Thursday, March 21, 2013


Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Social Worker, Yeshiva Bais Hachinuch/Ashar


          One Pesach, when he was a young boy, Rabbi Yonasan Eibschutz (1690-1764) ‘stole’ his father’s afikomen and refused to return it until his father promised to buy him some new clothes after the holiday. At first, Yonasan’s father refused, but as the midnight deadline neared, he begrudgingly agreed. Hearing that his demands were met, Yonasan gave his father the afikomen and his father disseminated the matzah to everyone at the table except Yonasan. When Yonasan motioned to his father that he had not received a piece, his father replied that he would only give him a piece if he released him from his promise.
Yonasan smiled. “I figured you would do that”, he said as he pulled a piece of the afikomen from his pocket and began to eat it.

          The Tur at the beginning of his discussion of the laws of Pesach[1] explains that the Shabbos before Pesach is known as “Shabbos HaGadol – the Great Shabbos” because of the great miracle that transpired on that Shabbos just prior to the exodus.
On the tenth of Nissan G-d commanded the Jews to choose and set aside the lamb they would offer as their Korbon Pesach. The exodus transpired on the fifteenth of Nissan which was a Thursday, so the tenth of Nissan was on Shabbos.
The Tur explains, “Every family gathered their own lamb and tied it to their bed-posts. When the Egyptians saw what the Jews were doing they demanded an explanation. The Jews explained that G-d had commanded them to set aside a lamb to be offered as a sacrifice to Him. When the Egyptians heard that the Jews were going to offer their god as a sacrifice[2], they became incensed. But their teeth were blunted and they were powerless to say, or do anything to impede the sacrifices from being offered. In commemoration of that great miracle, the Shabbos became known as Shabbos HaGadol-the Great Shabbos.”
          The commentators wonder why the Shabbos before Pesach was chosen as the day to commemorate the miracle. If the anniversary of the miracle was on the tenth of Nissan, why doesn’t that day gain elevated status? There seems to be a reason why the Sages felt that the commemoration of that miracle should specifically be on Shabbos.
          The Gerrer Rebbe points out that every Shabbos is called “Hagadol,” as we say in the prayer retzai added in Birkas Hamazon on Shabbos, “May You be pleased to grant us rest, Hashem our G-d, through Your commandments and through the commandments of the seventh day, this great and holy Shabbos[3]. For this day is great and holy before You…” Thus, when we deem the Shabbos before Pesach to be “Shabbos Hagadol” we actually mean that it is ‘gadol shebagedolim’, i.e. the greatest of the great!

          At the circumcision of every Jewish child, we confer upon the child the timeless blessing, “Zeh hakatan gadol yihiyeh” loosely translated as, “this small (child) should become bigger”. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt’l offered a novel and insightful explanation of this blessing:
          Rav Tzadok Hakohain writes that if one wants to understand the true meaning of a word, he should analyze the context of the first time that the word is mentioned in the Torah.
The first time the words katon (small) and gadol (large) are used in the Torah is in reference to the creation of the sun and moon, on the fourth day of creation. The verse[4] states, “And G-d created the two large luminaries; the large luminary (hama’or hagadol) to dominate the day and the small luminary (hama’or hakaton) to dominate the evening, and the stars.”
The relationship between the sun and the moon is a relationship of give and take. The sun has its own inherent light that illuminates and warms the world through its resplendent rays. The moon however, is merely a reflector. All day long it is the recipient of the sun’s light and when the sun descends it emerges and reflects the light it received from the sun. Therefore, the word gadol, which first appears in the Torah as referring to the sun, connotes a being or an object that reflects its own inherent light and greatness. The word katan on the other hand, whose first usage in the Torah is in reference to the moon, refers to a being that does not possess its own light, but rather reflects whatever greatness or light it receives.
          At a circumcision we celebrate the initiation of a young new member into the covenant of Avrohom Avinu and hope he will take his place among the ranks of Klal Yisroel. The eight day old infant does not possess any knowledge or understanding at this point of his life. For the duration of his youth and adolescence, the child is a receptacle that will be molded by the education he receives from his parents, teachers, mentors, and friends. We bless the youth that “Zeh hakatan Gadol Yihiyeh”, although at this stage he is merely a reflection (katan), we pray that he will develop into a gadol, one who possesses his own greatness, his own wisdom, and his own ambitions. We hope that this child will become a role model and a ‘reflector’ for others.

