• Gabbai

Tzav – Shabbat Hagadol – Timing is Everything

The week before Pesach is the hungriest week of the year for Jews. Numerous occasions bring restrictions on eating, but never are they felt as strongly as this week. On fast days we don’t eat at all, but relief comes at the end of the day. On the week of Sukkot we have restrictions on the place of eating, and of course during Pesach itself we have restrictions on the range of foods we can eat. But the week before Pesach is surely the worst. We are, as the Yiddish expression goes, “nisht ahin nisht aher,” neither here nor there. Most Jews have a custom to refrain from eating matzo for 30 days before Pesach, and we have a phobia of crumbs from virtually anything else. The kitchen is being turned over and chametz cooking cannot easily happen, while the Pesach cooking is just getting started and nothing is ready for eating.

On erev Pesach, in homes where everything happens on schedule, there is finally a break. The last preparations are underway, and a more relaxed atmosphere spreads through the home. The house is entirely chametzrein, and the kids are happily crunching kitniyot on the front porch. We can’t wait to get Pesach started but we must wait until nightfall. In the southern hemisphere this can be fairly late (especially this year when daylight savings hasn’t come to an end). In the northern hemisphere when daylight savings begins before Pesach the start time can also run late.

Many of us are accustomed during summer months to begin Shabbat early. There is plenty of latitude for that, and the halacha allows for an early start to Shabbat from late afternoon. We often begin Friday night Kiddush while the sun is still shining and the birds are still chirping. No such allowance is given for Pesach. We must wait until nightfall to begin kiddush. The verse (Ex 12:8) discussing the eating of the Paschal lamb states “And they shall eat the meat on this night, roasted on fire with matzos, and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.”