Jews from The Netherlands don’t know Hebrew but they do know Dikduk — Hebrew Grammar. However, often people who are excellent in Hebrew do not even know the most basic simple Dikduk.
Shabbat haGadol is the Shabbat before Pesach. Shabbat is female, so shouldn’t it be: shabbat gedola? Gadol / gedolah means “great” (m/f).
Rabbi Adin ben Rivka Leah Steinsaltz (may he have a complete recovery, speedily and in our days, together with all the sick we Jews care about) once suggested tongue in cheek, that this Gadol could refer to the lengthy sermons on that Shabbat which make the day seem go on forever. These preachings should help people repent, just like those on the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, but most of the time they are just hot air, jointly creating what we know in Israel as: chamsin: 50 days in spring and autumn of heat waves. Could that be?
No, Shabbat haGadol does not mean the Great Shabbat because hagadol here is not an adjective but a noun. And the ha- here is not the definite pronoun “the” (what it normally is) but is part of the s’michut construction, which makes one definite noun possessive of another one. (If it’s three or more definite nouns in a row, only the last one get the ha- – if it needs that to become definite.)
A few easy examples will clarify this all. Don’t panic. It won’t get more complicated than this! The Hebrew words I’ll use are: sus = horse, melech = king, ha- = the, shel = of, and there is no Hebrew for: a.
hasus shel hamelech = the horse of the king, but also:
sus hamelech = the horse of the king – in the s’michut construction does not need shel or the first ha-
sus hamelech ≠ (a) horse of the king, because for that there is a second s’michut construction type:
sus lemelech – though that also could mean: (a) horse to a king
sus david = the horse of David (David is a definite noun without the or ha-)
sus melech david = the horse of King David (three nouns in a row).
Therefore: Shabbat haGadol means: The Shabbat of the Great – what was so fantastic? The Miracles that happened on the Shabbat before the Exodus from Egypt, which we acknowledge and celebrate every years on our Shabbat before Pesach.
Same story for the greeting Shabbat Shalom.
It’s not shabbat sh’loma, because Shalom here is a noun too. [I wish you] a Shabbat of Peace should actually be: shabbat leshalom, as we saw in the example above. However, that could also mean: a Shabbat towards peace, and we do not want to bless someone half-way.
A similar case we see in the First Blessing of our Main Prayer:
go’eil livnei veneihem = literally: (a) Redeemer to-sons-of their-sons, which (no doubt on purpose) could mean two things:
(a) Redeemer for the sons of their sons, or even more hopeful, actually:
a Redeemer of the sons of their sons.
Bonus remark: In the s’michut construction, the first nouns(s) sometimes change(s). Shabbat in s’michut has twice the vowel patach. So even for Charedim:
no: shabbos hagodoil, but: shabbas hagodoil
no: shabbos sholoim, but: shabbas sholoim.
Easier: Gut Shabbos!
In the Hymn after a bread meal we mention on Shabbat: hashabbat hagadol vehakadosh haze – this great and holy Shabbat, all in the male. Should this not be: hashabbat hagedolah vehakedoshah hazot – all in the female?
Well, this was a trick question, because it actually says: this Seventh day of the Shabbat, of the Great, and of the Holy – and “day” in Hebrew is male.
The Sages of Old knew Hebrew. They helped us by giving us a set prayer text because they saw that we don’t. We still need to read it as it says (to actually say what they had in mind) and understand it.
Shabbat haGadol Shalom!