For most of us, our birthday is one of the happiest days of our year. It is a day devoted to celebrating us, for others to say that they love us. It is a day of exciting celebration which centres around us.
My teacher, Rabbi Lichtenstein zt"l once remarked that birthdays, anniversaries, and similar times are good days for celebration, but it is also important to take stock. They are wonderful times to look back on the past year and examine our progress and achievements. What do we think we achieved and what we would like to do next? One such anniversary approaches us. It is the anniversary of when the Jews left Egypt. But first, there is another, less famous but also important date.
The anniversary of the first time that we asserted ourselves as an independent people. The anniversary of when we bought the Pesach sacrifice in preparation for Pesach night. According to many opinions, this happened on Shabbat HaGadol.
Unlike Pesach, Shabbat HaGadol is not about what G-d did for us, because he hadn't yet taken us out of Egypt. Instead, it is about what we did for ourselves, and for those around us. It's about how we asserted our independent will and began to form our community. Shabbat HaGadol is a sacred, wonderful time when we celebrate not just our faith, but our Jewishness.
As we enter the headiest part of the Pesach season, as we clean and kasher our kitchens, as we prepare our divrei Torah for the seder, let's also remember that there is another side to this season. We will soon celebrate what was done for us, and how we went free from slavery. But first, we get to mark, mention, talk about, and commemorate that internally, we were already free before. We get to celebrate our independent thought and think about how we will use it for good in the future.