The haftarah that is read this week in honor of Shabbat
Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach, concludes with the words:
"Behold - I send you Eliyahu Hanavi, before the great and awesome
day of Hashem. He will restore the heart of fathers to children
and the heart of children to their fathers . . ." (Malachi 3:23-
24). In an essay entitled "The Fathers and the Sons," R' Yaakov
Moshe Charlap z"l (died 1951) writes:
"There are many aspects to redemption and each brings salvation
in some form. However, if even one aspect is missing, the
redemption is incomplete. Moreover, a darker situation may arise
as a result.
"Every division is a form of galut (literally: 'exile') and
every coming together is a redemption. Certainly, however, the
most dangerous division is the division between fathers and sons.
Thus, when Hashem chooses a metaphor for the exile, He says (see
Berachot 3a), 'Woe to sons who have been exiled from their
father's table.' In contrast, the highlight of the redemption
will be when the hearts of fathers will be restored to their
children and the heart of children to their fathers.
"The redemption from Egypt, the root of all redemptions, began
by revealing the wonders of Bnei Yisrael's allegiance to their
families. Just as 'with Yaakov, each man and his household came'
(Shemot 1:1), so, when they left, the sons were attached to their
fathers. 'And it shall be when your children say to you . . .'
(Shemot 12:26 & 13:14). Even the wicked son, although he asks
with chutzpah, he nevertheless bows his head to his father and
grandfather and awaits an answer. (Mei Marom: Ma'ayanei
Ha'yeshuah, Ikvita De'meshicha Ch. 2)
R' Moshe Isserles z"l ("Rema") writes of a custom to read part
of the haggadah on the Shabbat before Pesach. Why? The Vilna
Gaon z"l explains that it was on that day that our ancestors set
aside animals for the Korban Pesach; thus, it can be considered
the beginning of their redemption. However, the Vilna Gaon then
rejects this answer based on the following midrash (which is
quoted in the haggadah): "I might think that one can fulfill his
obligation to read the haggadah on the first day of Nissan . . .
but the Torah teaches me that the mitzvah of haggadah applies at
the same hour as the mitzvot of matzah and maror." If the
Shabbat before Pesach has a claim to being the beginning of the
redemption, asks the Vilna Gaon, why does the midrash, which
considers several possibilities for when the seder should be
held, not entertain a suggestion that it should be on Shabbat
R' David Cohen shlita answers this question as follows: The
halachah states that the haggadah should begin with the low point
of Jewish history and build up to the redemption. What is that
low point? Rav (a Talmudic sage) says, "In the beginning, our
ancestors were idol worshippers." Shmuel (another sage) says,
"We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt." What is the basis of their
dispute? R' Cohen suggests that they disagree whether the
primary redemption was spiritual (Rav) or physical (Shmuel).
Such a disagreement would be consistent with other disputes
between them, such as whether mashiach will come as a result of
our repentance (Rav) or suffering (Shmuel).
Ramban, in his Torah commentary, appears to accept Rav's view,
for he writes as follows (in explaining why the building of the
mishkan is described in the book of Exodus): "Even though our
ancestors had left Egypt, they were not yet free until they had
built a mishkan and Hashem's Presence rested among them." When
did the redemption start? Perhaps Rav would say that it started
on the day when the Korban Pesach was set aside (i.e. Shabbat
Hagadol), since the purpose of the Korban Pesach was to free Bnei
Yisrael from their spiritual bondage. When Rema writes of the
custom to read the haggadah on Shabbat Hagadol, he is accepting
the view of Rav, as Ramban did before him. As for the midrash
which troubled the Vilna Gaon, perhaps that represents the
opinion of Shmuel and others who disagree with Rav.
(Mas'at Kapi II, p.60)
The material that follows is adapted from the forthcoming book
The Haftarah: Laws, Customs and History
by Hamaayan's Editor-in-Chief
The Day's Special Name
The Shabbat before Pesach is called "Shabbat Hagadol." Some
say that the name derives from the great ("gadol") miracle which
happened on that day, i.e., that Bnei Yisrael set aside sheep,
which the Egyptians worshiped, for the Korban Pesach, and the
Egyptians were powerless to stop them.
