Shabbos HaGadol was the beginning of the Redemption and the miracles (Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 430:4)
בשבת הגדול היתה התחלת הגאולה והנסים – שלחן ערוך אדה”ז סת”ל סק”ד
A number of miraculous events are attributed to the Shabbos that preceded the exodus from Egypt, earning the Shabbos before Pesach the title Shabbos Hagadol, the Great Shabbos. Yet the Alter Rebbe, Rav Schneur Zalman of Liadi, cites only one of these miracles in his Shulchan Aruch: “When the Jews took the lambs for their Pesach offerings on that Shabbos, the gentile firstborns assembled and inquired why they were doing so. They responded, ‘This is our Pesach offering, for G-d shall slay the Egyptian firstborns.’ The firstborn went to their fathers and to Pharaoh and demanded that they liberate the Jews. They refused, and the firstborn declared war against them and killed many of them.”
It is particularly this miracle that is commemorated by Shabbos Hagadol, according to the Alter Rebbe, because this demand and uprising from within the Egyptian rank and file marked the start of the actual exodus. In the Alter Rebbe’s words in the subsequent paragraph, “because Shabbos Hagadol was the beginning of the redemption.”
This explanation also provides deeper insight into the name Shabbos Hagadol.
Shabbos is both “a remembrance of the creation of the world” (see Shemos 20:11), and “a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt” (see Devarim 5:15). The acknowledgement of G-d’s rest on the seventh day of creation emphasizes Shabbos’ contribution to the creation: “to instill in our souls the belief in the world’s deliberate creation” (Sefer Hachinuch). The second aspect of resting on Shabbos, however, pays tribute to G-d’s redemption of the Jewish people from the harsh labor in Egypt, and represents Shabbos of transcendence of creation. It draws attention to Shabbos’s unique relationship with the Jewish people (and not the world as a whole), and to the redemption from Egypt, which utterly defied the rules of nature.
Accordingly, the Shabbos before Pesach is not only “The Shabbos of great miracles,” but “The Great Shabbos.” For this Shabbos marks the launch of the redemption, whose commemoration on Shabbos is the greater aspect of Shabbos. Hence, the war waged by the Egyptians to procure freedom for the Jews is the event that made Shabbos truly great.
—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 37, pp. 9-12
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