We are coming upon Shabbat Hagadol, which is always the Shabbat right before Pesach. Hagadol can either be translated as “the big” or as “the great.” As in, gadol vs. katan, just like we’d teach our chanichim (campers) – large and small. Or as in, referencing “the gedolim,” the great rabbinic scholars of Judaism.
We only have a few Shabbatot with special names – so why is this one “Hagadol,” arguably the most important of them all? Well, I did a bit of research. Some would say the meaning derives from the fact that an exceptionally long sermon was given explicating the laws and the importance of Pesach. Others would say that the date coincided with the 10th day of Nisan when the Israelites were commanded to sacrifice the paschal lamb (the korban pesach), setting them apart from their Egyptian neighbors.
But a third explication makes the most sense to me and derives from the Haftorah itself – I say this because most of the other Shabbatot with special names derive those names from verses in either the Torah portion or the Haftorah read that Shabbat, and so, the logic works for me that that special name must come from text.
The Haftorah that we read on Shabbat Hagadol is attributed to the prophet Malachi. Unlike many haftarot, which are hard to discern and understand, this Haftarah is pretty clear and shares a message we have heard many times before which I’ll paraphrase: You must follow the laws of Moses, do not be wicked, make sure to tithe – if you don’t I’ll know, treat the orphan and widow well, don’t cheat hired laborers, no adultery or sorcery. If you don’t do right, bad things will happen. Put in a positive light, when you follow the laws of Torah, treat others well, you will stay alive and merit life.
הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי שֹׁלֵחַ לָכֶם אֵת אֵלִיָּה הַנָּבִיא לִפְנֵי בּוֹא יוֹם יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל וְהַנּוֹרָא׃
Here – I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD.
Elijah is summoned to be the hallmark of the messianic era – an era of redemption. Just as we remember on Pesach that we were redeemed from Egypt, we remember in this haftorah that greater (and I use that word purposefully – gadol) redemption will come from following the path of Torah – treating those who are vulnerable with the utmost care, including those who work for us, the orphan, the widow and by tithing – giving to those who are hungry and needy. If we do those things, the “great” day will come and redemption will be upon us not only through the work of G-d, but also perhaps even more importantly, from our own efforts.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Kasher v’Sameach,
Head of Education for Ramah Darom