June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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Bridging Creation and Redemption

Shabbat Hagadol plays a colorful role in the rich heritage of the Pesach holiday. At the heart of the Shabbat Hagadol experience lies a distinctive shiur or sermon geared toward preparing for the upcoming holiday. In fact, some have even suggested that the actual label of “Shabbat Hagadol” (which may be construed as the “long” Shabbat) stems from the outsized length of Shabbat due to the lengthy “featured” shiur or lecture. Without question, after the arrival of Shabbat Hagadol, Pesach is already “in the air.”

Historically, the Shabbat prior to the actual Exodus was a noteworthy milestone. As the Jews departed Egypt on a Thursday—the 15th of Nisan—the prior Shabbat was the 10th of Nisan. On this Shabbat we were instructed to purchase the paschal offering and launch the final stage of our redemption. This dramatic act of insubordination outwardly defying our masters’ authority signaled the homestretch of the redemptive process. Even when Shabbat Hagadol doesn’t coincide with the 10th day of Nisan, this distinguished Shabbat recalls that historical episode and our brave fortitude. The heroism of that Shabbat and the euphoria of the ensuing departure on Thursday were inseparable.

This bridge between Shabbat Hagadol and Pesach is essential even without the historical milestone of purchasing the korban Pesach. Stretching Pesach to the Shabbat before and creating one continuous event highlights many of the shared features, as well as some important differences between Shabbat and Pesach.

1) Basis of Belief

Shabbat centers our belief in God based upon His creation of our universe. This faith lies at the core of our very reality, and the basis of this belief is visceral and innate. However, Shabbat by invoking Creation creates a theological platform that is completely unprovable. Skeptics have and will continue to suggest alternate narratives to account for our world and its evolution. By contrast, Pesach fastens our belief to an actual series of historical events that are verifiable and that were witnessed by actual human beings who transmitted those events throughout the generations. By recounting the events of Pesach we help construct the remarkable platform of Jewish belief: We retell a story about events, not speculation, events that serve as the basis of our belief system. The bridge between Shabbat and Pesach allows us to merge the two theological cornerstones—of Creation and of Exodus—into one integrated platform. Of course we believe just as deeply in Creation, even though no human witnessed the process. Yet Pesach grounds our belief in a human story.

2) Universalism and Nationalism

Shabbat experience transmits a universal message. All creatures were fashioned by God, and His decision to halt creation on the seventh day influenced the entire universe. Resting in His image provides an opportunity for all mankind to trace their very existence back to that original creation. In fact, both Christianity and Islam have institutionalized a day of “rest” to enable this identification with God and the origins of humanity. Even though Shabbat on the seventh day entails a uniquely Jewish experience (and a gentile isn’t allowed to maintain halachic Shabbat on Saturday), the concept of this day transmits a universal tone.

By contrast, Pesach is more “personal” and marks our birth as a nation. We were forged through the 210-year struggle of slavery and emerged as a nation still loyal to a mission that had been delivered hundreds of years earlier. Though the elemental messages of Pesach are universal, the actual experience was limited to the Jewish nation. This moment marks the genesis of our nationhood, the start of an odyssey unparalleled in the anthropological annals of human experience. Reciting Shir Hashirim over Pesach (some actually recite it after the Seder) underscores this night as the launch of Jewish history. In our modern context, as we have reclaimed certain lost aspects of nationhood, Pesach reverberates with added historical resonance.

Of course, for a Jew, universalism and nationalism are integrated. We were chosen for universal responsibility and without attending to that responsibility our “chosenness” is hollow. Just the same, without appreciating our unique calling and acknowledging our unique national identity, we fail an entire planet that depends upon our Jewish mission. The transition from Shabbat Hagadol to Pesach allows us to incorporate these twin values.

3) A Relationship with God

Unquestionably, God created all reality and continues to interact with the universe. An 18th-century German thinker named Wilhelm Leibniz popularized the theory of a “clockwork universe” in which God created the world but wound it up like a “clock,” allowing it to run under its own rules and mechanics. We obviously reject this and recognize the constant involvement and supervision of God in our world. Without question, though, this involvement is veiled by nature, which does appear—to the non-religious eye—to operate under its own engines. Pesach reinforces a brave notion: that God interacts with His creatures in a more direct and overt fashion. Pesach marks the launch of religious history: a world in which God directly and overtly interacts with humanity. God built a relationship with human beings and, additionally, delivered direct commandments and overt moral guidance. Although this relationship began with our ancestors, it crested on the night of Pesach. We weren’t only rescued from Egypt, but were mandated with mitzvot and expectations whose performance helps us interface directly with God. If the Shabbat experience can, for some, present God as mighty but distant, the Pesach experience draws God into the human realm.

4) Values of Life

The world God created isn’t an “amoral” universe or a morally neutral landscape of science and natural laws. The gemara in Eruvin (100b) claims that we can learn privacy from viewing cats, and industry from observing an ant colony. A thorough study of God’s world can yield endless moral lessons. Celebrating Creation on Shabbat attunes us to the world God created, and His book of nature can be instructive for human morality. However, these lessons are imprecise and, for most, elusive. The world around us cannot comprehensively provide the lessons and guidance so necessary for human prosperity. The Exodus from Egypt was a religious paradigm shift as the story itself showcased cardinal themes such as the value of human freedom, the criminality of oppression and slavery, the punish-ability of crimes, the power of faith, the notion that the militarily weak can defeat superior forces, among many other core values vital for human civilization. Beyond the overall Exodus, the year-long parade of miracles in Egypt illustrated basic ideals of monotheism. Of course, seven weeks after the actual Exodus, God would provide man with His written word and specific instructions for a life redeemed. The transition from Shabbat to Pesach marks the evolution from a world in which guidance for human experience is vague, to a world in which God overtly guides human prosperity.

Shabbat Hagadol effectively stretches the Pesach experience back a few days to the prior Shabbat. Historically, the Shabbat before Pesach was the launching pad for the final clinching redemption. Experientially, this bridge between Shabbat and Pesach allows for the integration of the complementary themes of Shabbat and Pesach. Together, this tandem forms a sturdy basis for faith and belief.

By Moshe Taragin

Rabbi Moshe Taragin is a rebbe at Yeshivat Har Etzion located in Gush Etzion, where he resides.

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