Parsha Insights

Where Biblical law and Torah tale is brought vividly to life


The Jewish perspective on topical and controversial subjects

Life Cycle

Probing for meaning in our journey and its milestones.

Yearly Cycle

Discover depth and mystique in the annual Jewish festivals

Rabbi’s Desk

Seeking life’s lessons in news items and current events

Home » Passover, Tzav

Shabbat Hagadol: The Humble Rule

Submitted by on March 21, 2010 – 4:40 amNo Comment | 4,634 views

Shabbat and the King

The Shabbat before Passover is known as Shabbat Hagadol, the great Shabbat. Among the reasons for this name is that Passover is itself described in the Torah as Shababt, but it is not as restrictive as a full Shabbat – cooking for example is permissible on Passover – the Shabbat before Passover is thus described as the great Shabbat to inform us that this is a Shabbat in the full sense of the word.

Yet the title great Shabbat, without qualification, implies that it is great not only relative to Passover, but inherently so; great without qualification. The sobriquet “great Shabbat” can only be given to the greatest Shabbat of the year for if this is not the greatest then relative to the one greater this Shabbat would not be great.

To understand the meaning of greatness in the Jewish sense and to learn how to relate this greatness to the Shabbat before Passover we must turn to the other distinction of this part of the month. The first twelve days of the month of Nissan was the inaugural period for the altar.

The altar was inaugurated by offerings from the tribal princes. Within their respective tribes, these princes enjoyed royal status; they were the great men of their tribes. In describing the greatness of royalty Maimonides states, “There is no one above him, but G-d.” This is a curious statement.The Humble Rule It begins by stating that there is no one above him, but concludes by highlighting that he is subject to an authority greater than himself, namely G-d. While both points are true, Maimonides, the renowned word smith, should not have wedged them into the same sentence.

Further, I recently asked a group of people to describe the attributes required of a leader. Qualities such as wisdom, courage and charisma were listed, but humility was not on the list. Maimonides gave himself one sentence to describe kingship and he chose humility. Great leaders must be humble, this is true, but is humility the primary attribute of leadership? When selecting a king should we choose one that is fearless, charismatic, wise and also humble or should we seek the most humble person in the land and hope he is also fearless, charismatic and wise?

Race To The Top

The life we live is one big race; everyone tries to outdo the other. If my neighbor has a pool, I must have a putting green. If my colleague vacationed in Hawaii I must vacation in Peru; ours, is a constant game of one-upmanship.

Hardly anyone is content with a career in the mailroom; everyone wants a corner office. Darwinian wisdom dictates survival of the fittest; the one who makes it to the top is fit to be leader. Spiritual wisdom places the one at the top in the same rat-hole as the one that fell behind; both invested in the foolish race, both are consumed with the game of one-upmanship.

Who belongs at the top? Who is the natural born leader? Those who are unconcerned with their station or reputation; those who are content with simply doing what is right. They don’t need to be on top to feel good. They require neither approbation nor approval. They are content because they know they are living the way life ought to be lived.

Such people are emotionally healthy; serene and at peace. Theirs is a calming, reassuring presence in an ocean of turbulent waves. While others toss about in their headlong rush to the top; these people are steadfast and relaxed because they are content with whom and where they are. They don’t need to rush ahead to find fulfillment; they are fulfilled in their present station.

Others need to look down at those they have bested to know they have reached the top. Such people are not leaders; they are destroyers. They are not the fittest of the group, but the weakest; they need to tread on those lesser than them to feel good about themselves. It is the other type, the ones that are comfortable with themselves, irrespective of station, that are truly strong. These people don’t step over others to reach the top. On the contrary, they sit among their people and are already at the top. These are the natural leaders because, in their presence, we all feel higher and somehow more complete; we are naturally attracted to them.

The King

We now return to the king. The king has reached the highest perch in the country; no one stands above him. But a Jewish king is not selected on the strength of having reached the top; a Jewish king is selected because he does not care to reach the top. He takes himself out of the rat race and does not seek to become the strongest in the bunch. He cares only about serving G-d. This man is as comfortable being king as he would be were he a stable hand – so long as he is free to serve G-d.

No, we are not looking for the most ambitious person in the land nor for the strongest one; not for the Jew is that criteria important in a king. We want someone at the helm who can show us how to live for a higher cause ; how to serve a purpose greater than ourselves. Indeed, the best way to describe a Jewish king is to say there is no one above him, but G-d. No one is above him, not because he has pushed everyone down, but because he has no interest in his station. He cares not that someone is above him or that someone is below him. He cares only to serve G-d. Once he does not care, once he takes himself out of the race, he stands alone; no one above him and no one below him. No one, but G-d.

When you found this person you have also found true strength. You did not seek out the strongest in the land, but in fact you found him. Since he does not feel a need to impress others, he is also not concerned with their support. He does what is right because it is right. He strives for the truth because it is true. He is the truest, strongest, bravest and most ethical person in the land; the best candidate for kingship because in G-d’s world, the humble rule.

The Shabbat

We now return to the great Shabbat. Passover is a festival of glory and significance; it represents freedom, prosperity and nationhood. It is a heady time for the Jewish people; we are at our strongest during this holiday. Shabbat by contrast does not celebrate a high point for Jews; it is a weekly occurrence set in place by G-d. By comparison it seems dull and unimportant.

Along comes the Shabbat before Passover and reminds us where true greatness lies. It has little to do with feeling achievement or greatness; it has everything to do with serving G-d. Shabbat is great because it is established by G-d as the day in which the creator is to be worshiped. No day stands above Shabbat. Not because there is no day more exhilarating; there are many more exhilarating days than Shabbat. Shabbat is great because it does not care to be exhilarating or significant. It cares only to be the day in which G-d is served. Like the Jewish king, there is nothing above it; nothing, but G-d.

This essay is based on a talk given by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Shabbat Hagadol.