In all matters, when there are several or more, there is one that is greater than the others.
There are seven skies — and the greatest of them is named Aravos. Of all the celestial lights, the greatest is the sun. Of all the lands, the greatest is Eretz Yisrael, of the cities, it is Yerushalayim.
Moshe Rabbeinu was the greatest of all the prophets. Of the wise men, the greatest was Shlomo Hamelech. Dovid Hamelech was the greatest of all the mortal kings.
The month of Nisan is the greatest of all months. Shavuos — the day of Kabbalas HaTorah — is the greatest of all Yamim Tovim, for the Torah includes all the Moadim.
Of all the days of the year, Rosh Hashanah is the first, and the Yom Hadin. Of all the years in the fifty-year cycle, the year of Yovel is the greatest.
Of the days of the week, Shabbos is the greatest, and of all the Shabbosos — it is Shabbos Hagadol.
What makes this Shabbos so special?
One approach is because it was on their last Shabbos in Egypt that the bnei Yisrael began to keep Shabbos. This had long been a day of rest for them — Moshe Rabbeinu had convinced Paroh to give them this day off from their backbreaking labor. But mired in the depths of impurity, the Bnei Yisrael didn’t keep Shabbos as a mitzvah from Hashem, but rather, as a desperately needed vacation day.
As they awaited their imminent redemption, the Bnei Yisrael were commanded by Hashem that on this Shabbos — the tenth day of Nisan — to take a lamb and tie it their beds.
This was the first mitzvah they had been given, and this was the first Shabbos they kept as a mitzvah from Hashem.
A second explanation:
Chazal (Shavuos 47b) teach us that the reason the Torah refers to the Euphrates river as the “great river” (Devarim 1:7) is because of its proximity to Eretz Yisrael.
“Touch one anointed [with oil] and you will be anointed as well,” Chazal [ibid] tell us, for the oil with rub off on the second person.
This Shabbos is named “Hagadol,” because of its proximity to the lofty and great Yom Tov of Pesach. (Based on the teachings of Harav Eliyahu Ismari, zt”l, author of the Shevet Mussar and numerous other sefarim.)
This reminds of us of how much we grow by basking in the presence of spiritual giants. Through observing the actions of our Gedolim, and cleaving to tzaddikim, this paves a path for all of us to attain greatness.
The Slonimer Rebbe, the Beis Avraham, zy”a, used a powerful parable, originally told by his great-grandfather the Yesod Ha’Avodah, zy”a, to teach about the uniqueness of this Shabbos.
A king once made a royal feast. After the nobles and the palace servants ate their fill, there was still a tremendous amount of food left over. The food was then offered to the general population, who ate their fill, but there were still leftovers after that.
It was decided that it would be an act of disrespect to the king to discard food that had been prepared for a royal banquet, so all those imprisoned in the jail — including criminals who had rebelled against His Majesty — were invited to come and partake of the meal.
The kindness of Hashem is infinite, and therefore it extends to all — even those who have fallen the farthest.
The Slonimer Rebbe says this is why this Shabbos is known as Shabbos Hagadol, the “Great Shabbos.” For it is a very great and holy time for everyone to draw close to Hashem. It is a time when even those who are on the weakest of spiritual levels, those who have sinned grievously and rebelled in the past, can purify themselves on this Shabbos before Yom Tov.
On a somewhat lighter note, Harav Elimelech Biderman, shlita, relates a unique explanation as to why this Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Hagadol.
In many Jewish homes, because the room in which they usually eat the Shabbos meals has already been cleaned of chametz, the family “moves out” into another, often more crowded part of the home.
Any actions that involve subservience, that include being mevater on one’s own preferences for the benefit of a cause or the feelings of another, deserves to be titled “Great.”
May we merit to have the wisdom to take full advantage of this lofty Shabbos and properly spiritually prepare ourselves for the glorious Yom Tov.