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by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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This Thursday, 12 Nissan, is the yahrtzeit of Harav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus zt’l, who, along with his esteemed Rebbitzin and daughter Miriam, were niftar in a fatal car accident twelve years ago. Rav Pinkus, the Rav of the community of Ofakim, is now renown throughout the Torah world through his sefarim on holidays, education, prayer, and Torah, (to date over 25 sefarim). Through reading his speeches once can almost feel his passion and emotion for Avodas Hashem. Rav Pinkus was a dynamite charge of spirituality with a contagious love for Torah and mitzvos. Though I never had the opportunity to personally meet him, I consider myself a disciple through his writings and recordings.

At the beginning of the ‘Rav Pinkus haggadah’ he recounts a powerful personal anecdote that gives us a glimpse of his greatness.

“When I was a Yeshiva student learning in the famous Brisker Yeshiva of Yerushalayim, I shared a dirah (apartment) with a group of yeshiva boys. On the night of Erev Pesach I was alone in the apartment and I realized that I would have to perform the difficult task of bedikas chametz[1] by myself. It was an exhausting task but after a few hours I finally finished and wearily sank into the couch to rest.

“Just then, to my chagrin, I realized that at the top of the building there was an attic shared by all the tenants. Although the halacha clearly states that one is obligated to check an attic for chometz, I wondered if the responsibility fell on my shoulders. After all, the other neighbors had an equal share in the attic and therefore had an equal obligation to perform the bedikah. But I knew that if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done. So although I was extremely tired I mustered up the strength and went upstairs to do the bedikah.

“When I arrived at the attic and flipped on the light I couldn’t believe what I saw. The place looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. If I had any hope of doing a bedikah I knew I would have to clean the entire attic first. At that moment I had a terrible inner struggle. My body ached with fatigue and I needed sleep so that I would have strength for the Seder. Still, I decided to fulfill this mitzvah with every last ounce of energy that I had. I went downstairs, gathered a mop and some rags and went back up to start cleaning. The whole time I kept questioning myself and then reminding myself that I definitely was performing a mitzvah d’rabbanon[2] and had to go on.

“It was close to daybreak before I finished. I settled into bed to grab a little bit of sleep, knowing that I would have no time to sleep Erev Pesach and would come to the Seder fighting to stay awake.

“However when the Seder arrived, I felt a tremendous wave of inspiration come over me. I wasn’t the least bit tired. In fact, I felt an inexplicable charge of enthusiasm and emotion. I felt a tremendous light throughout the night. When I ate the matzah I felt like I was ready to be moser nefesh (give my soul) for it. I felt such closeness to Hashem that whole night that I felt like a different person. When the Seder was over I couldn’t sleep. I remained awake that whole night delving and studying Sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim. At first, I thought this special feeling was a gift that would only last that night. But then throughout the next day, through shacharis, Hallel, and the seudah I continued to feel that ‘spiritual embrace’.

“To my surprise throughout Chol Hamoe’d I continued to feel this sweetness, so much so that I could not pull myself away from my Gemarah. When Yom Tov was over I literally cried because I didn’t want to let go of the amazing experience. But then Shabbos came and I realized that the sanctity of Shabbos surpasses the sanctity of Yom Tov. On that Shabbos, for the first time I truly felt the sweetness of Shabbos and why Chazal refer to it as “Shabbos Kodesh”.

“At that moment my life changed. If I have become anything in life it is all because of the power of that one mitzvah d’rabbanon that I performed with mesiras nefesh one time!”

After the egregious sin of the golden calf, G-d instructed Klal Yisroel to erect a Mishkan (Tabernacle) to serve as a centralized location for G-d’s presence and a symbol of their atonement for the golden calf. A tremendous wave of national excitement was immediately stirred. The donations were beyond capacity, and Moshe had to insist that no more materials be brought.

On the twenty-third day of Adar, seven days before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, G-d instructed Moshe about the unique process of how to consecrate Aharon, the Kohanim, and the Levites for the Service they would soon begin.