(Shulchan Aruch O.C. 430:1)
R' Moshe of Przemsyl (Poland; 16th century) writes: if the
Shulchan Aruch's explanation were really the origin of the name,
the day would be called "Shabbat Rabbah," because the Jews of old
spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. Rather, R' Moshe writes, the name
"Shabbat Hagadol" is taken from the haftarah which many
communities read on this day.
Specifically, the haftarah that is read contains the final
prophecy of the last prophet. In it, that prophet (Malachi)
rebukes Bnei Yisrael for their laxity in performing mitzvot. He
warns that the Day of Judgment will come, and that it will then
be apparent to all who has been found to be worthy and who has
not. The haftarah concludes: "Behold, I will send to you
Eliyahu Hanavi, before the coming of the great ('gadol') and
awesome day of G-d"-i.e., the day of the final judgment and
redemption. We prepare for the celebration of the first
redemption from exile by reading of the future, Final Redemption,
and the day on which we read of the "Yom Hagadol" is known as
"Shabbat Hagadol." (On the other hand, writes R' Moshe, if the
day were named only for the haftarah it would be called "Shabbat
V'arvah" after the haftarah's first word; thus, the reason cited
by Shulchan Aruch above is needed as well.)
(Mateh Moshe 542)
R' Yissachar Yaakovson z"l (Israel; 20th century) suggests the
following additional connection between the haftarah and the
occasion: Pesach, more than any other holiday, is a family-
oriented celebration. Eliyahu Hanavi, the haftarah tells us,
will work to reunite families and "restore the heart of fathers
to children and the heart of children to their fathers" (Malachi
R' Mendel Hirsch z"l (son of R' S.R. Hirsch; died 1901) writes
that, in fact, the verse just quoted should be translated, "He
will turn the thoughts of fathers towards their sons, and the
thoughts of sons towards their fathers." The accomplishment of
Eliyahu Hanavi will be that he will bridge the generation gap
which has so divided society.
(The Hirsch Chumash Vol. VI, p. 575.)
When Is This Special Haftarah Read?
There are varying customs regarding when this haftarah is or is
not read. Specifically, some read this haftarah on every Shabbat
Hagadol, some read it only when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat,
some only when Erev Pesach does not fall on Shabbat, and some
never read it.
(See Sefer Maharil [Machon Yerushalayim ed.] p. 417)
R' Mordechai Jaffe z"l (Poland; died 1612) offers the following
explanation for the custom to read this haftarah only when
Shabbat Hagadol falls on Erev Pesach: the very reason that this
haftarah is read at all is that it contains a reminder to bring
ma'aser, a mitzvah whose deadline is Erev Pesach (every third
(Levush Malchut O.C. 430:1)
Among the chassidic rebbes who followed Levush's view was R'
Menachem Mendel of Rimanov z"l (died 1815). However, R' Menachem
Mendel gave a different reason for this custom.
As mentioned above, this haftarah refers to the coming of
Eliyahu. R' Mendel of Rimanov argues that Eliyahu is most likely
to appear on Erev Pesach which falls on Shabbat. On the one
hand, we believe that mashiach will come on Pesach and Eliyahu
will precede mashiach. On the other hand, the gemara (Eruvin
43b) says that Eliyahu will not come on erev yom tov so as not to
distract us from holiday preparations. When, then, can he come?
asks R' Mendel. On Erev Pesach which falls on Shabbat, when all
of our preparations have been made on the day before.
(Menachem Zion: Shabbat Hagadol)
The Vilna Gaon's custom was to read this haftarah only if Erev
Pesach fell on a weekday. Rav Yissachar Ber of Vilna explains
that there is no purpose to giving a reminder about ma'aser on
Erev Pesach which is Shabbat; by then, it already is too late to
bring the tithes from home. Only if some weekdays separate the
reading and Erev Pesach is the reminder helpful.
(Ma'aseh Rav 176, with the commentary Peulat Sachir)
R' Chaim David Halevi z"l (Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv) notes that
the above explanation is correct only according to the view that
the deadline for bringing ma'aser is Erev Pesach. However, some
say that it is the sixth day of Pesach.
(Aseh Lecha Rav, Vol. II, siman 32)
Aaron and Rona Lerner, in memory of their fathers
Avraham ben Yaakov Hakohen a"h
and Yaakov Yonah ben Yisroel a"h