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Shabbat HaGadol(Malachi 3)

The Mirror in Your Soul

The Shabbos that immediately precedes the Passover Holiday has a special name. It is called the Great Shabbos. The Tur (Orach Chaim, ch.430) provides the background to why we call this particular Shabbos great; in the year of the Exodus, the tenth day of Nisan fell on Shabbos. The Passover lamb, which had to be purchased on the tenth of Nissan, four days before the holiday, as it is written, "On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves - each man - a lamb or kid..." (Exodus 12:3) was purchased on that Shabbos.

The status of the lamb in Egypt was similar to the status enjoyed by the cow in present day India. It was a sacred animal, as Moses stated to Pharaoh "behold, if we were to slaughter the deity of Egypt in their sight, will they not stone us" (Exodus 8:22). The Egyptians were perfectly aware of what the Jews were planning to do with the lambs they held sacred and they must have been totally outraged at the sacrilege. Nevertheless, their fear of the Jews was so great by this time that they were constrained to remain silent and made no protest. This was a great miracle and therefore the Shabbos on which it happened is called the Great Shabbos.

We are not the first to point out that the logic of the reason presented would dictate that 'the great day' that should have been selected to mark the anniversary of this miracle is the tenth of Nisan, no matter on which day of the week it fell, rather than Shabbos. In any case a plethora of amazing miracles lead up to the Exodus. Why should this particular miracle that seems relatively pedestrian in comparison with some of the others have the power to bequeath the title 'great' to its annual anniversary?

To answer this question we must undertake an intellectual journey that will have several stops along the way.

 


 

THE HAGGADAH

The first stage of our journey is the Passover Haggadah. While the Haggadah is synonymous with the Seder in every Jewish mind, tradition teaches us to read the Haggadah before Seder night on the afternoon of this Great Shabbos; more specifically, the custom is to read the portion of the Haggadah that contains the answer to the famous 'four questions' of the Mah Nishtana.

The Haggadah is possibly the oldest Jewish liturgical text. No section of Torah has had the good fortune of having nearly as many commentaries written on it. Manuscripts of the Haggadah of great antiquity abound, attesting to its widespread use.

The name of the work, Haggadah or 'story', or tale in English, derives from the mitzvah that it was especially written to carry out. And you shall tell [vehigadta -haggadah] your son on that day, saying, " It is because of this that God acted on my behalf when I left Egypt." (Exodus 13:8) In this verse, the Torah commands us to relate the exodus story on the first night of Passover to our children (Talmud, Pesachim, 116b). The fulfillment of this mitzvah provides the background to the traditional Seder; the recital of the Haggadah is the way we fulfill the commandment to tell our children.

But reciting the Haggadah involves more than just simply telling the story of the historic events and miracles associated with the Exodus. According to the Zohar, (Lech Lecha, 86b), the Hebrew word 'lehagid', the origin of the word Haggadah, has the connotation of revealing a secret. Secret in the context of the Passover Haggada obviously does not have the connotation of revealing information that was deliberately concealed; in this case 'revealing the secret' means to dig deep and expose aspects of the story that are not obvious on the surface. It is the secret aspect of the Exodus story, the revelation that lies concealed beneath the plain historical facts, that we are commanded to relate to our children. What is this secret?

 


 

THE OPENING MOUTH

The Zohar reads the word Pesach, as Peh Sach, meaning 'the mouth opens and speaks'. The connotation of the word 'haggadah', meaning to reveal the secret, plus the word Pesach meaning 'the mouth opens and speaks' adds up to the following message. Although man was given the power of speech way back in Genesis 2 simultaneously with his creation, until the Exodus he had no message to tell, no secret to reveal. Since he had nothing to say, in effect his mouth was closed. It is on Passover that man made his first appearance as a speaker in his own right, a being with his own message. For the first time in human history man had something original to say. His mouth opened. He had something to tell his children.

How can we relate to this thought? By the time of the Exodus, human history had been unfolding for almost 2000 years! In all that time man had nothing to say? The answer lies in the 'secret' the Zohar refers to.

