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Parashat Ki Tisa: The Spirit of Shabbat

Excerpted from Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider’s Torah United: Teachings on the Weekly Parasha from Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and the Chassidic Masters, co-published by OU Press and Ktav Publishing House

The Spirit of Shabbat

One mitzvah enshrined in the Ten Commandments is Shabbat. When God commanded us to keep Shabbat, He referred to it in the singular:
“Remember the day of Shabbat ( השַַּׁבתָּ )” (Exodus 20:7). Why now, in Ki Tisa, does the Torah say, “observe My Sabbaths ( שַׁבתְּותֹיַ )” (Exodus 31:13)?

On a simple level, one can say it merely refers to the many Sabbaths of the year. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, however, suggested in his
Ha-Ketav ve-ha-Kabalah that the use of the plural is to refer to the two aspects of Shabbat, one of which leads to the other: the resting of the
body by observing Shabbat’s intricate laws engenders the tranquility necessary for the soul to delve into spiritual matters. Shabbat is, ultimately, a Besinnungstag, “a day of reflection.” Rabbi Mecklenburg added that this might be the meaning of the aggadic statement that Mashiach will come when the Jewish people observe two Sabbaths. Perhaps it does not mean two separate occurrences of Shabbat, but the perfect integration of the two aspects by all on a single Sabbath.

In a similar vein, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook emphasized the beauty of Shabbat as a day which improves the quality of life for the Jew and for the Jewish people as a whole. He taught that we need to recover from the negative effects of the materialistic, physical world that oftentimes weakens our pure inner essence. Shabbat provides us a sanctuary in time in which to regain our balance, and in its wholesomeness our souls reconnect to their true source:

The pressure of growth and the perfection of life requires actualization by providing a space in which to take a rest and shake off the bustle of everyday affairs. The individual can recover from mundane living at frequent intervals – every Sabbath.

Prior to the onset of Shabbat, the Sages prescribe checking our pockets to remove any item that may not be carried on the sacred day. Rav Kook interpreted this as more than a sensible measure against sin. Shabbat helps us align our inner sentiments and ideals of truth, sensitivity, and sanctity with our activity in the outer world, so that the two operate in harmony. The Mishnah says that a person needs to check their beged, which literally means “clothing,” but it can also be homiletically linked to the word for the unfaithful, boged. When we usher in Shabbat, we are to ask ourselves if anything picked up during the week needs to be removed from our lives. Are our thoughts and actions of the six weekdays in consonance with our convictions and core beliefs?

As we make sure the preceding week is in concord with the culminating Shabbat, we also must bring Shabbat into the following week. When we recite Havdalah, we formally mark the conclusion of Shabbat. The Midrash remarks about the tent of our matriarch Sarah, “a candle would burn from Shabbat eve to Shabbat eve.” Why was this the case if the Shabbat candles are only intended to remain lit for Shabbat? The idea seems to be that for Sarah the impact of Shabbat went well beyond Shabbat itself; the light and aura of the holy day informed her home for the rest of the week.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, a rabbi of note who was Rav Kook’s contemporary, once commented on the prevalent custom of not giving Havdalah wine to women. He suggested that the reason for this is that practice of our matriarch Sarah, to transfer the qualities of Shabbat into the week. By abstaining from the Havdalah wine that marks the end of Shabbat, she symbolically extends the spirit of Shabbat into the work week.

Shabbat gives us the opportunity to figure out who we really are as a person and what makes a difference in our lives, and to reevaluate our life’s direction at regular intervals. Rav Kook quoted a verse from Parashat Ki Tisa, “Between Me and the Children of Israel it is an everlasting sign” (Exodus 31:17), in his description of the exquisite nature of Shabbat:

A holy day, on which is revealed the inclination of the nation – the inclination towards divine living – in its individuals. It is a sign to the nation that its soul naturally has the need and capacity to bask in the divine. The divine delight, which draws itself into the spiritual point that is the neshamah yeterah (extra soul), rests in the heart of every one of its children.