Shabbat Metzora and Shabbat HaGadol: A Special Shabbat

April 7, 2022 by Jeremy Rosen
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The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat HaGadol, the greatest or very important Shabbat. According to tradition, the Children of Israel were told to tie up a lamb three days before the Exodus in preparation for the Pascal Sacrifice. As sheep were a sacred animal for the Egyptians, this would have been seen both as sacrilege and as an act of defiance.

Yet this was before the final plague and Pharaoh was still in charge. Nevertheless, nothing happened to the populace because of this. This was the beginning of the realization that things were about to change. The miracle came in stages.

Saadyah Gaon in Babylon a thousand years ago gives another reason. The Ka’arites were a very powerful movement that continued Sadducee ideology after the Temple was destroyed. They did not accept Rabbinic authority or their method of deduction used to support their halachic traditions. The Torah says that the Omer should be brought ‘The Day after the Shabbat’ which was understood to refer to the first day of Pesach. The Torah often refers to festivals as Shabbat, not just the weekly ones. But the Ka’arites insisted that this meant that the First day of Pesach always had to be the nearest Shabbat to the middle of Nissan. Whereas according to the rabbis Pesach should be on the 15th of Nissan regardless of the day of the week. That was why they insisted on calling the Shabbat the Ka’arites considered the first day of Pesach, something different, hence Shabbat HaGadol. This recalls the schisms that existed then and exist today within the Jewish religious world.

And finally, the Christians originally always celebrated Easter on the First Day of Pesach until they consciously started to distance themselves from Judaism. The early Churches disagreed as to when the crucifixion was. If the Last Supper was the Seder night neither the Sanhedrin nor the Priests would have met the following day because they never convened on a festival. But if the Crucifixion was the Shabbat before Pesach, then that could make more sense and so some sects gave it special significance. Christianity saw Jesus as The Lamb of God” the Agnus Dei and associated it with the Pascal lamb, and the time when Jesus would come back to earth.

In response, the Jews denied the concept of the Second Coming and looked forward to the Great Day which would come before that when the world would be at peace. Something we pray for now even more than ever because of the horrors inflicted on the Ukrainian people by Putin. Easter was always a difficult time for Jews living in Christian societies. Crowds poured out of churches having been whipped up to take revenge against the people who were said to have rejected and reviled their Saviour. Many of the greatest tragedies for Jews happened around Easter time. This he of the Golem) said that Shabbat HaGadol was about future redemption in contrast to Christian theology.

Rabbi Lowe of Prague (1526-1609) gave a different explanation.  He experienced constant pressure exerted by the church and nobility against Jews including regular expulsions. So it’s not surprising he was looking forward to a happier future. But in addition, he adds another idea. The prophet foresees that Great Day, Yom HaGadol  “ When  Elijah will come to herald that great day (Yom Hagadol) when he will turn the heart of parents towards their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents (Malachi 3:24).” this is the Haftarah we read on Shabbat HaGadol. Malachi envisions a brighter messianic time ahead. but he also has an important practical message for survival.  The quotation talks about parents reconciling with children. Why? Perhaps they fell out because they went their different ways religiously. We might ordinarily have thought that the ideal is for children to listen to parents. Malachi, while agreeing that children should pay attention to their parents’ teachings, puts the parents first, because they should take the initiative and responsibility for passing the tradition on to the next generation.

Leviticus 14-15:33

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