was caught off guard and in a moment of weakness he jealously muttered, "I also know the gematria of Hashem is 26." When this reached the ears of the Rebbe from Kossen, he responded, "That's true. But I know the gematria of 26 is the name of Hashem." I heard of one Rav, while boarding a plane he stopped and looked at the huge engine under the wing and asked, "What if it stops?" Then he realized and put his hand over his heart and asked, "And what if IT stops?" One is no less or more a miracle than the other and neither are in his control.

I heard from Rabbi Orlofsky that after the Six Day War, the hidden miracles recognized in the heat of the moment ended up buried under statements like, "The IDF attacked first. We had the element of surprise." The hidden miracles of Yom Kippur war, when the enemy surprised us, were buried under, "I guess the IDF is that good." The hidden miracles of the Gulf War, when the Israeli Army could do nothing, were buried under "This is Israel. Things like this always happen."

We just had a 'threat' of chemical warfare. The Gedolim said not to worry although prayers and psalms wouldn't hurt. The Israeli government informed all the Chevrai Kaddishah, the Burial Societies, to ready themselves for the huge numbers of expected dead and instructed them how to handle contaminated corpses. The threat ended before it started. Would anyone even begin to think miracles were involved in that? I didn't till now. May G-d forgive me for my lack of appreciation.

Why does the Psalm commemorate the uprising of the first born rather then the killing of the first born. Because that was a miracle hidden in nature which was even greater than the killing of the first born. What miracle? They were mad, distraught, what did they have to lose....WRONG! It was a miracle! The fact that these untrained youths decided to revolt against Pharaoh, whom they considered a god, and against their own parents was a miracle! And no doubt many of the first born themselves were killed putting a twist on the twist of "l'mockay Mitsrayim bivchorayhem".

Dit dit d-dit dit- a Torah flash, in your honor. I remember a vort (which I just spent 30 minutes looking for and couldn't find) early in Shmos about a word 'and' or 'also' in a verse which teaches that not only did Hashem feel the suffering of Bnei Yisrael, but they first felt for each other! Even with their own personal grief they did not lose their sensitivity for each other. This was the merit by which G-d took note as well. Another vort I remembered and found is that after Hashem sent Moshe to talk to Pharaoh and was told Bnei Yisrael would have to collect their own straw, Moshe comes back to Hashem and says (5:23), "From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name he did evil to these people." Rashi comments that the Hebrew of "he did evil" is in an unusual verb form for the context of the verse. The Bais Yitschak says Pharaoh didn't do evil but caused evil to be done! How was that? Like all enemies of Israel, Pharaoh knew their salvation depended on their zchus (merits). By having the Jews collect their own straw under the threat of their children being used as bricks, they began to fight bitterly with each other over every stalk! They were losing their sensitivity zchus, big time! Hashem tells Moshe, "You will see what I will do to Pharaoh." Basically, don't worry. My reason for dragging you through all this is to say that maybe for causing the in-fighting amongst Bnei Yisrael, measure for measure Hashem caused there to be in-fighting amongst the Egyptians!?!?! Huh? Huh?

Since it's only 2 AM and I'm ahead of schedule, I figured I'd test my theory with a little gematria hunting. As it turns out, G-d's response, "eh'ehseh l'pharaoh"- I will do to Pharaoh = 761 and "l'mockay Mitsrayim bivchorayhem" = 760! So close!!! And yet so far. Wait!!! Oh my gosh! If you take off the first aleph from "eh'ehseh" making it "asah" that changes it from G-d saying "I will do" to saying what "was done". And this whole idea of hidden miracles (which the first born battle was) is Hashem taking Himself openly out of the picture!!! And minus the 'aleph' is minus 1!!! 760 = 760!!!! Get Rav Wolfson on the phone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Since the absolute truth is that Hashem is in control, what is the standing testimony of all time to that idea? Shabbos! "Os he l'olam"- It is a sign forever, that for six days G-d made heaven and earth and on the 7th He rested! Another message we learned on Purim; the Megillah starting and ending with the letter 'vav', the value 6. The six day week when G-d set all the laws of nature in motion seemingly sans spirituality, so to speak. '7', the week with Shabbos, represents Jewish nature. The harmony of the physical and spiritual. Our job is not just to see the 6 in the 7 but also, as the Kossener Rebbe might say, to see the 7 in the 6.

