Shabbat Hagadol is the name given to the Shabbat just prior to Passover. “Hagadol” is “the great,” modifying “Shabbat.” Some rabbis have explained this connection by referencing the penultimate line in this week’s haftarah, which says “Lo, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome [great], fearful day of the Lord.”
Actually, that line is the penultimate line, the ante-penultimate line, and the last line, as it turns out. The haftarah is Mal’akhi 3:4-24. This line is verse 23, and we read through verse 24, but then we repeat verse 23 so that, some say, the haftarah “ends on a positive note.”
Verse 24 is “He shall reconcile parents with children and children with their parents, so that, when I come, I do not strike the whole land with utter destruction.” Your humble correspondent would argue that parents and children reconciling is right up there with Elijah coming.
This haftarah may have been selected along the lines of the popular belief that the messianic redemption of Israel will occur in the same month as the deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Of course, our Christian friends at this time of year celebrate Holy Saturday the day before Easter Sunday, which usually falls in the middle of Pesah. Along similar lines to ours, the Easter vigil prayers on Holy Saturday, the end of Holy Week, discuss the awesome, fearful day. Some of our Muslim friends will celebrate the 15th day of Sha’ban (or Bara’at Night) beginning the night of April 19th, regarded as the night when fortunes are decided and God forgives sinners. And Ramadan begins this year on May 6th. Meanwhile, Hindus celebrate Rama Navami, the birth of Rama, descendant of Vishnu, this year on April 13th.
Some say the first Shabbat Hagadol took place on 10 Nisan when the enslaved Israelites observed the commandment to cook and eat the lamb as described in last week’s column. The fact that they could take and eat a lamb in each household without getting stoned to death by the Egyptians made it a Great Shabbat. Still others say that a rabbi should include in his sermon all about getting ready for Pesah, and that we should read parts of the Haggadah together in the afternoon, thus making it way too great (too big, too long) a Shabbat for their tastes.