The second half of Parshas Tzav discusses the unique sacrifices that were offered and the special process of purification and consecration that was performed during the seven inaugural days[3]. The following parsha, Parshas Shemini, commences with the events of the eighth day, Rosh Chodesh Nissan - the day the Mishkan was permanently erected. The Gemara relates that the day of Rosh Chodesh Nissan was so joyous before G-d that it paralleled the joy of creation[4].

The events of this joyous day are also mentioned in Parshas Naso[5] where the Torah recounts the special sacrifices that the tribal leaders offered during the first twelve days of Nissan. One tribal leader offered a personal sacrifice during each of those twelve days.

The Torah introduces their sacrifices by saying, (7:1) “ויהי ביום כלות משה להקים את המשכן וימשח אותו ויקדש אותו - It was on the day that Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan that he anointed it, sanctified it and its utensils…”

Rashi quotes the Medrash Tanchuma who notes that the Torah uses the word ‘כלות (finished)’ because it is similar to the word ‘kallah- bride’. The Torah is alluding to the fact that the joy of the day of the erection of the Mishkan was analogous to the joy a bride feels when entering her canopy (i.e. getting married).

What is the deeper meaning behind the connection between the erection of the Mishkan and a bride on her wedding day?

Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Man Shach zt’l explained that a bride is called a kallah because the word kallah means to finish, and at her wedding she is concluding a page of her life. It is obvious however, that when a kallah gets married she is also beginning a new period of her life. In fact, the focal point of a wedding is the new life that she and her new husband build for themselves. In agreeing to marry, they are leaving behind the narcissism of bachelorhood in order to devote themselves to each other.

In the same vein, when Moshe Rabbeinu completed the preparatory work for the Mishkan, that same day the Mishkan was permanently erected. There was no in-between period for leisure and relaxation. On the day the preparation was complete the Holy Service was initiated.

Rav Shach explains that a Jew’s life must contain constant growth. There is no such thing as spiritual stagnation. As soon as one masters one level of accomplishment, he must immediately begin striving for the next level of accomplishment. This is the reason for the custom that upon reciting a siyum upon the completion of one tractate of Talmud, we immediately commence the following tractate. It serves as a reminder that there is never a point of absolute completion in the life of a Jew. We conclude one level solely so that we can aspire and reach for the next level. We conclude one tractate so that we can begin the next one.

Rabbi Moshe Wolfson shlita[6] noted that there are four things that are titled kallah: Shabbos[7], the Torah[8], a bride, and the Mishkan/Bais Hamikdash.

According to the explanation of Rav Shach, we can understand why Shabbos is referred to as a kallah. It is understood that Shabbos is the climax of the week; a day of introspection for the previous week. However, Shabbos must also set the tone for the new week, beginning it with a spiritual bang. Shabbos is the end of one week, as well as the beginning of the coming week. “Come my beloved to greet the bride, the face of Shabbos we will welcome.” The face of Shabbos is our face which is transformed and elevated through our Shabbos observance and experience.

Perhaps, this is part of the reason why the Shabbos preceding Pesach is referred to as, ‘Shabbos Hagadol- the Great Shabbos’. The Gerrer Rebbe noted that every Shabbos is called “Hagadol,” as we say in the prayer retzay that we add in Birkas Hamazon on Shabbos, “May You be pleased to grant us rest, Hashem our G-d, through Your commandments and through the commandments of the seventh day, (HaShabbos hagadol v’hakadosh hazeh) this great and holy Shabbos. For this day is great and holy before You…” Thus, when we deem the Shabbos before Pesach to be “Shabbos Hagadol” we actually mean that it is ‘gadol shebagedolim’, i.e. the greatest of the great! In what sense is the Shabbos before Pesach the greatest of the great?

The Tur at the beginning of his discussion of the laws of Pesach records[9], “The Shabbos before Pesach is known as “Shabbos Hagadol-the Great Shabbos”. The reason for the unique title of this Shabbos is because of the great miracle that transpired during this Shabbos. In Egypt, on the tenth of Nissan just prior to the exodus, G-d commanded the Jews to choose and set aside the lamb they would offer as their Korbon Pesach.

