Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Tzav - Shabbat Hagodol - 5772
The Shabbat immediately preceding Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol. There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat from the book of Malachi. Various reasons are given for the name of this Shabbat.
The Midrash notes that: “The day when the Jewish people set aside their paschal lamb was Shabbat. The first-born gentiles assembled near the Children of Israel and asked them why they were holding a lamb. They responded: “This is a Pesach offering to Hashem who will kill the firstborn Egyptians.” The Egyptian firstborns emailed Pharaoh and requested that he send the Jewish people free – the King refused. The first-born then waged a war against the Crown and many of the Egyptians were killed. This is the meaning of the verse (Psalms 136:10): “Who struck Egypt through its first born; for His kindness is eternal.”
Others note that the lamb was the Egyptian deity. Many Jews, after many years immersed in Egyptian culture, had also adopted this animal as their god. When Hashem commanded that a lamb be set aside and tied to the bed for four days in anticipation of sacrifice, the Jewish people abandoned their idolatrous practice and courageously fulfilled the mitzvah demonstrating their complete trust and faith in G-d. Nothing could have been more abominable to the Egyptians, for their god was to be slaughtered. Nevertheless, miraculously the Egyptians were unable to utter a word or lift a hand. They watched helplessly as their god was being prepared for slaughter. This miracle was a great miracle (nes gadol) and gives this Shabbat its name.
Another explanation given is that on this day the Jewish people were commanded to fulfill their first mitzvah – to set aside the lamb as a sacrifice. This significant achievement is therefore called Gadol. Additionally, by fulfilling this first mitzvah they became like a child maturing into adulthood – they celebrated their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In this light, the name Shabbat HaGadol would translate: The Shabbat the Jews became gadol/mature adults.
Others note that Shabbat HaGadol is in the same category as Shabbat Chazon, Shabbat Nachamu, and Shabbat Shuva for their name is derived from the Haftarah “Henei Anochi Shole’ach Lachem Et Eliyahu Hanavi Lifnei Bo Yom HaGadol V’hanorah.