SHABBAT HAGADOL 5779
Did you ever think Israel would go to the moon? Perhaps it occurred to her that at least there they might be able to live without someone hating them, and so they tried. 2 days ago, the Beresheet lunar module—an Israeli spacecraft (just the sound of that seems beyond amazing)—attempted to land on the dark side of the moon. This would have made Israel the 4th country in history to land a spacecraft on the moon. Unfortunately, the unoccupied spacecraft crash-landed. But the accomplishment of getting that far and becoming the 7th nation to have a spacecraft orbit the moon is still amazing to me.
The timing of this event so close to Passover can’t be a coincidence. According to the Midrash (Gen. 15:5), in the conversation leading to the Covenant Between the Pieces, Gd took Abram hachutza, literally “outside” to gaze at the stars. The Midrash understands it as “outside the earth” or “above the stars.” Gd then told him: ko y’hiyeh zaracha (so will be your offspring). This would ostensibly make Abraham the 1st space traveler and predicting his children will also travel to the stars. According to Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (28), this conversation took place on Passover.
Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht (Asufas Ma’arachos to Vayera) taught that Abram wasn’t taken outside simply to see the stars. Gd wanted to demonstrate to him that he was not bound by the stars—that he had the ability to transcend nature. The immediate lesson to him was that since he could transcend nature, it would then be possible to have a child with Sarah in their advanced age. This wasn’t just a blessing to Abraham, but to the Jewish people that his descendants would be able transcend nature and, who knows, even to shoot for the stars.
This Shabbos has a peculiar name. It’s called Shabbat Hagadol or the “Great Shabbat.” Why this strange name? What’s so great about it? Tradition tells us that the Exodus out of Egypt took place on a Wednesday. On the Shabbos before, Moses commanded each Jewish family to choose a lamb, take it into their homes and keep it there until it will be slaughtered as the Paschal lamb.
The Midrash suggest that the Jews protested: “How can we take a lamb into our homes in preparation for slaughter? The Egyptians worship the lamb as a god. They’ll surely kill us?” But Moses reassured them that Gd brought the plagues to protect them and He will protect them now. So every Jewish family then defied their Egyptian slave-masters…and with growing pride in their faith and who they were they took the lambs into their homes. This singular act of courage occurred on the Shabbat before the 1st Passover; it was the 1st mitzvah observed by the Jewish people; and this is why the Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat Hagadol.
This heroic demonstration of faith and pride won the Jews the admiration of the Egyptians. The Egyptians gave them clothing and jewelry to celebrate their Passover in style. This Shabbat Hagadol was the day when the Jews found pride in their faith and refused to conform to the world around them. It was truly a great Shabbat—a Shabbat of pride and rededication. And so our sages taught: Shabbat shelifney Pesach korin oto Shabbat Hagadol (The Shabbat before Passover is called the Great Sabbath). Why? Mipney haneys shenaaseh bo (because of the miracle that happened there). What was the miracle? The Jewish people, after centuries of slavery and oppression, finally lifted up their heads with courage and pride and proclaimed, “We are Jews! We are free! We are Gd’s children! We will follow Gd’s laws and traditions despite our poisonous environment.”
It’s not easy to be a Jew—especially today. The environment goes against the grain of Jewish practice. Fewer and fewer Jews come to shul regularly—if at all! Being Kosher is a constant struggle. On Passover, to make your kitchen Kosher L’Pesach can be a herculean task. To give your child an intensive Jewish education is very costly—day school tuition can run up to $20,000 a year or more! To be a member of a shul, to participate in Jewish communal life, requires sacrifice and it can be costly to affix a mezuzah on your doorposts, to build a Sukkah, to buy an etrog and lulov. But it’s not just the money, it’s just not doing what everyone else is doing on a Saturday morning. And we won’t be alone. Each year thousands of Jews find their way back to Jewish life.
This is made somewhat easier today as science more and more confirms the Torah. For instance, in our Torah portion today, Gd says (Lev. 14:34): v’natati nega tzaraat b’veyt eretz achuzatchem (I will place a tzarat affliction upon a house in the land of your possession). Torah critics have scorned the very idea that a disease can afflict an inanimate object like a house with its walls and floors. But let me read to you a bit from the Atlanta Journal Constitution last Tuesday about a man who died at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NY from the super bug called Candida Auris:
The man…died after 90 days in the hospital, but Candida Auris did not. Tests showed it was everywhere in his room, so invasive that the hospital needed special cleaning equipment and had to rip out some of the ceiling and floor tiles to eradicate it.
“Everything was positive — the walls, the bed, the doors, the curtains, the phones, the sink, the whiteboard, the poles, the pump,” said Dr. Scott Lorin, the hospital’s president. “The mattress, the bed rails, the canister holes, the window shades, the ceiling, everything in the room was positive.”
This is not the same disease as the Torah’s tzaraat, but it does confirm that what the Torah and Jewish tradition tells us is possible.
Author and motivational speaker Les Brown is known for saying “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” While the accuracy of this statement might up for debate, the idea that we can succeed if we aim higher is certainly true. We should be proud of our fellow Jews in Israel who followed Abraham to transcend nature. They shot for the moon. They may not have hit it (well literally, they did), but they still reached for the stars. May we all tap into this trait, shoot for the moon and transcend our environment—especially when it comes to follow Gd and His Torah. The pride is back for Israel as it can be for all of us. Let’s make this the most special Passover as we shoot for the moon. Amen!