This week Shabbat Hagadol immediately precedes Pesach. The Torah reading, (Tzav), is a litany of minute details regarding conforming to the rules of sacrifice and the offices of the priesthood. We read part of the Haggadah during Mincha from the paragraph with the words "Avadim hayinu" ("We were slaves").
The designation "Great" for this Sabbath is mentioned by Rashi and is ascribed to the great miracle of the Sabbath that preceded the Exodus. This was the day on which we were told to prepare a lamb for sacrifice on 10 Nisan. The actual day of the exodus was 15 Nisan.
The word “Gadol” meaning “great” was sometimes applied to the lengthy sermon expected of the Rabbi explaining all the laws of Pesach. But why is it called Ha Gadol, THE great? Why is this Shabbat different from all other Shabbatot?
We know that Shabbat is the day when God rested after creation. At the giving of the Ten Commandments, we are told:
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and all that is in them, and God rested on the seventh day.
but in Devarim we are told:
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath Day
As we sit down to the Seder this weekend there will be a lot to remember. We may be recalling the days of isolation, the separation from friends and family and those missing faces unable to join us around the table. We recall family and friends, who have gone. They remain in our memories together with the old wine stains and matzo crumbs in our Haggadot.
In the Sedra, Tzav we are commanded:
ואֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה:
A continuous fire shall burn upon the altar; it shall not go out.
The light of every Shabbat throughout the year can remind us that through good times and bad we have somehow survived.
Hopefully, however different this Pesach will once again be, we can, perhaps, look forward to a more peaceful time ahead.