1. Of the tenth of Nissan, Scripture states that “On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves, every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.” Although this command was given before Mattan Torah, it was transmitted “for your generations” as “an eternal statute.” Thus, even in the exile, there is an entire chapter in Shulchan Aruch devoted to the special customs and laws of Shabbos HaGadol — the Great Shabbos, which is a result of the command of “On the tenth of this month.”
The Shulchan Aruch writes: “The Shabbos before Pesach is called Shabbos HaGadol because a great miracle happened then. The Pesach (sacrifice) was taken on the 10th of the month, as it states: ‘On the tenth of this month they shall take for themselves, every man a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, etc.’ That day (the 10th) was Shabbos, for the exodus from Egypt was on Thursday ... and since the 15th was on Thursday, the 10th was on Shabbos. When the Jews took their Pesach (sacrifices) on that Shabbos, the first-born of Egypt gathered around the Jews and asked them why they are doing so. They told them, it is a Pesach sacrifice to G-d, who is going to kill the first-born of Egypt. The first-born went to their fathers and to Pharaoh to request them to send away the Jews — but they did not want to. The first-born waged war against them and slew many of them. This is the meaning of the verse ‘Who struck Egypt through its first-born.’ And they fixed this miracle as a remembrance for all generations on Shabbos, and called it Shabbos HaGadol — the Great Shabbos.”
The concept of the “great miracle” on the “10th of the month” is renewed every year. The AriZal, on the verse “These days are remembered and kept,” explained that through remembering the events properly, through Torah, they are “kept” and re-enacted as they were originally. Moreover, since all that G-d commands to Israel to do He Himself fulfills, then, just as Jews are commanded to ascend in matters of sanctity, so too every year G-d adds to and elevates the “great miracle” — in loftier fashion than it was originally.
The Shabbos before Pesach is called “the Great Shabbos” because of the “great miracle” that occurred on that day. Although there were many other miracles before that of Shabbos HaGadol, such as the ten plagues, that of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” was unique — “the great miracle.”
The difference is that the punishment of Egypt through the ten plagues was through G-d and Moshe and Aharon. That of Shabbos HaGadol was through the first-born of Egypt themselves. The first-born utilized their strength to demand of Pharaoh and all Egypt that they comply with G-d’s command to send the Jews out of Egypt, to the extent of warring with them — even knowing that casualties would eventuate from their side as well.
The verse “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” is in the chapter of Tehillim called “the great Hallel (Praise).” In this chapter itself, it is the tenth verse, alluding to the “tenth of the month” on which the miracle occurred. Further still, the great Hallel is said in the prayers on Shabbos, and the Alter Rebbe in his Siddur notes that the first ten verses correspond to the letter “Yud” of G-d’s Name, the next five to the letter “Hay,” the next 6 to the letter “Vov,” and the last five correspond to the last “Hay” of G-d’s Name (Yud-Hay-Vov-Hay, commonly translated as L-rd). He writes the letter “Yud” opposite the tenth verse, and this emphasizes further that the verse “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” is the tenth of the chapter.
There is an association between the Name “L-rd,” and the idea of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born.” When Moshe and Aharon came to Pharaoh, and said to him “Thus says the L-rd ... send away My people,” Pharaoh answered “I do not know the L-rd” — for his connection was only to the Name “G-d,” as Yosef had said “G-d will answer the welfare of Pharaoh.” Yet, the first-born demanded of Pharaoh to carry out the L-rd’s command of “send away My people” — that not only should he not oppose their exodus, but should actively help them to leave as speedily as possible — to even drive them out. This was effected by the plague against the first-born: for since Pharaoh himself was a first-born, he feared for his life, and thus hastened to drive the Jews out. The preparation to this was the miracle of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born.”
The idea of Pharaoh sending away the Jews started before the actual exodus — at midnight, when the first-born were killed, Pharaoh ran to Moshe and Aharon to tell them to leave. The actual exodus however, was the next day. Likewise, the Jews emptied Egypt of its valuables before the actual exodus. In similar fashion, the miracle of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” occurred while Jews were still in exile in Egypt. This is why it was a “great miracle”: The Egyptians themselves, non-Jews, knew that their mission was to cause other non-Jews to help Jews leave the exile.