          Shabbos is not only the culmination and conclusion of the week, but it is also the commencement of the following week. The Sidduro Shel Shabbos[5] explains that one must strive to maintain the sanctity he feels on Shabbos throughout the six mundane days of the week. The Gemara[6] states, “If only Klal Yisroel were to safeguard two Shabbosos properly, they would immediately be redeemed.”
Sidduro Shel Shabbos explains that this means if Klal Yisroel were able to maintain the heights and lofty levels that they gained during the previous Shabbos throughout the entire week, and enter the following Shabbos still clinging to the spiritual greatness of the previous Shabbos, they would reach such an elevated level that they would be worthy of redemption.
          If “gadol” connotes inherent light and greatness, then there is nothing more worthy of the title gadol than Shabbos. The very day of Shabbos infuses a Jew with spiritual vigor and rejuvenation to transcend the vicissitudes and challenges of the upcoming week. Therefore, it is highly apropos that we refer to Shabbos as, “HaShabbos hagadol v’hakadosh hazeh”. 
          The purpose of the redemption from Egypt was solely so that Klal Yisroel should accept the Torah at Sinai and become a ‘light unto the nations’. Being a Jew often entails going against the tide. We must be willing to stand up to the luring hedonism of society and proclaim our defiance.
          Although Klal Yisroel did not truly become the Chosen Nation until they received the Torah at Sinai, the trajectory which set that process in motion began on the tenth of Nissan. When Klal Yisroel tied their lambs to their bed posts in full view of their former oppressors it demonstrated their preparedness to risk their lives to fulfill the Service of G-d[7].
          Klal Yisroel is not merely a nation among other nations. We are commissioned to be the guiding light, the example to the world of ethics and morality. In that sense, we are a Great Nation, an “am Gadol” who reflect the will of G-d.
          Klal Yisroel can only fulfill its mission of being the Chosen Nation with the sanctity and holiness of Shabbos. Shabbos grants spiritual vitality to its adherents, and that is what Jew seeks to symbolize to the rest of the world. A Jew must personify in personality the holiness that Shabbos reflects in time.
Therefore, the celebration of the tenth of Nissan and what it represents - our complete dedication to the Will of G-d, is most appropriately celebrated on Shabbos. On the tenth of Nissan, Klal Yisroel began the process which culminated at Sinai.  Every Shabbos, a Jew does the same spiritually. Shabbos is a, “day of Gadol” because the rest of the week nurtures itself from its inherent greatness. Klal Yisroel is a, “nation of Gadol” because the rest of the world nurtures itself from our inherent greatness.
On the Shabbos when Klal Yisroel set out on its mission, the day truly is, “gadol shebagedloim- the greatest of the great day of Shabbos”.

“The small should become bigger”
“This great and holy Shabbos”


[1] Siman 430
[2] the lamb was the god of Egypt
[3] HaShabbos hagadol v’hakadosh hazeh
[4] Bereishis 1:16
[5] In his introduction
[6] Shabbos 118b
[7] The Jews had no way of knowing that a miracle would occur


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Tzav/Shabbos Hagadol
11 Nissan 5773/March 22, 2013

Do you know who I wish I could be like on Seder night? Walter Mitty! “The secret life of Walter Mitty” is a story written by James Thurber in 1939. It was made into a film in 1947.
Walter Mitty has a vivid imagination. In fact, he gets utterly lost in his fantastical imagination. Anything he sees can trigger him into a fantasy world where he takes on the character he imagines. In a few dozen paragraphs he imagines himself as a wartime pilot, an emergency-room surgeon, and a devilish killer. He becomes so engrossed in his daydream that he loses sight of where he is or what he’s doing.
His name has come to characterize people who become too absorbed in daydreams and fantasies. In Fact, the American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as "an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs".
Hanging on the wall of the shul in Ashar is a beautiful panoramic picture of Sha’ar Yaffo lit up at night. During davening, especially when mentioning Yerushalayim, I often look at the picture and wish I could lose myself in it like Walter Mitty.
Ba’alei Mussar note that our koach hatziyur – our ability to imagine and picture things, can be a powerful tool in regards to elevating our Avodas Hashem. When one davens he should picture himself standing before a king, and when one learns Torah he should imagine Hashem watching proudly, along with legions of angels.
On Seder night we strive to lose ourselves in the pages of the haggadah as the story comes alive before us. On this one night the Haggadah itself exhorts us to be like Walter Mitty, jumping into the pages of the text before us in the epic account of exile and redemption.
But what if I am not as imagining as Walter Mitty and cannot picture ourselves as slaves in Egypt? What if I can’t bring myself to experience the pain of the servitude in behind the iron crucible of Egyptian exile, or the joy of being freed from bondage?
The word ‘Mitzrayim’ literally means boundaries. On the night of the redemption, our ancestors were able to penetrate and break free of the shackles of exile which spiritually paralyzed them for more than two centuries. On that night they were able to become who they really wanted to become. They were finally free to serve G-d as He demanded.
The redemption symbolizes to every one of us that we too have the ability - with G-d’s help - to traverse and break free of the limitations and boundaries that restrain us from being who we really pine to become. We too can triumph over the Pharaohs which shackle us from overcoming the boundaries which constrict and restrict us. If G-d took out a hapless defenseless nation of millions from the nefarious clutches of the most powerful and domineering nation on earth, He surely can redeem us from our personal struggles and vicissitudes as well.
You don’t need to have a vivid imagination to picture yourself leaving Egypt. All you need is belief in yourself to begin the journey, and faith that G-d will lead you to your Promised Land.

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos
Chag Kasher V’sameiach & Freilichen Yom Tov,
    R’ Dani and Chani Staum

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