Every year, the Shabbat before the holiday of Pesach is celebrated as Shabbat HaGadol, the “great Shabbat.” What is the essence of this Shabbat? what makes Shabbat HaGadol so special? The answer may reveal a key message regarding Ge’ulah, a critical theme during the month of Nisan.
The Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 16:3) writes that at the time of the Ge’ulah from Mitzrayim, the date on which the Jews took the lamb for the Korban Pesach, the tenth of Nisan, was actually a Shabbat. They took the lamb early so that the Egyptians would ask why they had tied up a sheep, and the Jews would respond that they were offering the lambs to the God that was going to kill the Egyptian firstborn. This would cause people to demand that Par’oh release the Jewish slaves. On a related but different note, the Tur (Orach Chaim 430) comments that the lamb was worshipped by the Mitzriyim, and that tying it up and then telling the Egyptians that they were sacrificing it was an exercise in faith and belief for the Jews. Before the Jews left Mitzrayim, they had to totally renounce the Egyptian religion, as well as demonstrate to the Egyptians that they were independent of their former masters, not afraid of them at all.
This dual explanation of the meaning of Shabbat HaGadol is related to the answer of another famous question asked regarding Pesach: What is the purpose of the Ten Makkot? Why doesn’t Hashem simply take the Jews out of Egypt and ignore the Egyptians’ attempt to stop them from leaving? The answer is twofold. The purpose of the Makkot is to change the Jews’ perception of themselves, as well as the Egyptians’ perception of them. They have to view themselves as having some influence, and the Egyptians had to start to see the power of Hashem very clearly. Only with Hashem’s overt presence in the Makkot was each group, the Egyptians and the Jews, able to see Hashem.
Thus, there is a theme in the events surrounding the Ge’ulah that have a dual significance: Jews having a positive view of themselves, and the Egyptians seeing the Jews in a different light than they had previously. This theme is important to us now, and whenever we do Mitzvot we must be aware of our perception of ourselves, and how it changes the way non-Jews see us. In this way, may we merit to see the final Ge’ulah soon.