Every year, the Shabbat before Pesach (Passover) is referred to as Shabbat HaGadol (The great sabbath). This is because, according to tradition, the 10th of Nisan, five days before the exodus, was a Saturday. In addition, the Haftarah (a section from the Writings or Prophets read after the Torah in synagogue) is from Malachi and describes the “great day” of God on which the Messiah will appear.

Normally, it is an especially important Shabbat to gather in the synagogue but this year, due to pandemic restrictions, Jews will be observing the sabbath separately. In response to this, an open letter from eleven Chief Rabbis from around the world compares this Shabbat Hagadol to the Shabbat before the Exodus when Jewish families sat alone in their homes in Egypt.

Letter rabbis Shabbat HaGadol

“Shabbat HaGadol was first celebrated at the birth of the Jewish people, moments before the dawn of our deliverance from Egyptian slavery,” they said. “Every Jewish family, alone in their homes in Egypt, sat fervently anticipating the united dream of deliverance and nationhood. Now 3,332 years later, this Shabbat HaGadol, we too sit isolated in our own homes, once again united in our fervent prayer for relief from the global pandemic that has shaken our world to its core.”

“In our heroic global quest to protect each other, we find ourselves physically cut off from one another,” they said. “Many of us are completely alone. Call or message someone you know who is alone or struggling, wish them Shabbat Shalom and offer them words of support and encouragement. There is so much we cannot do at this time, but let’s not underestimate the power we have to uplift, encourage and support one another. Pray for each other just before candle-lighting. As the devastation of COVID-19 sweeps across the world, so many people need our prayers.”

Urging a “disconnect from the relentless news cycle for a precious 25 hours,” they said: “This is a time for us to rally together in unity. This is a time for us to be together, to welcome Shabbat in together, as one people with one heart.”

Full list of signatories:

  • Rabbi David Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel
  • Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Afric
  • Rabbi Yizchak Yosef, Chief Rabbi of Israel
  • Rabbi Haïm Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France
  • Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia
  • Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich, Chief Rabbi of Argentina
  • Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, Chief Rabbi of Moscow and President of the Conference of European Rabbis
  • Rabbi Yosef Chehebar, Chief Rabbi of Argentina
  • Rabbi Dr Riccardo Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome
  • Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom
  • Rabbi Albert Guigui, Chief Rabbi of the Chief Rabbi of Brussels