Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Tzav-Shabbos Hagadol The “Gift”

The Shabbos before Passover is called Shabbos Hagadol-the Great Shabbat. Many reasons are given for this nomenclature but what concerns us is that it has a special Haftorah. It is taken from one of the last books of the Bible, Malachi and opens with a verse that is the final sentence of the Amida (Silent Prayer); Then the Mincha (flour offering) of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem as in the days of old and in previous years. Why was the Mincha offering stressed above all other sacrifices? Also, why is only an offering made from flour called Mincha, which literally means “gift.” (see Genesis 32:14; 43:15)

The answer tells us something about the way we view what we possess. Concerning animal offerings, a person might naturally understand that the animals belong to G-d. The owner had nothing to do with bringing them into the world, and even if the animal had no owner, they would still reproduce and be able to feed and sustain themselves. (The only reason the owner feeds them is for his owner personal benefit so that they work better.) In the final analysis, an animal’s owner merely has more rights to the animal than non-owners but being as G-d brings animals into the world and sustains them, He has more rights to them than anyone else.

Conversely, to produce flour, a person has to implement several different laborious actions such as plowing, sowing, reaping, grinding, and properly storing it. An animal can exist intendent of its owner but flour must be the product of humans. This might lead the owner to the mistaken conclusion that (s)he is the real creator of the flour. However, the thinking person realizes that there was a Creator of the raw material from which the flour was made and that same Creator granted its owner the strength and wisdom to carry out the production of the flour.

When a person offers a Mincha, flour offering, he is truly showing that all he has really belongs to G-d. He is giving a “gift” to G-d because his own efforts played an integral role in the creation of the flour. This also explains why the afternoon prayer service is called Mincha. When a person takes time out of his or her day at the heart of the work schedule to pray, (s)he gives up something precious for G-d on a daily basis and demonstrates that it is in his or her mindset that everything belongs to G-d.
The Prophet Malachi lived about 2400 years ago in Jerusalem and prophesized shortly before the 2nd Temple was built. In the verse above, he pleads with G-d that to consider it as if we had legitimately learned the significance of our long exile, which was that G-d, not us, controls all. Malachi was asking G-d to reckon it as if we had brought a Mincha offering; thus making us worthy of redemption.

This idea also holds true of Sabbath observance. Today, the overwhelming majority of Jews do not observe Shabbos and that is due mostly because of they have not been exposed to it. Some have never participated in a traditional Sabbath meal and the various rituals that surround it. Others think that the Sabbath is something that revolves solely around the synagogue and is significant only for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah but this special day has its roots in the idea we are discussing. When a person chooses to observe Shabbos, (s)he demonstrates that (s)he is not in control, G-d is. We have six days every week to create, build, and have an impact on the world but one day is set aside for us to impact ourselves. That day affords us the time to realize that as hard as we plan, implement and work, ultimately G-d is the source of it all. It takes a lot of work to create flour, but we offer it to the Almighty; we work hard the entire week but “offer” one day to the idea that we are not the source of it all.

We no longer have a Mincha offering but we do have the Mincha (afternoon) prayer service and the Sabbath, both of which give grant us the opportunity to give G-d a “gift” and demonstrate that our most precious moments belong to Him. Whether it is the heat of our busy day (afternoon) or week (Sabbath), we acknowledge that it all belongs to G-d. Giving charity becomes much easier when we have this attitude and so does giving of our time because we realize that ultimately, it’s not ours. When we understand that it is a Divine gift, we feel that we gaining, not losing, by giving.

This Shabbos is called the “Great Shabbath,” Shabbos HaGadol. Whether you are in shul or somewhere else, spend a moment to think about the Mincha offering and its significance. Ask yourself, do I really own this or that; can it be taken away from me or lost? If it causes us to be even a bit more humble and benevolent, then this truly will be the Shabbos HaGadol, (Great Shabbath).

(Source: Bastion of Faith, by Rabbi Avraham Fishelis, based on the lectures of Rav Moshe Feinstein pp. 233-234)

Good Shabbos