The exodus transpired on the fifteenth of Nissan which was a Thursday, and the tenth of Nissan was on Shabbos. Every family gathered their own lamb and tied it to their bed posts. When the Egyptians saw what the Jews were doing they demanded an explanation. The Jews replied that G-d had commanded them to set aside a lamb to be offered as a sacrifice to Him. When the Egyptians heard that the Jews were going to offer their god as a sacrifice[10] they became incensed. However, their teeth were blunted and they were powerless to say or do anything to impede the sacrifices from being offered. In commemoration of that great miracle the Shabbos became known as Shabbos Hagadol - the Great Shabbos.”

To adhere to this commandment required tremendous courage and fortitude. The Egyptians had been their masters and captors for over two centuries. Even their grandparents had been born and died as slaves of Pharaoh’s regime. And now they were commanded to openly challenge their Egyptian-masters. For four days the Jews had to keep their lambs tied to their bed posts unsure if the Egyptians would exact revenge against them. In fact, it was only G-d’s protection that saved the Jews from the Egyptian’s wrath.

That Shabbos when the Jews hearkened to G-d’s command and prepared themselves to offer the Paschal Sacrifice they transcended slavery and began their quest toward becoming a free nation. Slave mentality dictates a slave’s fear for his master. Perhaps they were physically still in Egypt, but their actions demonstrated a level of spiritual freedom. The ultimate goal of the exodus was, “Hallelu Avdei Hashem v’lo avdei Pharaoh- Say praise (those who are) the servants of G-d and not (those who are) the servants of Pharaoh”. That essentially began on Shabbos Hagadol.

If Shabbos is a kallah in the sense that we graduate from one level of holiness and begin aspiring for a higher level, in this regard Shabbos Hagadol is “the greatest of the great”. Shabbos Hagadol is the anniversary of the spiritual conclusion of our national servitude and the commencement of our trek toward becoming the Chosen Nation and a Holy People. It is therefore apropos, that we do not celebrate the tenth of Nissan as the day that this transformation occurred, but rather during the Shabbos prior to Pesach. Every Shabbos is ‘Gadol’ when a spiritual transformation occurs. The only difference is that on Shabbos Hagadol that transformation was (and is) even more extreme.

With this in mind we can understand[11] why the Rema writes that there is a custom to recite a portion of the haggadah on the afternoon of Shabbos HaGadol[12]. Although the redemption did not physically occur until the fifteenth of Nissan, the ‘spiritual redemption’ began on the tenth of Nissan, i.e. on Shabbos HaGadol when they openly challenged their former captors. Therefore, although the real mitzvah of reciting the haggadah is indeed only at the Seder, we recite a portion of it on Shabbos HaGadol to emphasize the importance of the spiritual transformation that occurred on that day.

Pesach was far more than a physical exodus. It was a transformation of a lowly band of oppressed people into a nation of regal bearing and a light unto the nations. Every Shabbos presents an opportunity for such a transformation to occur within the essence of a Jew. On Shabbos HaGadol that opportunity is magnified many times over.

“On the day that Moshe finished erecting the Mishkan”

“Come my beloved to greet the bride”

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[1] searching for chametz

[2] Rabbinic decree

[3] shivas yimei hamilu’im

[4] Megillah 10b

[5] Bamidbar, chapter 7

[6] Mashgiach of Yeshiva Torah Voda’as

[7] As we sing each Friday night “Lecha dodi likras kallah - Come my beloved to greet the bride”

[8] see Rashi, Shemos 31:18, “G-d gave the Torah as a gift like a bride gives to her groom”

[9] Siman 430

[10] the lamb was the god of Egypt

[11] This idea is from my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Heimowitz shlita

[12] The Gra opposes this custom, pointing to the words we recite in the haggadah itself, “I would have thought to begin the recitation of the haggadah from Rosh Chodesh (Nissan)….therefore the pasuk says ‘because of this’ (which teaches us that the haggadah can) only be recited at the time when matzah and marror are resting before you (i.e. at the seder).

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