Shabbat Hagadol: Family unity
By SHLOMO RISKIN
"On a griddle it shall be made with oil; when it is soaked, thou shalt bring it in." (Tzav; Leviticus 6:14)
‘Behold, I send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and
awesome day of the Lord. And he [Elijah] will turn [back to God] the
hearts of the parents through their children and the hearts of the children
through their parents’ (Malachi 3:23-24).
The Shabbat before Passover is
called Shabbat Hagadol (the Great Sabbath), a phrase deriving from the last
verse of the prophetic portion read on that day which declares that God will
send Elijah the Prophet on the “great day” of the Lord right before the coming
of the redemption.
Let us attempt to link Elijah to our Passover Seder in
a way more profound than merely opening the door for him and offering him a sip
Our analysis begins with another Seder anomaly, the fact that we
begin our night of freedom with the distribution of an hors d’oeuvre of karpas
(Greek for vegetation or vegetable, often parsley, dipped in a
The usual explanation for this is that vegetation emerges in
the springtime; Passover is biblically called the Spring Festival, and so we dip
a vegetable in salt water, reminiscent of spring renewal emerging from the tears
of Egyptian enslavement. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, in his late 19th-century Haggada,
suggests another interpretation. The Hebrew word “karpas” appears in the
opening verses of the Book of Esther, in the description of the “hangings” that
were found in the gardens of King Ahasuerus’s palace, where the great feast for
all his kingdom was hosted; karpas white cotton joined with turquoise wool.
Rashi connects the term “karpas” in the sense of material with the ketonet
passim, the striped tunic that Jacob gave to his beloved son, Joseph.
Jerusalem Talmud additionally suggests that we dip the karpas in haroset (a
mixture of wine, nuts and dates), adding that haroset is reminiscent of the
blood of the babies murdered in Egypt. In our case, the karpas would become
symbolic of Joseph’s tunic, which the brothers dipped into goat’s blood and
brought to their father as a sign that his son had been torn apart by wild
beasts when in fact they had sold him into Egyptian slavery.
the Seder this way? The Talmud criticizes Jacob for favoring Joseph over the
other brothers and giving him the striped tunic. This gift, a piece of material
with little monetary value, engendered vicious jealousy resulting in the sale of
Joseph and the eventual enslavement of the Israelites for 210 years.
point of the Seder is the retelling (“haggada”) of the seminal experience of
servitude and freedom from generation to generation. Through this, every parent
becomes a teacher and must inspire his children to continue the Jewish narrative
of identification with the underdog and the outcast. He must imbue in his
offspring insistence upon freedom for every individual created in God’s image
and faith in the ultimate triumph of a world dedicated to peace and security for
This places an awesome responsibility on the shoulders of every
parent: to convey ethical monotheism, rooted in our ritual celebrations and
teachings, to their children and eventually to all of humanity. Hence, parents
must be warned at the outset not to repeat the tragic mistake of Jacob, not to
create divisions and jealousies among their children. Instead, we must unite the
generations in the common goal of continuing our Jewish narrative.
has this to do with Elijah the Prophet, who is slated to be the herald of the
Messiah, the announcer of the “good tidings of salvation and comfort”? Our
redemption is dependent on our repentance and the most necessary component of
redemption is “loving our fellow as we love ourselves” – the great rule of the
Torah taught by Rabbi Akiva.
Loving humanity must begin with loving our
family; first and foremost our nuclear family. We read in the prophetic portion
of this Shabbat that Elijah will bring everyone back to God by uniting parents
with their children and children with parents. The biblical source of sibling
hatred (the Joseph story), which has plagued Jewish history up to and including
the present day, will be repaired by Elijah, who will unite the hearts of the
children and the parents together in their commitment to God.
end of the Seder, we open the door for Elijah and welcome him to drink from the
cup of redemption poured especially for him. But if Elijah can visit every Seder
throughout the world, surely he can get through even the most forbidding kind of
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menahem Mendel Schneerson, teaches
that we open the door not so much to let Elijah in as to let ourselves out. The
Seder speaks of four children; But what about the myriad “fifth children” who
never came to a Seder? We must go out after them and bring them in – perhaps
together with Elijah, whom we will need desperately to unite the entire family
of Israel around the Seder table.
The writer is the founder and
chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs and chief rabbi of
“Back of the Bus or Driving the Bus? What Pessah teaches about the
role of women.” Rabbi Riskin’s hour-long Shabbat Hagadol lecture will take place
on March 31, starting at 9:15 p.m. at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue, 56 King