The magazine of the authentic Jewish Idea
Nissan -5749 April-1989
D I V R E I T O R A H
THE GREAT SABBATH
It is the necessary, the indispensable preface and introduction to Passover. It is the explanation that cries out the ultimate message of the holiday, the basic lesson of the feats of our freedom. It is the foundation of foundations that raises Passover from an insipid, saccharine social custom beginning and ending with recipes printed in the New York Times women’s section; from a golden opportunity for Manischewitz to return to Jewishness through capitalist Passover profits even as the truly frum, raise their level of religiosity by raising the level of prices; from a Jewish people that marches on its Seder stomach even as it moves on to the annual national lie. “Next Year in Jerusalem.” It is the Great Sabbath, which attempts to save Judaism from myopic ritualism, to make the Jew, Jewish and the Orthodox, religious.
Sabbath Hagadol, the great Sabbath. The Sabbath preceding the Passover, the Sabbath that cries out the basic, the ultimate message of the enormous Exodus from Egypt, of Passover itself. Sabbath Hagadol that gives us the lesson without which Passover, the Jewish people itself, lose all reason for being. Sabbath Hagadol commemorating the basic lesson of Judaism: Faith, real faith, faith in G-d who really is greater than the mighty Pharaoh, or the regal Reagan or the burningless Bush – Sabbath Hagadol. The great Sabbath, that began more than 3,000 years ago on a Sabbath in Imperial Egypt.
“Speak unto all the congregation of Israel, saying: In the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb…”
It is a special, an awesome commandment, one that is given to every Jew, hence the unique words “Speak unto all the congregation.” Take a lamb and bind it up for four days.
You believe that this is a simple commandment. Hardly. The lamb is more than an animal; it is the very god of Egypt. It is a deity, a hallowed creature before whom the Egyptian bows and whose meat dare not touch his mouth. And the Jews, “every man” thereof, are commanded to take this lamb, this Egyptian god, the deity of their masters, and tie it to their beds, to their posts, bind it up. And when the astonished and outraged Egyptian masters will ask: “What are you doing? The answer shall be: We shall soon slaughter this lamb, the deity, your god, and eat it.
Do you still think this is a simple, bland commandment? It is a commandment fraught with danger to life, a commandment that surely sent fear down the spines of the Jewish slaves, that, without a doubt, led scholars to rush and ponder whether pikuach nefesh, danger to life might perhaps demand the postponing of the dangerous commandment.
Nor does the Almighty stop there. He insists on a policy of extremism, of goading the gentile. Not content with a commandment that cries desecration of the Egyptian god, that taunts him with the sight of his deity bound up, the G-d of Israel insists that the Jew add salt to the wound.
“And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire… eat it not partially cooked, nor boiled in water, but roasted with fire, its head with its legs and with its insides complete.”
Awake and consider! This is what Passover is all about; only this! This is Judaism what Judaism is all about; only this! This is what the duty and the role and the essence of the Jew is all about; only this! To affirm to the world, but first to ourselves that the L-rd, the G-d of Israel, is. That He truly does exist, that He is the One, the only One, that He, only He, directs the world, the fate of man, the destiny of His people. That whatever will be for the Jew will be only because He so decrees. That the gentile has no relevance to the Jewish fate, that the Pharaohs of all time, the ones in Egypt and the ones in Washington are utterly irrelevant to what will be with the Jew.
On the Great Sabbath in Egypt, the L-rd taught us the lesson that we trampled in the dust, the dust of secularism and the dust of the yeshiva world alike: The lesson that the Jew must raise high, must flaunt the glory and Omnipotence of his G-d. That the world must be compelled to see their deities, their gods and idols, bound up and humiliated and destroyed. That one must goad the gentile in order to raise high the banner of the L-rd. That Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of the Name of the G-d of Israel, demands an open, fearless, flaunting sacrifice of the idols and deities of the gentiles that deny the uniqueness of the G-d of Israel, His exclusiveness, His Oneness! The lamb is openly tied and those who tremble and whisper: “But we dare not goad the gentile,” are silenced with thunderous contempt. The lamb is slaughtered and roasted whole and fully and openly. It cannot be hastily covered in a pot where it will not be seen. Its identity cannot be disguised by cutting its body into pieces. We cannot escape the danger of the gentile by avoiding confronting and goading him. No. Precisely the opposite!
The same gentile who thundered and thunders: “Who is the L-rd? I know not the L-rd and will not let Israel go!” must be taught the eternal lesson of: “The L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is G-d!” The gentile does not wish to “know” G-d, to acknowledge His exclusive kingship. He must be taught that lesson in an open and bold and humiliating way. He and his idols must be humbled and broken. The lamb is taken openly. The lamb is slaughtered openly. And those who cringe in populism and whisper: “But one dare not goad the gentiles…” are silenced by the thunder of the L-rd, whose commandment is eternalized by the Rabbis of the Great Sabbath, Sabbath Hagadol. So, let that Sabbath be understood and appreciated and embraced. For without it, there cannot be a Passover, an understanding of what that Passover really is. And without that, when the Jewish child asks for the meaning of this night, the pathetic father who knows not what to tell him will doom his child to become a pathetic as he: practitioner of Jewish ritual, but never, never a religious Jews.
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