Shabbos HaGadol – The Great Shabbos

 By Avner Friedmann

The Shabbos immediately preceding the festival of Passover is called, “Shabbos HaGadol,” The Great Shabbos. But what makes it so great? As the Torah tells us, Moshe went to Pharaoh with a message from HaShem to let the Children of Israel go to the desert in order to bring sacrifices to Him. However, Pharaoh refused. After being stricken with several plagues, he reconsidered and told Moshe to go ahead and bring the offerings, but within the land of Egypt. Moshe replied[1]: “If we were to slaughter the deity of Egypt within Egypt, the people would stone us?”. However, after the ninth plague HaShem told the Children of Israel[2], “Take or buy for yourselves one sheep for each family and slaughter the Passover-offering”. On Shabbos, the tenth of Nissan, any Jewish household that did not already own a lamb, went to the market and purchased one[3]. The offerings were slaughtered four days later, on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan, and were eaten that night, the original night of Passover[4].

HaShem specifically chose a lamb to be the offering because it was the Egypt’s deity. On that Shabbos, the Egyptians saw their gods taken into the Jewish homes being tied to the bed posts. They asked, “What is the purpose of this?” With utter courage and devotion to Hashem, the Jews explained to the Egyptians[5]: “It is a Passover feast-offering to Hashem”. Basically, they told the Egyptians that they were going to take their gods, slaughter them, and bring them as offerings to Hashem. The Egyptians were furious and humiliated to hear this from their poor slaves; they wanted to take revenge, but a miracle happened and they were stricken with ailments and were powerless to intervene. Due to this miracle which took place on this Shabbos, it is known as “Shabbos Hagadol.”[6]

This miracle actually came about because of the merit of observing the holy day of Shabbos, the day chosen to acquire the lamb. Acquiring a lamb would be quite a normal practice for the Jews, especially considering  that they had become so assimilated to Egyptian culture that they too worshiped sheep. However, they never did this on their day of rest.  That raised the curiosity of the Egyptians and they asked the Jews for an explanation. Lying to the Egyptians on the Shabbos was not an option, because on Shabbos we are witnesses that the world was created in six days, and witnesses cannot give false testimony. They told the Egyptians the truth, and on the merit of that a miracle took place[7].

But there were other events which took place on Shabbos HaGadol that made that day so great:

1) On that Shabbos, another act of devotion and courage took place; all the Jews took it upon themselves to be circumcised. In the merit of these two mitzvos, the Passover offering and circumcision, both of which involved blood, the Jewish people were redeemed[8].

2) The Egyptians knew that the plague of the first born was coming, but they did not know exactly when. Seeing the sheep in the homes of Israel on Shabbos, and after being told what was coming, the first born Egyptians realized that their fate is imminent and they were about to be die. They rushed to their parents and to Pharaoh and his men, demanding that the Jews be set free immediately. When they were refused, the first-born revolted. Many Egyptians were killed as a result, as it is written[9]: “To the One Who struck down Egypt through their firstborn”[10].

3) During the slavery, Moshe had convinced Pharaoh about the importance of giving the slaves one day of rest during the week.  Moshe chose the Shabbos to be that day, and Pharaoh agreed. Throughout the slavery period, the Jews always went back to work the next day. This was the first Shabbos that they did not to go back to work the next day[11].

4) As mentioned, the Jews worshiped the lamb just like the Egyptians. This Shabbos was special. It was the day they made a complete break from their idol worshiping practices and atoned for it altogether[12].

5) The mitzvah of the Passover offering was the first mitzvah given to the Jewish people as a nation. On this Shabbos, for the first time, they had their own additional mitzvah over the seven universal Noahide laws given to all the nations in the world[13].

So what made this day so great, that it is forever called Shabbos HaGadol? Weren’t there other greater miracles, such as the splitting of the Red Sea? It was specifically the tremendous  Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust) in Hashem, demonstrating no fear of their Egyptian masters[14] that made it so great. The process of redemption and the chain of events which followed, started on that Shabbos.

May it be HaShem’s will, that just like in the redemption from Egypt, we shall be redeemed through the merit of Shabbos, Emunah and Bitachon, through our righteous Moshiach, speedily in our days, Amen.


[1] Vaeire 8:22.

[2] Bo 12:21.

[3] Rashi Bo 12:21.

[4] Bo 12:6.

[5] Bo 12:27.

[6] Sefer Hatoda’a Perek 19 that brings Sefer Hapardes, which is attributed to Rashi.

[7] Sefer Hatoda’a Perek 19.

[8] Rashi Bo 12:6, and Ezekiel 16:6.

[9] Psalms 136.

[10] Sefer Hatoda’a Perek 19, and Tosfot on Shemot 12:6.

[11] Sefer Drushei Hatzalach, Drush 35 on Shabbat Hgadol, and Sefer Hatoda’a Perek 19.

[12] Sefer Pardes Yosef bringing Sefer Bnei Issachar-Nisan article 3, letter 4, who quoted Shemot Rabah 16b.

[13]  Sefer Drushei Hatzalach, Drush 35.

[14] Kedushat Levi on Yitro.

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