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Shabbat HaGadol

Updated: Aug 10

SBy Rabbi Pam Frydman


            Today is

Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat. Shabbat HaGadol receives its name from the Haftarah

where the Prophet Malachi says, “Behold I send you Elijah the Prophet before

the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”


            The

expression Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat, comes from Malachi’s words “great

and awesome day of the Lord,” but, although Shabbat HaGadol is called the Great

Shabbat, it is, in fact an ordinary Shabbat. We pray the regular Shabbat prayers

and we read from just one Torah scroll.


            What is uniquely

great about this Shabbat is not the prayers or the Torah reading. What sets

this Shabbat apart from other Shabbatot is that this is a time for us to learn something

about how to prepare for Passover.


            On every

Shabbat and festival, a community may learn from their rabbi or another scholar.

But twice a year, there is a custom that the rabbi is supposed to speak to the

congregation to teach about preparing ourselves and our environment for the

task at hand. These two times in the year are Shabbat HaGadol and Yom Kippur.


            On Yom

Kippur, the rabbi is responsible for trying to inspire congregants to work on

letting go of old patterns and moving toward forgiveness and reconciliation both

within ourselves and between us and others.


            On Shabbat

HaGadol, the rabbi is responsible for helping to inspire us to remove the

chametz, the leaven, from our homes and our lives during the eight days of Pesach.

We are supposed to put away, or give away, our bread, bagels and donuts in

order to begin a diet of matzo and matzo products. Those of us who keep Pesach

religiously, we know that Pesach food is, in fact, a little bit boring. Matzo

is not the caviar of carbs. For many of us, matzo is plain and we need to dress

it up with butter, margarine, jam, avocado or something else.


            Desserts

made of matzo flour are interesting at first. But when you get to the fifth and

sixth day of Pesach, eating matzo and Pesach desserts tends to bring on the

Yiddishe kvetch, “oy, when can we eat real food again?”


            The same

fruits and vegetables that we eat all year round are welcome on Pesach, except that

Ashkenazi Jews do not eat beans or rice during Pesach. What is the point of

this abstinence from certain foods? And why keep Pesach for eight days? Why not

just have a little matzo at the Seder and a bagel for breakfast the next

morning?


            The reason

is because Pesach is actually an eight day fast during which we eat meals and

snacks that leave us hungry for something that we know we are not supposed to

eat until Pesach is over. We don’t actually go hungry on Pesach, but while we

are eating, we are hungry for something that we have given up in order to

fulfill the mitzvah of the festival of our freedom from slavery.


            But the real

meaning of Pesach is not in the kitchen and the real meaning of Yom Kippur is

not in fasting. The meaning of Pesach is to become free from our own inner

enslavement that continues until this very moment.


            The

suffering of giving up bread, bagels and donuts is not to remind us of the

suffering of the Egyptians.[1]

Rather, it is to remind us that we are still slaves to our habits and the world

would be a better place if we could only wean ourselves off of our consumptive

addictions such as throwing food scraps in the ordinary garbage instead of throwing

them in the compost.


            I heard a

talk this week at a meeting of the San Francisco Interfaith Council about how a

thin layer of a quarter of an inch of compost placed on the soil of farmland

helps to enrich that soil and increase its harvest and productivity not just

during the year when the compost is added to the soil, but for many years after

that. I learned that people who handle trash and waste products in cities all

over the world come to San Francisco to learn from the method used by Recology,

our compost and recycling program. I learned that if other cities and

municipalities could inspire people to compost and recycle to the meager extent

that we already do, it could literally save our planet.


            If you are

cleaning for Passover and have questions about it, please feel free to contact

me and I am happy to help, but the main thing I want to convey on this Shabbat

HaGadol, the great Shabbat before Pesach, is that what we eat on Pesach is not

the goal of Pesach. Rather, what we eat on Pesach is a symbol of what we need

to accomplish throughout the year.


            What we

really need to accomplish is to stop being full of ourselves and full of the

sense that we are right and that the other person is wrong. By standing down

from insisting that we are right, we can make room for the views of the other

person who may also be right even though they want something very different

than what we want.


            This year,

Shabbat HaGadol is also L’Dor V’Dor Shabbat when we have our children’s program

right here in the midst of our worship so that our children can experience the

sights and sounds of Shabbat while doing kid friendly activities. L’Dor V’Dor

Shabbat is a program that embodies the prophecy of the Prophet Malachi expressed

in today’s Haftarah.


            According to

the Prophet Malachi, God is saying to us, ““Behold I send you Elijah the Prophet

before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. God shall return

the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the

parents so that our world is not destroyed.”


            This is not

a prophecy for the faint of heart. It is a prophecy for those of us with open

eyes who are willing to look at the challenges that we face as Jews and as

human beings. When we compost and recycle, we help to prepare our world for

future generations. When we put matzo on our table, together with Pesach

cereals and kid friendly Pesach and snacks treats, we help to prepare for the

Jewish future. If we buy a hybrid car or an electric car, we are also helping

to prepare our world for future generations.


            It does not

say yet in Jewish law that gas guzzling cars are treif, but in the generation

of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, the values of preserving the environment

are going to be just as much a part of Judaism as the age old Jewish law that

tells us to give up bread for matzo and year round desserts for macaroons.


            Judaism is not

just a religion. It is a way of life. We are forging our Jewish way of life

through matzo and Seders and removing drops of wine and juice from our glasses

to remember the suffering of our enemies which teaches us not to gloat over the

suffering of those who suffer so can get ahead.  We are turning the hearts of our children

toward us by having a play area here in our prayer area and by listening to the

younger generation whose needs and desire will always, by definition, be

different than the needs and desires of the older generation.


            May your

Pesach be sweet and liberating. If you want to sell your chametz, there will be

a form on the table at Kiddush, and if you want a haggadah coloring book for

the kids at your Seder, there will be a homemade coloring book at Kiddush. And

for those who don’t have kids, please remember that when you lead davening and

read Torah and compost and recycle, you are also helping to make the world a

better place for future generations.


            Shabbat

Shalom.


[1] Remembering the suffering of the Egyptians is embodied in the custom of

removing drops of wine or juice from our glass when recounting the plagues

during the Pesach Seder.

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