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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Tzav (Shabbat HaGadol)
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This Shabbat, the Shabbat before Pesach, is called Shabbat HaGadol, the great Shabbat, because of the wondrous miracle which occurred on the Shabbat before Pesach at the time of the exodus. That was the day when the Jewish people set aside lambs and goats for their Pesach sacrifice, and the Egyptians, who worshipped these animals, asked them what they were doing. The Jewish people explained they were setting aside a sacrifice for the night when G-d would kill all of the Egyptian firstborn. The firstborn Egyptians were concerned about this and demanded that Pharaoh emancipate the Jews. When he refused, they rebelled and battled against his forces, causing many deaths.
This event is considered the beginning of the miracles and redemption of the exodus. It is celebrated on the Shabbat before Pesach rather than 10 Nissan (the day of the month on which it occurred) because 10 Nissan is commemorated as Miriam’s yahrtzeit (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 430:1). [This year Shabbat HaGadol occurs on 10 Nissan as it did in the year of the Exodus.]
The Lubavitcher Rebbe pointed out that this miracle was qualitatively different than the miracles of the exodus. Those miracles were preceded by years of sorrow and suffering whereas this miracle was completely unexpected. In fact, the Jewish people didn’t even realize this battle was taking place. Since it was Shabbat, the Jews remained in their own area, Goshen, while the fighting was taking place in the Egyptian capital. They only found out about it after Shabbat. In this sense, this miracle is similar to the miracles of the future redemption regarding which it says (Isaiah 30:15), “With tranquility and restfulness shall you be saved.”
The future redemption relates to the Torah portion of Tzav which discusses the thanksgiving offering, as it says (Levit. 7:12), “If he is bringing… a thanksgiving offering.” Rashi explains: “If he is bringing the offering to give thanks to G-d for a miracle that happened to him.” The ability to bring such an offering depends on us having a Beit HaMikdash. This month is the most opportune time for the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, as the Talmud says (Rosh Hashana 11a) “We were redeemed (from Egypt) in the month of Nissan, and we will be redeemed (with Moshiach) in the month of Nissan.” Hopefully we will be redeemed this month and be able to bring the thanksgiving sacrifice to thank G-d for the miracles He will perform.
Reading the Haggadah
To commemorate the above-mentioned miracle, it is customary to read the Haggadah on Shabbat HaGadol from Avadim Hayinu (the paragraph after the Four Questions) until the words lechaper al kol avonotainu (the paragraph after Dayeinu). As such, this article will provide commentary and explanation for the section of Dayeinu.
The section of the Haggadah called Dayeinu lists 15 things for which we thank G-d. The refrain is “Dayeinu, it would have been enough,” i.e., had G-d only wrought that miracle and no others, it would be enough for us to praise Him.
The Significance of 15
The Maharal of Prague (Haggadah Gevurot Hashem) explains that the number 15 corresponds to the 15 steps which ascended to the courtyard of the Beit HaMikdash (Middot 2:5) upon which the Levites would stand and sing during the Simchat Bait Hasho’eiva. The number 15 is also the gematriyah (numerical value) of the name of G-d we call kah (spelled by a yud and a hei). This is the name with which G-d created both the physical and spiritual worlds (Menachot 29b). As such, the number 15 symbolizes all of the positive qualities that can be found in the world, both physical and spiritual. It is with these 15 qualities that one can ascend from the mundane to the holy as symbolized by the 15 steps by which one went up to the holy Beit HaMikdash.
Three Groups of Five
According to the Maharal, these 15 miracles are divided into three groups. The first five are the miracles with which we escaped from Egypt, the middle five indicate the Jewsh people’s dominance (wth G-d’s help) over the forces of nature, and the final five indicate our unique connection to G-d.
Here is his explanation of this in brief:
First Five: Out of Egypt
The first five “dayeinus” are about our complete freedom from the powers of the Egyptians.
1) He took us out of Egypt
2) He punished the Egyptians. Had G-d not done so, the Egyptians would still have psychological mastery over the Jews for causing us so much pain and not suffering any consequences for their cruelty.
3) He destroyed their gods. This represents our freedom from the spiritual influences of the Egyptians as unfortunately many Jews fell into idol worship in Egypt.
4) He killed their firstborn. The firstborn (in the ancient world) were the most important people in the family. By killing them, G-d destroyed the most powerful Egyptians, ensuring our continued freedom from them.
5) He gave us their money. The money represents the economic success of a country. The Jews had significantly contributed to that success. Had we not received their money, the fruits of our labor would have remained in Egypt, and our efforts would still “belong” to them.