It is startling indeed, but without the opportunity of 'opening of his mouth' that relating the Passover story provides, not only is it true that man has nothing to say, man himself trumpets his lack of an original message from the rooftops. Scientific man is proud to state that he does not originate, but only uncovers what is already there. It is the universe that speaks, not he. In the scientific view of the world, man's uniqueness is in the fact that he possesses the intelligence to listen to, interpret and communicate the message of the universe. He is never the speaker.

If we regard the world scientifically, it is quite obvious that the laws of the universe were always in place, fully in operation, just waiting to be discovered since the beginning of time. Theoretically, if all human knowledge was lost and would have to be relearned from scratch, humanity would come up with exactly the same theories and explanations that we have now, and the knowledge would give rise to identical technologies. We humans as a species are powerless to initiate. We merely uncover what is already there. We have nothing to say.

In order for us to become speakers, we must have access to a world that is beyond science, to information that cannot be accessed by merely studying the universe, information that originates in human intelligence itself. This is the significance of the Zohar's statement. It is in the relating of the Passover story that we become originators, by uncovering the secret that underlies the universe. What does this mean? Where is this idea expressed in the Haggadah?

 


 

THE ANOMALY OF THE FEMALE FORCE

The Gaon of Vilna points to a grammatical anomaly in the text of the famous 'four questions' of the Haggadah that offers the key. Almost every Jew is familiar with the words that introduce the questions; 'mah nishtana halayla hazeh mikol haleylot'. The Gaon points out that by the rules of proper Hebrew, this famous sentence is grammatically incorrect. The word leylot in Hebrew is feminine while the word in the sentence meaning 'this', hazeh, is presented in the masculine form. A masculine adjective is paired with a feminine noun. The text ought to read halaylah hazot.

The Gaon builds a remarkable thesis on this grammatical anomaly in his exegesis on the Haggadah. He suggests that the Hebrew word for night is feminine because the source of light in the night is the moon. The moon has no light of its own; it provides its light by reflecting the light of the sun. In Jewish tradition, the ability to receive light and reflect it onwards is thought of as the feminine power. It is the woman who was created with the capacity to take the tiny puddle of sperm provided by the male and 'reflect the light' by magnifying its essence and building it into a complete new human being.

The woman and the moon may both be reflectors of received light, but there is obviously a vast difference between the two. The woman is much more than a perfect reflector of what she receives; she is capable of immensely enhancing her input. In contrast, the moon is far less than a perfect reflector of the light it receives. Were the moon to perfectly mirror the light of the sun that hits it, there would be no distinguishable difference between day and night. Just as the entire potential contained in the seed is expressed in the child, the moon would shine as brightly as the sun.

Indeed, is validity to this thought; the female power was in fact created as a perfect reflector; in Genesis 1, 16, the Torah describes the creation of two great illuminators. But then in almost the same breath, the Torah calls one great, and the other small. Remarking on the apparent contradiction, the Talmud (Chulin, 60b) makes the following comment; originally the moon was created as a perfect reflector of sunlight, and the light it provided was indistinguishable from the light provided by the sun. Thus the Torah speaks of two great illuminators. But then, the moon registered a protest with God, saying, "How can two different monarchs make use of the same crown?" God's response; "You are perfectly correct, so reduce yourself in size!"

 


 

REDUCTION

The existence of the darkness that characterizes night is not an inevitable fact of nature; it is in fact the unfortunate by-product of the character defect of haughtiness. In the world of perfection that God originally intended, darkness could only be found in the world in the places where it can be found in the full light of day in the world of the present. There were no dark periods; there were only dark places where people chose to block out the light.

The diminished size of the moon that is responsible for the darkness that has become the symbol of imperfection in the world stems from a spiritual flaw in the female power. The moon's failure to accept the fact that as a mere reflector of the sun's light, no matter how perfect, it is unable to register an exclusive right to the sun's crown is a flaw that is found all too often in us human beings. We are ready to admit that we don't control much in the universe and yet, we refuse to acknowledge that as mere reflectors of the Divine light of God's intelligence, we are not entitled to assume the mantle of royalty in the universe. We bend to no one.