2. There is a lesson in the concept of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” for our service to G-d. “Egypt” means straits, limitations, and it is the idea of service within bounds. Further still, Egypt also means “oppression to Israel,” referring to things that are intrinsically oppressive to Jews. There are times during the day when a Jew engages in worldly pursuits. Although such dealings are according to Torah, which permits him to take time from his Torah studies to earn a livelihood, nevertheless, such dealings are “oppression to Israel.” The true place of a Jew is within Torah and prayer, and engaging in worldly pursuits is going out from this true place to outside. Although it is permitted by Torah, it does not cause him happiness but is an “oppression,” and is done with a heavy heart.
The idea of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” teaches that even when a Jew does engage in worldly pursuits, he must utilize these worldly matters in service to G-d — “Who struck Egypt through its first-born.” This is the idea of “all your deeds should be for the sake of heaven” and “in all your ways you shall know Him.”
Even when a person’s dealing with the world are successful (the first-born of Egypt, first-born expressing greater strength and riches), this should not cause a person to make greater efforts in this field, but the very success should be used to increase in service to G-d — “Who struck Egypt through its first-born.” In simple terms, dealings with the world are done only because he has to, and during such dealings a person should constantly be thinking of Torah.
A vivid illustration of this is the story concerning R. Nechemiah of Dubrovnah. He was a businessman, and once, when reckoning up his business, he came to the bottom line where the total was to be entered. Instead of writing the total, he wrote “There is none beside Him.” Since G-d was constantly in his thoughts, and permeated his entire being, it expressed itself also in his business, to the extent that the total of his business was “There is none beside Him!”
Likewise in regard to bodily matters, eating and drinking etc. Although one must have a healthy body so one can serve G-d properly, simultaneously, a person must know that bodily matters are an “oppression to Israel” — and thus his service must be in the manner of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” — utilizing these matters for service to G-d.
Every year there is strength given for the general service of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born,” particularly this year when the “tenth of the month” falls on Shabbos, as it was originally. And when one’s service is proper, it affects the rest of the world, causing the concept of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” to be effected even in exile — the peoples of the world know that their mission is to help Jews in all their matters.
3. The general concept of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” applies to Shabbos HaGadol every year, even when the “tenth of the month” does not fall on Shabbos. It was not fixed on the days of the month (the 10th), but always “on the Shabbos before Pesach.”
Nevertheless, when Shabbos HaGadol does fall on the “tenth of the month,” as this year, the concept of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born” applies with greater emphasis — for then it is as it was originally — on the 10th, on Shabbos. This distinction of this year must express itself first and foremost in deed, which is equally applicable to all Jews. Just as the exodus from Egypt affected all Jews equally — “with our youth and our elders, our sons and our daughters,” so too all things associated with the exodus — in our case Shabbos HaGadol — apply equally to all Jews. And while there are different levels of speech and thought among people, in deed all are equal.
Thus, when Shabbos HaGadol falls on the “tenth of the month,” emphasis is laid not just on the miracle of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born,” but also on those things which happened on the tenth. on the 10th of Nissan the Jews were commanded to “Draw away and take for yourselves a sheep.” Our Sages explain that this alludes to the general service of drawing away from idolatry and taking mitzvos. First of all one must eliminate all desires associated with idolatry, and then comes holy service. Drawing away from idolatry is the idea of faith in G-d, which applies equally to all Jews, all being “believers, the children of believers.” Even a one-day old infant is not only a “child of believers,” but is himself intrinsically a believer. Thus, when Shabbos HaGadol falls on the tenth of the month, there is extra emphasis placed on the service of draw away from idolatry and take mitzvos. And since it is Shabbos, this service must be performed with ta’anug, delight, for the idea of Shabbos is delight.
Another event that occurred on the tenth of Nissan was that “the people went up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month” [when entering Eretz Yisrael]. Yisrael. The river Jordan is the boundary between the “desert of the peoples” and “the good and broad land.” To enter this “good and broad land,” one must go up from the Jordan, for the Jordan is not part of the “good and broad land.” one must go up from the Jordan — the idea of the superiority of light which comes from previous darkness. The very fact of entering the “good and broad land” after being in the “desert of the peoples” and crossing the Jordan effects an elevation.
