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Parshas Metzora/HaGadol - Great People make Great Holidays         6 Nissan 5782

04/07/2022 02:00:45 PM


There are some things in life that depreciate over time, slowly losing  their value while others appreciate, increasing in value. But there are very few things in life that maintain their value no matter what. A picture is worth a thousand words because it speaks different messages to different people. I once saw a picture of Rabbi Yissachar Frand that struck me in so many ways. For those who do not know Rabbi Frand, take a moment and Google him;   you will typically find him behind a microphone in front of a lectern, giving a Torah shiur/class or a public lecture, consistently inspiring the Jewish people throughout the world.  One of the common themes one finds when describing great Torah scholars are their open, down-to-earth, genuine demeanor. They are not plastic people. They live ‘real’ lives. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters, just like you and me.

The following description is not, chas v’shalom, heaven forbid, a detracting statement, but rather a compliment to the greatness of Rabbi Frand and other Torah scholars in general. The photo shows Rabbi Frand pushing a shopping cart full of groceries - most probably in Seven-Mile Market in Baltimore. This by no means demonstrates a belittling of Rabbi Frand, it rather reflects his true greatness: even a Rosh HaYeshiva helps and shops for the home. This picture captures a thousand words and even more. In our day and age, we do not see or experience such scenes. To a normal, thinking person, the picture speaks volumes about what normalcy is and should be. Others, who are living in a different context of the way normal Jewish life is supposed to be, probably cannot understand the picture at all. They may even believe it was most likely photoshopped because Rabbi Frand would never be seen doing something as mundane as pushing a cart through a grocery store.

The Gemara in Shabbos and other places make note of the fact how the tannaim and amoraim would shop for Shabbos food and do chores around the house to help prepare for Shabbos. In their case it was not just about cleaning or eating; these chores were all part of doing things to honor and prepare for Shabbos and Yom Tov. Performing mundane activities in the name of the holiness and sanctity of Shabbos is no less than learning about Shabbos and Yom Tov. If anything, I may say, the physical attribute of actively doing something for any mitzva may be greater than the learning of the mitzva. The Torah itself testifies to the Jewish people announcing Naaseh V’Nishmah - we will do and then we will learn. Clearly, actions of performing mitzvos, and perhaps the preparation to fulfill the mitzvos, are the highest levels we can reach in our Avodas HaShem, our service to God. There may not be physical pictures that speak volumes of the gedolim who are also helpers and cleaners in their own homes. We hear stories here and there depicting great Rabbis and leaders being “human”. We need to visualize those pictures that are worth a thousand words to describe their greatness.

This Shabbos, the Shabbos before Pesach, has a special title: Shabbos HaGadol, the Shabbos of Greatness. There are many reasons explaining why and when this particular Shabbos  attained such special status.  As illustrated previously, the greatness of a Talmudic scholar illuminated through a photograph depicting a mundane event only serves to re-emphasize his greatness. The 10th of Nissan of the year was date of the original Great Shabbos. The Bnei Yissaschar (Nissan Maamar 7) explains the Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Shabbos, as follows: Why is it that when a person sins and then does Teshuva, all his sins are forgiven?  At the time of the sin the person was on the level of an animal. When a human being recognizes his error in judgment and does Teshuva/repentance from even one sin, he raises himself to the level of a Ben Adam, a human being. When a person goes through that transformation, he or she emerges with a new face and is no longer considered the same person who had previously sinned. It was on that very day that the Jewish people took the lamb as it states in Shmos 12:21 "ויקרא משה לכל זקני ישראל ויאמר אליהם, משכו וקחו לכם צאן למשפחתיכם ושחטו הפסח"    Moshe summoned the elders of Israel, and said to them, ‘Gather [the people] and get yourselves sheep for your families, so that you will be able to slaughter the Passover sacrifice”. Rav Hirsch explains the ‘pulling away’ means to remove your hands from the idolatry. Since the Jewish people repented for the sin of idolatry, Hashem forgave them for all their sins! This is the meaning of Shabbos HaGadol. The Shabbos immediately before the beginning of Pesach commemorates the ‘pulling away’, the removing of our hands - the repentance - from the idolatry of the Egyptians. Now that is pretty big and great!

Reb Aharon from Karlin in his sefer Beis Aharon explains that the Shabbos before any Yom Tov /holiday is a preparation for that coming Yom Tov. He explains that Shabbos Kodesh is termed ‘Holy Shabbos’ while Yom Tov is referred to ‘Mikra Kodesh’ ‘Called Holy’ - that we are calling out and receiving the holiness from the Shabbos immediately prior to the Yom Tov. As a result, the Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol, the great Shabbos of preparation and anticipation of the coming Chag. The Gemara Pesachim 117b states Shabbos is set and continues to maintain itself week in week out, while Yom Tov is determined by the Beis Din. The sanctity of Shabbos needs no assistance to determine its sanctity, but the kedusha/sanctity of the holidays are like minor children who need help to stand, since each Yom Tov needs the court’s decision. Behold, Pesach, as the first of all the holidays  in the yearly calendar approaches, we call the Shabbos immediately preceding Pesach HaGadol, likened to an adult who stands on his own recognizance, marking a distinction between the sanctity of Shabbos and Yom Tov.

In addition to Hashem creating the standard Shabbos and the Jewish court system establishing when each of the festivals will come, there is still one more critical role in creating Gadlus/greatness. That greatness, the becoming of that Gadol, is put squarely on the shoulders of all  families raising their households. Let us all take the picture in mind of a Rabbi Frand and others who make their Yom Tov great by investing time, effort, energy, and hard work in preparing for any Yom Tov, but Pesach in particular. Everyone in the household should do physical labor towards creating the holiness of Pesach. I am not saying we need to be like our forefathers who were slaves in Egypt, but to physically put effort into helping to create Pesach and Yom Tov. This effort will become the picture seen with clarity in our children’s minds as they grow older. This vivid memory, a mental picture of shared effort, preparation and anticipation for Pesach, will continue to be recalled, illuminated, and transmitted   to their children and to their children’s children, as we have done for hundreds of generations. This is key to our Jewish survival and the continuation of our great people.     

Tue, October 3 2023 18 Tishrei 5784