The Shabbat before Pesach is called Shabbat Hagadol ("the Great Shabbat") because immediately before our redemption from Egypt, on the 10th of Nissan, each family was commanded to select a lamb for their Paschal offering to be brought four days later. The Midrash says that Moses was incredulous and said: "Don't you know that the lamb is their god?" G‑d answers, "You better believe it! Israel will not leave until they slaughter the god of the Egyptians in front of them to show them that their gods are nothing".

And so it happened that that year the 10th of Nissan fell on Shabbat. The first born of the Egyptians gathered and asked the Jews what they were doing, and the Jews answered that the lambs were to be Pesach offerings to G‑d and, in addition, that He would kill the firstborn of the Egyptians. The firstborn Egyptians went to their elders and Pharaoh to demand that the Jews be freed, and when Pharaoh would not agree, the firstborn made a war and many Egyptians were killed. This is the meaning of the verse in the Shabbat morning prayer: "to plague the Egyptians with their firstborn". This is an important event and the 10th of Nissan would have been worthy of holiday status except that Miriam passed away on this same date forty years later, so instead we celebrate it annually on the Shabbat before Pesach. Make sure you mention it at the Shabbat table. By keeping the laws of Pesach we will be redeemed from all of our spiritual and physical limitation…

The most basic fact about Shabbat HaGadol is that you have only a few days till Pesach and the Seder. Whether or not you are in charge of cleaning, Seder preparations, or will be the Seder leader, no one can guarantee that you and those you are responsible for will make the most out of the holiday except yourself. The Holy Ari of Safed promised that by keeping the laws of Pesach we will be redeemed from all of our spiritual and physical limitations. This, however, will only come if there is preparation.

One preparation (and another reason this is called Shabbat Hagadol) is the custom that everyone tries to go to hear their rabbi speak about the laws of Pesach, one of the most important talks of the year. Each community has specific nuances (like if the available new aluminum pots have a non-kosher grease on them to keep them shiny so that you have to kasher them before you can cook in them) so it is important to hear a local expert remind us. If you can't attend, find someone who did and get a review.

Yet another preparation is the widespread and recommended custom to read the Haggada around Mincha time on Shabbat HaGadol; this was when the actual redemption began. It also helps us to have the text fresh and familiar in our minds for the Seder.

Shabbat Shalom and a Kosher and Happy Pesach, Shaul

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