Updated: Aug 10
SBy Rabbi Pam Frydman
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
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.
suffering of giving up bread, bagels and donuts is not to remind us of the
suffering of the Egyptians.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 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.