Why is this Shabbat Different from All Other Shabbatot?
Parshat Acharei Mot/Shabbat haGadol – Leviticus 16:1-18:30
One of the primary features of this week’s parshah, Acharei Mot, is the description of the rituals by which Aaron, the high priest, would enter the Holy of Holies. In context, these rituals are presented as the proper means of preparation to receive the Divine Presence and live, in contrast with Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, who died when they came before God with “strange fire” (Leviticus 10:1). While this passage relates explicitly to the observance of Yom Kippur, there is also a resonance with the coming celebration of Pesach.
Before leaving Egypt, our ancestors were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of the paschal lamb so that the angel of deathwould pass over their homes and only smite the firstborn of the Egyptians. In both cases, there is the same message: One must be properly prepared to stand in God’s presence.
Indeed, this message is further amplified by the fact that this Shabbat is not just any ordinary Shabbat. It is Shabbat haGadol, the Great Shabbat, which is always the Shabbat before Pesach. The special haftarah for this Shabbat offers some insight into the preparation that is necessary to stand before God on the festival marking the birth of the Jewish nation. The reading is from the end of the Book of Malachi, the last of the prophets. Following a description of what will happen in the Messianic Age, the passage concludes, “Behold, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the great [“gadol”] and awesome day of the Lord. He shall turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents, lest I come and lay waste to the land” (Malachi 3:23-24).
This is a more intimate view of the Messianic Age than we usually find. Rather than peace between nations bringing the Messiah, here it is peace between parents and children that is essential. And while we might think that familial love is natural, one only needs to read the Book of Genesis to know that family relationships are difficult. Herein lies the meaning of our passage from Malachi, and the connection to the observance of Pesach.
The core of Jewish identity is the family, and as we celebrate our national origin we must make it a point to connect with our families. Rather than waiting for Yom Kippur to clear the air, now is the time to reinforce our relationships with our families. Whether we can sit down together at the Seder or be satisfied with a phone call across many miles, we cannot bring God into our festival celebration without first reaching out to those closest to us.
Shabbat shalom v’chag kasher v’sameach!