So, why is this Shabbat different than all other Shabbats? The Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol or The Great Shabbat, although no one seems to be 100% clear on why it has this A+ designation.
A common explanation is related to the Pesach offering that the Israelites were commanded to prepare... a sheep for the Pesach offering, and tie it to their beds. The Israelites, of course, did as they were told. The ancient Egyptians worshiped sheep, and when they saw that the Israelites were actually tying up sheep to their beds, they became enraged and demanded an explanation. They calmly explained that they were going to slaughter the sheep as an offering to God. Well, you would have thought that havoc would have broken out, but it didn’t, and not a single Israelite was harmed. In memory of the miracle, the Shabbat before Pesach, the 10th of Nissan, when this miracle occurred, is now referred to as Shabbat HaGadol.
I hear that it’s also a great Shabbat because Rabbis usually save one of their longest sermons for that day. They have to go over all the rules and regulations of Pesach. Nowadays, we can send it out by e-mail. Can you imagine how hard it was for everyone to remember everything years ago?
Traditionally, on Shabbat HaGadol, we read from the prophet Malachi. Malachi reassures us that justice will be done, and he tells us, passionately, not to worry. He tells us that he’s sending Elijah, the Prophet. And, Elijah will return the hearts of parents to children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Malachi tells us that injustice will end, and healing will begin.
Shabbat HaGadol reminds us not to despair. We know that its not Passover yet. But Shabbat HaGadol gives us a moment to catch our breath before we begin our trip out of Egypt.