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THE GREAT SHABBAT

by Josh Hartman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The United States has an interesting custom regarding the celebration of its national holidays: All of them (bar two) are celebrated on Mondays so that the American people's day off from work may be contiguous with the weekend. This is convenient, but does it make sense to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on a day that is not his birthday?

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The United States has an interesting custom regarding the celebration of its national holidays: All of them (bar two) are celebrated on Mondays so that the American people's day off from work may be contiguous with the weekend. This is convenient, but does it make sense to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday on a day that is not his birthday?

In Judaism, though, we can pride ourselves on the fact that, no matter how inconvenient, we celebrate the days which commemorate the miracles we experienced and the holidays prescribed by the Torah, on the exact date that the miracle or holiday occurred, without regard for the particular day of the week. Yom Kippur is observed on the 10th of Tishrei and Simchat Torah on the 23rd of Tishrei no matter what day of the week the holidays fall on during a particular year. Likewise, Chanukah is celebrated on the 25th of Kislev and Purim on the 14th of Adar whether they fall on a Sunday, Thursday, or any other day of the week.

This is true of all festivals and commemorations except one - the commemoration of the miracle that occurred to the Jewish people on the 10th of Nissan, for which we celebrate Shabbat HaGadol (the Great Shabbat) this Shabbat on the 8th of Nissan. Regardless of the date on the Hebrew calendar, this celebration occurs on the Shabbat before Passover every year without fail. I propose, though, that unlike the federal holidays, there is a legitimate explanation rather than a convenient rationalization for the celebration of this miracle on Shabbat and not on the 10th of Nissan each year.

A timely question presents itself regarding Shabbat HaGadol: "Why is this commemoration different from all other commemorations?" Before we answer this question, we must understand what it is that we are commemorating. On the 10th of Nissan, the Jews enslaved in Egypt took the Egyptian deity - the lamb - and paraded it through the streets of Egypt. After parading the lamb past the infuriated Egyptians, the Jews tied the Egyptian gods to their bedposts to ultimately slaughter and eat them as the korban Pesach, the Paschal lamb, five nights later on the night of the exodus. Though the Egyptians knew of these plans and were enraged at the sight of this degradation to their gods, miraculously the Jews carried out this exercise without incident and no harm was done to the Jews by the enraged Egyptian people.

How does this tie into Shabbat? It is known that during Shabbat, each of the ten plagues that Hashem inflicted upon the Egyptians was temporarily suspended. For example, during the plague of dam (blood), on Shabbat the rivers changed back to water; during tzfardaiya, the frogs stopped swarming on Shabbat. In honor of the greatness of Shabbat, even the plagues "rested".

On the 10th of Nissan, in the middle of the plague of darkness, the Jewish people led the lambs through the streets of Egypt. Had this event taken place on a weekday instead of on Shabbat, due to the plague of darkness, the Egyptians would not have been able to see what the Jews were doing. If the Egyptians could not see their gods being paraded through the city streets, they would not have become enraged and Hashem would not have needed to suppress their anger in order to save the Jewish people from harm. As such, the opportunity for Hashem to express His love for the Jewish nation through the performance of this wondrous miracle would have been missed.

It is now more easily understood why we acknowledge and thank Hashem for this miracle on Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat before Passover, rather than on the 10th of Nissan. It was Shabbat that precipitated the miracle, and not the 10th of Nissan, for if the date had not occurred on Shabbat, the entire land would have been engulfed in darkness, and this event would not have been a miracle and worthy of commemoration.

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Josh Hartman, a Yeshiva Atlanta graduate, writes from New York.

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