Acharei mot

"Behold! I send you Elijah the prophet, before the great and awesome day of the Lord" Malachi 3:23

By Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch, April 14, 2011

This Shabbat is conventionally called Shabbat Hagadol, the Great Shabbat. The question is often posed what is unique about this Shabbat to deserve such a title, bearing in mind that i is the regular uniform Shabbat service.

One reason advanced is that it commemorates a seminal event in our history. The tenth of Nisan, in the year our ancestors left Egypt, coincided with Shabbat; the Jews brought to their homes the animals which were to be used for the Passover sacrifice.

Curious Egyptians who observed the strange scene asked their erstwhile slaves about this unusual activity, to which the Jews informed their former masters that these animals were to be used as a Pesach sacrifice. In effect, they were declaring that they were going to slaughter and consume the Egyptians' gods in order to honour our God.

This required tremendous courage and readiness for self sacrifice. Our people boldly stared their oppressors in the eye and declared with new-found pride and self-belief that they were no longer bound by the shackles of their culture and previous way of life, leaving behind the servitude to their idolatrous practices

The importance of that Shabbat Hagadol cannot be underestimated as it highlighted one of our core values. In order to merit a relationship with God, we were expected to demonstrate willingness to take risks and sacrifice our own desires for God's sake. This has been emblematic of the Jewish people across the millennia.

In our generation we are blessed to be able to practise our faith and express our beliefs in the Almighty unhindered and without facing persecution and threats to our wellbeing and daily existence. The moral clarity and the single-minded pursuit of it are not always popular positions.

Sometimes simply doing the right thing is so contrary to the status quo of one's environment that one runs the risk of being marginalised as an iconoclast but that is the challenge of Shabbat Hagadol.

Last updated: 12:02pm, April 14 2011