So it makes perfect sense that the miracle of walking the soon-to-be-slaughtered Pascal lamb through the streets of Egypt be celebrated on a Shabbos and not on the 10th. Because the message of that miracle and the message of Shabbos are one in the same!

And finally, to really send it home, why in the Haggadah do we discuss the verse (D'varim 26:5-10), "Arami oved avi..."- An Aramean tried to destroy my [fore]father...? The Torah is dealing with the offering of the first fruits and these verses are a declaration to be made with this offering which happens to contain (26:8), "Hashem took us out of Egypt." Back in Shmos we've got three full chapters that deal with the very event the Seder is commemorating and no doubt we can find a verse that says "Hashem took us out of Egypt"!? Why these verses in D'varim?

In the beginning of Beshalach it says Bnei Yisrael came out of Egypt 'chamushim'. Rashi translates it as 'armed'. The Zohar says it's a hint to the word 'chamishim' which means 50. In Egypt we sank to the 49th gate or level of impurity and we needed the strength of the 49th gate of purity to get us out. But since the exile in Egypt is really the mold of all exiles, when we will eventually fall to the 50th level, it's exodus has to have hidden somewhere in it the power of the 50th gate. So according to the Zohar the verse hints that Bnei Yisrael came out 50, as in 50 times or through 50 gates, each gate being an exodus of it's own. The exodus from Egypt is mentioned 50 times in the Torah. The 50th one is no doubt related to the 50th gate, the final, full and complete redemption. The mentioning of the exodus in D'varim by the first fruit offering is that 50th time!

The Ramak, a Kabbalistic work from the time of the Arizal, says that the 50th mention of the exodus is at the end of Sefer Vayikrah in Parshas Bechukosai (26:45), "I will remember for them the covenant of the ancients, those whom I have taken out of the land of Egypt before the eyes of the nations, to be G-d unto them-I am Hashem." Rav Wolfson says both accountings are true. Just like sometimes the tribes are listed in order of birth and sometimes they are listed in order of the encampment. So what characteristic distinguishes the two countings of 50? The time in D'varim is speaking of a time when the Jews are in Israel, the Temple is standing and the 10 open miracles, which occurred there daily, were for all to witness. But the verse in Bechukosai is at the end of the admonition. Bnei Yisrael is in exile and the only miracles are the hidden miracles of the sheep surviving amongst the 70 wolves. To the Ramak, this is certainly the more powerful 50th gate.

And for those of you who are wondering what happened to Little Shirley; it says in Vayikra 23:15, "And you shall count for yourselves- from the day after the shabbos, from the day of the bringing of the Omer offering- 7 complete Shabboses." This is the Sfiras HaOmer we begin counting after the 1st day of Pesach and the Torah refers to it as 'shabbos'!. So Pesach does have a little Shabbos to it. And to distinguish the two, we call the greater one Shabbos Hagadol.

This Pesach, as with every, we refrain from eating chomets even before the holiday starts. Almost the entire day before! 'Erev' means 'evening' but some laws refer to the day prior to a holiday as 'erev'. 'Erev' also means 'mixture'. 'Mixed' into the day before the holiday is already a bit of the holiday. The Rebbe of Zvihl says we are standing on the eve of the coming of the Mashiach which will be a time when all Bnei Yisrael will come to recognize and bask in the light of Hashem. We are already seeing the mixture, a sparkling of that light, with the return of so many Jews to their Judaism. But as unprecedented as the numbers are, they are nothing compared to the millions still prey to the wolves. Yet it's exactly like Chazal say in Gemorah Ta'anis. It will be like the few drops that are felt before the rain. When I feel those drops, I never have time to get in out of the rain. May all Bnei Yisrael find their way to Hashem only as quickly! May Eliyahu's visit this year be to announce the redemption, the day of Hashem, haGadol v'haNorah!

It's only 4 AM and this is only 4 pages. I'll get some sleep and you'll save some paper. The hidden miracles are all around us if we only open our eyes to them. Have a sparkling, eye opening, miraculous, unprecedented Shabbot Hagadol Shalom.

Back to this week's parsha| Previous Issues