For when we speak of the female power, we are not referring to the differentiation of humans into sexes. The human soul is the chief repository of the feminine power in the universe. The human soul is the true reflector of the Divine light, and it has no sex. Just as in the case of the sun and the moon, the soul can only serve as the perfect mirror of the Divine intelligence if man accepts the fact that the crown of royalty is God's, not his. The minute man lays claim to God's mantle, his power to reflect the Divine light becomes diminished and spiritual darkness descends on the world.

The Gaon concludes that the grammatical anomaly in the mah nishtana question originates in these ideas. The Passover holiday offers a glimpse of the world as it might have been and shall be again, where the light of the night is indistinguishable from the light of day. At least for the duration of the Seder the reflective ability of the female power is restored to perfection. There is no difference in the quality of the light. Male and female become indistinguishable.

Seder night is focused on telling the story of the Exodus. Unlike ordinary miracles, which were performed to help Israel get out of tight spots, the miracles of the Exodus were performed to provide objective proof that God's intelligence pervades the world and that it is God who rules over the universe.

God's freedom to act is not confined by the laws of Nature as we know them. Were our world capable of serving as a perfect mirror that reflects the light of creation in full and night would turn into day, ordinary reality would offer the same degree of revelation regarding God's absolute mastery over the laws of the universe as did the miracles of the Exodus. In the undisguised presence of God's intelligence, the universe falls silent. It no longer addresses us through the medium of the language of Natural law. It speaks the words of God openly and clearly.

 


 

TURNING NIGHT INTO DAY

As we tell the exodus story, we turn night into day. The Exodus story attests that the imperfections in our world do not reflect the limitations of the Creator, but are entirely due to the fact that nature is a flawed, diminished reflector of the Divine light. The imperfection is in the mirror not in the light source. If not for the imperfection there would be no difference between the reflection of the light and its source. The difference between the masculine and feminine powers would vanish. If anything the reflector would take on the properties of human females and outshine the source. The night would be masculine instead of feminine. That is why describe the night with the masculine pronoun 'hazeh'.

Because this message of perfection is nowhere to be found in nature at the present time, the only place to look for it in the world of the present is inside the soul of man. Unlike the message proclaimed by science, whose origin is in the objective reality of the universe, the message of the Exodus originates in the human soul, not in the outside world.

The only way to communicate the story is to pass it on from one soul to another. In the manner of life itself, it passes from father to son. There is no way to unlock it by studying the universe. Man is the only being in the universe capable of telling the story; in telling it man himself emerges as a being that has something to say. His mouth is opened and he can finally originate, rather than simply relay the message that exists in nature independently of him.

 


 

STUCK IN EGYPT

In answer to the four questions we make a declaration; if God had not taken us out of Egypt than we and our children would have been slaves to Pharaoh until the end of time. This statement certainly does not state a historical truth. By the laws of history empires rise and fall. Cultures die. Surely Egypt and its Pharaoh would have ended in the dustbin of history with or without the Exodus. As we have already pointed out in the name of the Zohar, the Haggadah comes to uncover the secrets that lie beneath the surface of ordinary existence.

The secret meaning; Pharaoh and Egypt symbolize man's enslavement to the laws of the natural world. The natural universe as we know it is a prison that we cannot escape. Our scientific and technological progress only serves to make our prison more comfortable. No matter how much we learn about it, the natural universe we inhabit spins on in its predetermined purposeless course, holding us prisoner within its endless repetitive cycles. Generations are born, give birth to the following generations and then die. The universe spins on, indifferent and uncaring. Like prisoners who spend their lives behind bars, we accomplish nothing and go nowhere.

To break out of the prison we must catch a glimpse of some attainable destination outside the confines of the natural world. We must uncover the secret purpose of existence. We must make contact with eternity.

Let us now return to the Great Shabbos. In the Amida prayer of Friday night, we say the following; You have sanctified the seventh day to Your Name, the destination and conclusion of the creation of the Heavens and the earth. Shabbos is not merely a rest day. Shabbos is taken from the destination; the World to Come.

