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The Shabbat preceding Pesach is titled “The Great Shabbat.” Over the ages there have been many reasons advanced as to why this Shabbat, over all others, deserves this title.  I know that it is somehow presumptuous on my part to add my view on the matter when so many greater people than me have had their say. However, the Torah is so vast and all-encompassing and speaks to all times and generations that it always allows for everyone to advance ideas and insights in the hope that Torah will be enhanced.

So, I am taking the liberty of advancing something that I've been thinking about for a number of months regarding this great Shabbat. This Shabbat is the gateway to the great holiday of Pesach. Since Pesach is regarded as being the holiday of our freedom, this Shabbat becomes in a metaphorical sense the gateway for freedom. All of human greatness throughout the ages has always been predicated on the necessity for freedom. Freedom of expression, of thought, of choice and of imagination has always been the main ingredients of human progress and of spiritual and material advancement.
Thought control has always been the tool of tyrants and despots. It was our father Avraham who first stood up against this type of tyranny in ancient Mesopotamia, risking his life to proclaim the belief in monotheism in an enforced pagan society. That is one of the reasons why our Pesach haggadah begins with the redemption from Egyptian bondage by recalling the story of Avraham. Freedom presupposes the right to be different and if there ever was a one-word description of the Jewish people over the millennia of our existence it certainly is the word “different.”
It is freedom that inspires human greatness. The idea of Shabbat itself - a day of rest and escape from the mundane world that oftentimes overwhelms us - is an example of greatness and of freedom. Without a Shabbat our exodus from Egypt would perhaps, in the long run of history, have been relatively meaningless. So many nations and peoples over the centuries have gained independence but eventually deteriorated and even disappeared from the human story.
It is the consistency of the freedom of the Jewish people, with its constant renewal and revitalization, that makes our freedom so special and of such an historic nature. Freedom from Egyptian bondage gave us the opportunity to think differently than the rest of the world and to accept the Torah and all that it entailed at a time when the rest of the world rejected it. Shabbat opened for us the ability to be different as a people and a culture, allowing us to enrich all of humanity with Godly and moral insights and behavior.
It is on this Shabbat before Pesach, before we again remember and celebrate our physical release and freedom from Egyptian bondage, that we pay homage to the great gift granted us by our Creator. We acknowledge the greatness of that day that precedes, causes and defines our freedom both physically and spiritually.
In reality every Shabbat is “great” but on the holiday of Pesach the greatness of Shabbat is apparent in all of its glory when it is coupled with the concept of freedom that it helped create and foster.
Greatness is never a temporary or faddish thing. It does not necessarily generate popularity or easy acceptance. But it always survives and is constantly effective. The Shabbat guarded and protected the inner freedom of the Jewish people over millennia and it continues to do so today. Jews lived for and tragically died for the Shabbat. It became the benchmark of Jewish loyalty and togetherness. It is the great sign of the eternal covenant between God and Israel, the beacon of light and hope for all times and circumstances.
It is the task of our generation that has tasted the renaissance of Jewish freedom, physically, materially, and nationally, to restore the Shabbat to its deservedly exalted place of greatness and primacy. And perhaps is the message of this great Shabbat to us now.
Shabbat shalom
Chag Kosher V’Sameach

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