There is a lesson from this in man’s service to G-d. The Zohar, quoted by the previous Rebbe, asks on the verse “as in the days of your going out from the land of Egypt,” why it uses the plural (“days”) when they went out at one time? The answer is that there are many levels in the exodus from Egypt, and thus, even after leaving Egypt on one level, in comparison to a higher level a person is still in “Egypt” — and must leave in loftier fashion than previously.
In the first exodus from Egypt, in the generation of Moshe Rabbeinu, even after leaving Egypt, and after serving G-d for 40 years, they were still not in “the good and broad land” — and had to go up from the Jordan. The “good and broad land” refers to service above and beyond all limits, which is the true expression of “broadness.” Hence, even after leaving Egypt, they were still not in the “good and broad land,” for compared to a higher level, their service was still bound within limits.
This is the lesson of “they went up from the Jordan.” Even after the service of the exodus from Egypt, including the service of “Who struck Egypt through its first-born,” a person cannot think his service is now perfect, transcending all limits. For although in comparison to a lower level his service is above limits, in comparison to a level still higher it is still bound by limits — and he must “go up” from the Jordan.
Since “all the days are blessed from Shabbos,” the good resolutions undertaken on Shabbos on the 10th of the month extend to all the following days. Likewise, in regard to the past. Although last year Shabbos HaGadol was not on the 10th, nevertheless, since Shabbos elevates those things of the preceding week, the service of this year (on Shabbos, the tenth) elevates the service of the previous year.
4. This week’s parshah, Tzav, talks of sacrifices.
About some of the sacrifices it states “it is a pleasing odor to the L-rd,” but about others it does not. What is the difference? Rashi, who always comments on perplexing points, says nothing about this. Why not?
The question becomes stronger in the light of the explanation given at last week’s farbrengen (Vayikra) for the unique status of sacrifices. The concept of “it is a pleasure before Me that I commanded and My will was done” applies especially to sacrifices — although all mitzvos are the concept of “I commanded and My will was done.” The difference is that although all mitzvos are the fulfillment of G-d’s will, they do not provide special pleasure, for every Jew, belonging as he does to the “wise and understanding people,” fulfills mitzvos as a matter of course. It cannot be different. Sacrifices, however, are an atonement for wrongdoing, when a person has regretted his acts and repents. This repentance and its accompanying sacrifice provides special pleasure to G-d. This is particularly true in regard to minor sins about which a person is not obligated to bring a sacrifice — and yet nevertheless, a person brings a voluntary offering as atonement. The sacrifices mentioned in our parshah are sin-offerings for major transgressions. If G-d has special pleasure from atonement for minor sins, surely He has special pleasure from repentance and atonement for major sins — when He sees that despite a person’s major transgression, he has repented and brings a sacrifice. Why then does it not state “it is a pleasing odor to the L-rd” about these sin-offerings?
We must say that since it does not state “it is a pleasing odor to the L-rd,” then they simply do not cause pleasure to G-d. The reason for this is that although sin-offerings for major transgressions do procure atonement for the transgressor, they do not provide pleasure to G-d. For the sacrifice is only because of the transgression, and such a sacrifice, although necessary for atonement, does not provide pleasure. If however a person brings a sacrifice for a minor transgression, then, since such a sacrifice is voluntary, it provides pleasure to G-d.
An example: After the Jews sinned with the golden calf, Moshe went up to G-d and prayed for forgiveness for 40 days and nights. Rashi explains that these 40 days and nights, unlike the previous and later times, were “in anger.” Although they were spent in prayer, and by Moshe Rabbeinu, and procured atonement, nevertheless G-d was still angry because of the severity of the sin. So too in our case. Although the sin-offerings procure atonement, they cannot provide pleasure to G-d, because of the severity of the transgression the sacrifice atones for.
Yet a question still remains. It does not state “It is a pleasing odor before the L-rd” even about a thanksgiving sacrifice. Such a sacrifice is brought when a person experiences a miracle, the sacrifice serving as “thanksgiving for the miracle performed for him.” Why does it not state “it is pleasing odor before the L-rd” on such a sacrifice?