 


 

DUAL NATURE OF MAN

This idea of a destination world is encoded within the creation of man as well and we learn about it through another grammatical anomaly. God formed man... (Genesis 2:7) the word to form in Hebrew, Vayizer, is spelled with only one yud. In this verse that describes the creation of man it is apparently misspelled and contains two yuds. Rashi explains; other creatures were fashioned for only a single world, whereas Adam was created to be able to live in the world of Techiyas Hamesim, the Resurrected world of the World to Come as well as in this one. He was doubly fashioned in a sense; to indicate this dual capacity, two yuds were used to describe his creation.

This idea of the double creation of man is the source of all the holiness in the world. The name of God that appears in most Jewish prayer books, two yuds placed next to one another is based directly on it. This name appears nowhere in any of the books of the Tenach; its holiness derives directly from the idea of man's double creation.

Man's bi-worldly nature implithat his supernatural aspect is already very much in evidence during his present existence in this world of nature. This must be so. If there were no signs of his dual nature in his present life, and his supernatural aspect would only make its appearance after he died and was resurrected, the two creatures, the natural man who inhabits this world and the one who lived in the next, would have nothing in common. Neither of them could be described as a dual creature.

To describe the creation of such a creature with two yuds would be entirely misleading. The two yuds indicate that the two aspects of reality, the natural world we live in as well as the destination world we shall inhabit are both expressed in the human being who inhabits the world of today. In fact the combination of the yuds placed side by side is the marker of God's Presence within the world of nature, and is therefore used as His name. A human being is a mirror that can be polished so well that he reflects the Divine Presence perfectly and lights up the dark night of this world with the light of the world where life is forever.

 


 

SHABBOS AS A MIRROR

The ability to reflect the world of perfection is a capacity built into man's soul, but there is an activity through which this power to reflect the World to Come actually expresses itself; the observance of Shabbos. Shabbos is a day that belongs to the destination itself. When we Jews observe Shabbos, we add an eternal dimension to the scientific world of nature we ordinarily inhabit.

It is significant that the only one of the Holy days that is referred to as a Shabbos [aside from Shabbos itself, of course], by the Torah is the first day of Pesach. "He shall wave the Omer before God to gain favor for you; on the morrow of the Shabbos the Kohen shall wave it" (Vayikra 23:11). The Omer was brought on the second day of Pesach.

This reference to the first day of the Passover holiday as a Shabbos was no mere slip of the pen. It is difficult to think of another verse in the Torah that has caused as much dissension. The Rabbis declared that the reference to Shabbos in conjunction to the Omer, unlike the other times the word appears in the Torah, refers not to Shabbos the seventh day of the week, but to the first day of the Pesach holiday.

The Saducees, a Jewish sect in the second temple period, rejected the Rabbinnic interpretation of the Torah as a matter of principle, and insisted that the word refers to Shabbos the seventh day of the week as it does everywhere else it is mentioned in the Torah. The Talmud in Rosh Hashono describes the heroic measures the Saducees resorted to in order to rearrange the Jewish calendar so that the first day of the Pesach holiday would fall on Shabbos, the seventh day of the week, so that the Omer might be brought on a mutually agreed upon day.

 


 

MAH NISHTANO

We can well ask our own mah nishtana question; why did the Torah single out this first day of Pesach from all other holy days and give it the name Shabbos?

In light of this essay we hope the answer is clear. It is on the first day of Passover that man's soul acquired the ability to perfectly reflect God's Shabbos, the day that represents the perfected universe of the World to Come. It is the Exodus that opened man's mouth and gave him the ability to recite the Haggadahh and speak out the hidden meaning of the universe.

We recite the Haggadah twice; the first time on Shabbos Hagodal, and the second time on Seder night. The bridge between these two Shabboses is concealed beneath the surface layer of natural reality. The revelation of this secret is the key to the full revelation of God's greatness, and the act of exposing the secret by reciting the Haggadah unlocks the potential greatness buried in the soul of man. Is it any wonder that the Shabbos before Pesach is known as the Great Shabbos?

Published: April 12, 2003

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Ady, March 27, 2012 5:54 AM

Thanks for this insight and teaching, which is quite in depth.

(1) Anonymous, April 14, 2011 3:18 AM

Very Good!

Iashar Koach

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