Today I would like to speak to you about long, protracted sermons. 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.
” Elsewhere, however, Rashi offers other explanations for why Shabbat HaGadol is thus named – for example, after the nes gadol, the “great miracle” involving the Paschal lamb that happened on this very Shabbat preceding the Exodus.
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?
Perhaps we have here a full-blown manifestation of the paradoxes and absurdities of existence, which are acutely reflected in Jewish life. How best to put it? Awe and trembling … and a bit of self-deprecating humor?
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.