Shabbat HaGadol is known for its sermons. Based on the halacha that Rabbis should speak for their communities on the Shabbos before Pesach, some Rabbis wait all year to deliver their best ser- mon on this day.
But there are sermons and there are sermons. We have of course long, protracted sermons. Rabbis that don’t know when to finish. On the other hand, we have sermons that leave us with no message. And then we have the meaningful sermon, that may be long but feels short.
As we honor the Rebbe’s 116th birthday this week, let us recall Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explanation on the difference be- tween a Rabbi and a Rebbe: “When a Rabbi speaks, there may be 500 people in the audience, but every person thinks that the Rabbi is speaking to his neighbor. When a Rebbe speaks, he may be addressing 5000 people, but each person thinks that he is speaking to me.”
What was the Rebbe’s communication secret that so deeply touched and transformed his listeners — including the man standing before you today, who would not be here were it not for the Rebbe’s inspiration?
This Shabbos is a good time to explore this question. As well as its contrast: When was the first drawn-out sermon ever delivered? Was it in the time of the Talmud, or even back in the time of Moses? We don’t really know, but would you believe that this day – Shabbat HaGadol, the “Great Shabbat” – got its name because of the great sermons delivered on this day, great in length, that is?
Although the Talmud makes no mention of this custom, as long ago as the 11th century, we find references – or should I say, complaints – about the long, drawn-out sermons delivered on this day. None other than the famed biblical commentator, Rashi, writes that the customary lengthy Shabbat HaGadol sermon makes this Shabbat drag. And, he says, this is why it is called Shabbat HaGadol – gadol in the sense of “long/protracted.”
So, why would a sage of the caliber of Rashi (and others on his level) suggest there is another, less lofty reason for the name and jokingly gripe about the lengthy sermons on that day? Why even mention it – especially considering that there are many other very
positive reasons for calling this day Shabbat HaGadol ?
This sermon offers a light-hearted look at Shabbat HaGadol, with a profound thought or two and some concluding advice for an inspirational Passover Seder.
And above all, we learn from the Rebbe the secret of true communication.