Second Five: Mastery over Nature
The next group of five miracles indicate that G-d gave the Jewish people mastery over the forces of nature.
6) He split the sea for us. This miracle represents complete dominance over the element of water as represented by the sea. This was beyond any of the 10 plagues which were more specific miracles.
7) He brought us in it on dry land. This indicates that the sea itself was transformed to dry land rather than it still being the “sea” and merely making way for the Jews to walk through. G-d thus transformed the essential forces of nature for the Jewish people.
8) He sunk our enemies within it. This is a unique miracle as the sea was thus causing two diametrically opposite effects. On the one hand it was causing salvation to the Jews and on the other it was causing death to the Egyptians.
9) He provided for our needs in the desert for 40 years. The desert is an inhospitable place for human beings. Thus, providing the needs for an entire nation in a desert is certainly miraculous. In addition, the fact that G-d did this for 40 years indicates that G-d’s supernatural assistance to us had become our ongoing, natural way of life.
10) He gave us the Manna. The Manna was a supernatural food which we ate and which was totally absorbed in our bodies. This indicates that we became completely removed from the corporality of our bodies.
Third Five: Cleaving to G-d
The last group of five indicate how we achieved a unique connection to G-d on high
11) He gave us the Shabbat. As is well known, the Shabbat is the covenant between the Jewish people and G-d through which we cleave to Him.
12) He brought us to Mount Sinai. This is referring to the fact that, due to the Sinai experience, we reversed the effect of the original sin of Adam and Eve, and we rid ourselves of the yetzer hora (evil inclination). (Although the yetzer hora returned after the sin of the golden calf, it did not have the same strength as before. See Avodah Zarah 22b.)
13) He gave us the Torah. By studying the Torah, which is G-dly intellect, we achieve a higher level of cleaving to God. [See Tanya chapter five.]
14) He brought us into the land of Israel. Living in the land of Israel enables a person to achieve a higher level of connection to G-d. [See Ketubot 110b]
15) He built us the Beit HaMikdash to atone for our sins. Since G-d’s presence is in the Beit HaMikdash, we can achieve the highest form of cleaving to Him there.
Miracles for G-d
Before the list of “dayeinus” we say כַּמָה מַעֲלוֹת טוֹבוֹת לַמָּקוֹם עָלֵינוּ – How many degrees of good did G-d (master of all place) bestow upon us!
The literal translation of this line can be “How many degrees of good for G-d, upon us.” The Shela explains that this means that the miracles were also for G-d’s sake since He is in exile along with the Jewish people. Yet it is incumbent upon us to thank Him for these miracles.
The Rebbe Rashab (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) explained that the word “עָלֵינוּ – upon us” indicates that for G-d a miraculous occurrence and a natural one are the same. There is no difference. We are the ones who experience the miracles as unique occurrences and must therefore thank God for the miracles. The Lubavitcher Rebbe added that the miracles also happen “through us,” i.e., as a result of our service of G-d. (Haggadah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, page 164).
Destroying the Egyptian gods
From the Haggadah it seems that G-d destroyed the Egyptian gods before He smote their firstborn. The verses, however, indicate that the two events occurred simultaneously, as it says (Exodus 12:12 and 29), “I will pass through the land of Egypt on this night, and I will smite every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and upon all the gods of Egypt will I wreak judgments, I, the L-rd.” And, “It came to pass at midnight, and the L-rd smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who is in the dungeon, and every firstborn animal.” The Midrash Tanchuma explains that G-d killed the firstborn animals because the Egyptians worshipped them (see Haggadah of the Lubavitcher Rebbe).
Reb Shlomo Kluger explains (Haggadah Ma’aseh Yedei Yotzer) that the destruction of the Egyptian gods is referring to how the Jewish people slaughtered the paschal lambs which the Egyptians worshiped, and yet the Egyptians did not attack them for it. In addition, the blood of this sacrifice protected the Jewish people from harm on that night. The Egyptians thus realized that not only was the lamb not assisting them (the Egyptians), it was contributing to their demise.
In the Sea on Dry Land
The holy sefarim offer the following lesson we can learn from the fact that the Jewish people were in the sea and on dry land at the same time (quoted in Hagaddah Kehalacha by Rabbi YY Katz):
Even when a person is surrounded by troubles like the waves of the sea, he should know that G-d can transform them in an instant to tranquility (dry land). Also, when a person has a tranquil life, he should not be arrogant about his accomplishments. He should remember that G-d can, Heaven forbid, transform his tranquility (dry land) into a sea of troubles in an instant. He should therefore remain humble.
May G-d quickly transform the troubles of the Jewish people into great miracles!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Kosher and Happy Pesach!