However, Rashi need make no comment on this, for student learning about such a sacrifice knows the answer from his own experience. when a person is given a gift, or even only promised a gift, it is only right and proper to thank the donor. Hence, a sacrifice of thanksgiving for a miracle does not produce special pleasure for G-d, since there is nothing special in bringing such a sacrifice. Naturally one must give thanks for a miracle performed for him. [Unlike the voluntary sacrifice brought for a minor transgression.].
5. In the Zohar on parshas Tzav (35a) it states: “He who studies Torah needs neither peace-offerings nor burnt-offerings, since the Torah is superior to all...” The Ramak asks how the Zohar can say that a person who studies Torah does not need offerings, when the Torah itself commands about offering sacrifices — and thus if a person sins he must certainly bring an offering? He answers that perhaps the Zohar means that a person who studies Torah will not need to offer a sacrifice since he will not sin due to the merit of the Torah. The Torah will protect him from sin, and thus automatically he “needs neither peace-offerings nor burnt-offerings.” The Ramak offers a second answer, that even if he does bring an offering, it is not really necessary, since his Torah purifies and atones for him.
The reason the Ramak offers a second explanation is because the first explanation contains a problem. The Talmud states (Menachos 110a): “What is the meaning of the verse ‘This is the Torah of the burnt-offering, the Minchah, the sin-offering etc.? Whosoever engages in the study of Torah it is as if he brought a sin-offering ...” The Talmud’s statement that “Whosoever engages in the study of the Torah it is as if he brought a sin-offering,” obviously means that the Torah studied effects that which the sacrifice does — but not that Torah study effects that he will not sin and therefore will not need a sacrifice at all. Therefore the Ramak brings a second interpretation of the Zohar, that the Torah study itself effects the atonement; and the actual bringing of the sacrifice is a separate thing. One thing remains unclear however: If the Torah study itself procures atonement, why is it necessary to actually bring a sacrifice?
There are two aspects in a sacrifice:
1) the effect on the person himself, and
2) the effect on the world.
The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya (Ch. 37) that a soul comes into the world not for its own sake, but to elevate and rectify the body, animal soul and his portion in the world. Although the soul does receive an elevation through its descent, the purpose
of the descent was for rectifying the body and environment.
Hence, when a person brings an offering as atonement for wrongdoing, besides effecting atonement for his soul, atonement is also needed for his portion in the world. This is the difference between the atonement effected by Torah study and that effected by the actual sacrifice. The former is for his soul, while the latter is for his portion in the world.
In greater clarification. The Midrash states: “They asked the Torah, ‘what is the punishment for a sinner?’ It answered ‘He should bring an offering (an ‘Asham’) and it will atone for him. I They asked the Holy One blessed be He ‘what is the punishment?’ He answered, ‘He should do repentance and it will atone for him.”
Torah is the ‘Torah of G-d.’ How then can Torah give a different answer than G-d — that a sinner should bring an offering, while G-d says he should repent?
However, the Holy One blessed be He is the level above the existence of the world. Hence He says “he should do repentance and it will atone for him,” for this is the proper atonement for the soul. But when it comes to the atonement also for a person’s portion in the world, Torah, which has an association with the world, says to bring an offering — for to procure atonement for the world, an actual sacrifice is needed. A sacrifice encompasses all four categories in the world: inanimate objects, plant life, animal life, and man. The salt that had to be brought with the sacrifice is inanimate; the wood on the altar is plant; the sacrifice itself is an animal; and the person bringing the sacrifice is man. Hence an actual sacrifice effects atonement for his portion of the world which is composed of the four categories.
6. Since many guests have come to celebrate the “eightieth year,” it is appropriate to expound on the chapters in Tehillim that are associated with this: Ch. 80 which is said during the eightieth year, and Ch. 81 which is said in the eighty-first year. The Baal Shem Tov initiated the saying each day of the chapter of Tehillim that corresponds to a person’s age. Thus, since now we are ending the eightieth year and entering the eighty-first, it is appropriate to expound on chapters 80 and 81 in Tehillim.
The Rebbe Shlita then went on to first explain the significance of the number of verses in each chapter: 20 in Ch. 80 and 17 in Ch. 81. He then expounded at length on the meaning of the verses in Ch. 80.