This week, we celebrate Shabbat Ha-Gadol, the fifth and final special Sabbath before Passover. The name, Shabbat Ha-Gadol, means "The BIG Shabbat," or even "The GREAT Shabbat." In the context of the
liturgy itself, it refers to a term in the Haftarah that we read on Saturday, from the prophet Malachi, who speaks of "the coming of the awesome (Gadol), fearful day of the Lord" (3:23), probably heralding a Judgment Day when The Messiah will arrive. But we also use the term to refer to the BIG Shabbat right before Pesach, because a pretty major holiday is right around the corner! Back in the old days, rabbis would use Shabbat Ha-Gadol as an opportunity to remind people about the laws of Pesach, and how to clean their homes, buy proper foods, and really get themselves ready for the intensity of the festival. So what might be "Gadol," big, about this weekend, and this holiday, for you and me?
I was recently reading a Torah commentary by the Chancellor of JTS (the Jewish Theological Seminary), Professor Arnold Eisen. Chancellor
Eisen pointed out that for many Jews in America today, what is special about Passover, and specifically the Seder, is the very fact THAT is happens, not so much the content of the Seder itself. And I suppose we could just stop there. We could acknowledge how special it is that we DO all celebrate Pesach around the country (and the world), and simply leave it at that. But I really think we can challenge ourselves to do more, even if it's just a little bit more. We can push ourselves to incorporate "Gadol," the greatness of the holiday, and we could all work to include some learning and activities into our Seder experience.
Chancellor Eisen indicates how tough this can be, either because "there are small children present who cannot sit for very long or because there are grown adults present who cannot sit for very long"! Let's not pretend that we're doing a short, 30-minute (5-minute?) Seder for
That verse from Malachi, about the "awesome and fearful day," it has an enigmatic continuation. The next verse reads, "He [the prophet Elijah] will reconcile parents with children, and children with their
parents." Huh? Judgment Day is coming - THE Judgment Day - and Elijah is going to focus on settling family feuds? Answer: Yes. If we want Judaism to survive, if we want our legacy to continue from generation to generation, we need to pass it on to our children with love, compassion, and excitement. We can't RAM it down their throats, but we also shouldn't hand down apathy and ignorance. At Passover, we have a chance to look our future in the eye, our Caroline's and Simon's, and think about what we want them to know, and what we want them to love. When we see it that way, how much more meaningful does the holiday instantly become? Suddenly, our Seder is transformed. It is awesome and huge; it becomes very Gadol indeed!
Chag Kasher v'Sameach - Happy a Happy and Meaningful Passover!
Photos in this blog post:
1. Family pic #1. (Carrie's such a ham...)
2. CC image of a pretty HUGE Seder in the Philippines in 1925 (!), courtesy of Diego Grez on Wikimedia Commons
3. CC image courtesy of The Deceiver on Wikimedia Commons
4. Image of The Animated Haggadah courtesy of Rabbi Gerber's iPhone
5. Family pic #2 - Two Jeremies and a Simon! :-)