Ari Sacher

“Vacation” Parashat Ki Tisa 5778

Israelis go on two types of holidays. One type is called a “tiyul”, or “excursion”. A tiyul is spent overseas seeing as many sights as possible in the allotted time. The other type of holiday is called a “nofesh”, or “vacation”. A nofesh is usually spent at a resort, either in Israel or overseas, where every possible need that a person might have is taken care of by the resort staff. The only thing that a person on nofesh must worry about is whether he should lie on his belly or on his back. Vacations are so important that the Torah commands us to take them on a weekly basis [Shemot 23:12]: “Six days you shall do your work but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your maidservant’s son and the stranger shall be refreshed”. The word “refreshed” is the translation for the word “ve’yinafesh” as per “The Complete Jewish Bible” on The translation makes sense: a person takes a vacation so that he can refresh himself. On Shabbat we are commanded to recharge our physical and spiritual batteries by relaxing and by spending time doing the things that we do not do during the week: eating long meals with family, taking an afternoon nap, and learning more Torah than usual.

Parashat Ki Tisa contains the core words of the Kiddush recited each Shabbat morning [Shemot 31:16-17]: “The children of Israel shall observe the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant. Between Me and the children of Israel it is forever a sign that [in] six days Hashem created the heaven and the earth and on the seventh day He ceased (shavat) and va’yinafash.” How should we translate the word va’yinafash? If we use the translation from the previous paragraph, then the verse would be telling us that “Hashem was refreshed”. Well, that doesn’t work. Man needs Shabbat in order to relax whereas Hashem does not need down time. Indeed, both Yonatan ben Uziel and Onkelos, who translated the Torah into Aramaic, address this. Regarding man, they both translate the word ve’yinafesh as “v’yishkot” – “he shall relax”. Regarding Hashem, they both translate the word va’yinafash as “v’nach” – “He rested”[1]. Accordingly, the verse should be read as follows: “…on the seventh day He ceased and desisted from all acts of creation.”

To gain additional insight, we turn to a section of Talmud from Tractate Beitzah [16a]. The issue at hand is whether or not the nations of the world are bound by Shabbat or whether Shabbat is relegated to Am Yisrael only[2]. The Talmud brings the following statement: “Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, gives a person an additional soul on Shabbat eve and at the conclusion of Shabbat removes it from him, as it is stated: “He ceased from work (shavat) and rested (va’yinafash)”. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish [acrostically] expounds the verse as follows: Since he ceased from work (shavat) and his additional soul is removed from him, woe (vai, or oy vey) for the additional soul (nefesh) that is lost.” The commentators offer numerous interpretations for the “additional soul” that a Jew receives each Shabbat. Rashi suggests that it is “a widening of the heart” that gives a person the capability to enjoy physical pleasures:  eating, drinking, and resting. Rav Menachem Meiri, who lived in Spain two hundred years after Rashi, suggests that the additional soul is the capability to concentrate on issues of a spiritual nature, issues that are all too often pushed to the wayside during the week. Any person who has ever kept Shabbat can tell of an indescribable feeling that accompanies him throughout the day. It is a sort of calmness, almost a feeling of Hashem’s hand on your shoulder. Sometimes I don’t want to make Havdalah after Shabbat because I know that as soon as I do, my additional soul will dissipate, leaving behind a kind of emptiness. Indeed, our Sages instituted the blessing over incense (besamim) during Havdalah in order to ease the two-soul to one-soul transition[3].

Prima facie, the Talmud is difficult to understand. The Talmud says “Since he ceased from work and his additional soul is removed from him…” But that’s not what happens! When a person ceases from work at the onset of Shabbat, his additional soul joins him. He does not lose it until the next evening. Why would ceasing from work make him say “oy vey”? The Kotzker Rebbe suggests that on Shabbat a person reflects on his deeds of the past week and when he sees that he has underperformed, he says “Oy vey! How do my deeds justify an additional soul?!” Clearly, this is not the simple interpretation of the Talmud.

A way ahead can be found by looking at the two most popular translations of the Talmud available today: the ArtScroll Schottenstein Talmud and the Steinsaltz Talmud. According to these two translations, the Talmud is not saying “Since he ceased from work and his additional soul is removed from him…” Rather, the Talmud is saying “Since he ceased from work and now Shabbat has concluded and his additional soul is removed from him…” The Talmud is not referring to the onset of Shabbat – it is referring to the conclusion of Shabbat, and so the comment about the additional soul leaving is entirely relevant. What must not slip under our radar is that the Talmud has just informed us that the word “shavat” does not only mean that a person ceases working, it means that Shabbat has also ceased. Let’s fold logic that into our problematic verse: “…[in] six days Hashem created the heaven and the earth and on the seventh day shavat va’yinafash”. Implementing the translation from the Talmud, it must mean that Hashem’s “va’yinafash” – His refreshment – occurred not immediately after He ceased working but only after the first Shabbat had concluded, on the first Saturday night.

While the Torah is very wordy as to what happened from the first Sunday until the first Friday at sunset, it says nothing about the first Saturday night. The Talmud in Tractate Pesachim [54a] tries to fill in the blanks: “On [the first Saturday night] the Holy One blessed be He gave intelligence to Adam… and he brought two stones and ground them together and fire came out of them”. For this reason we light a candle and make the blessing “boreh me’orei ha’esh” – “Who created the lights of the fire” – at Havdalah. A closer look at the Torah, however, shows that something critical happened on the first Saturday night: Hashem “refreshed”. Hashem did not refresh Himself. Rather, Hashem refreshed – He reset – the entire world. On the first Saturday night of creation, Hashem reset the universal clock, and by doing so, He created the concept of a week.

Judaism is a religion of cycles within cycles. The shortest cycle is the day.  Judaism sees each day as a truly new day. Each day we must put on tefillin and pray three times, regardless of what we did yesterday. The daily cycle was established during the six days of creation. The next cycle is the week, which revolves around Shabbat. The additional soul returns once a week, on Friday at sunset. Each week has a different weekly Torah portion. The weekly cycle was established on the first Saturday night. The next cycle is the month, which follows the cycle of the moon. Each month is different. The 15th day of Tishrei is Sukkot while the 15th day of Nissan is Pesach. The monthly cycle was established immediately before the exodus from Egypt. The longest cycle is the yearly cycle, which revolves around Rosh Hashanah, the “New Year”. Each of the cycles is independent of the others. I suggest that the fractal cyclic structure is teaching a critical message: Judaism believes that man has freedom of choice and that no matter how far he has sunk he can choose to renew himself, to reinvent himself. Each day is a new day, each week is a new week, each month is a new month, and each year is a new year. Judaism is rife with beginnings, each one an opportunity for change and each one an opportunity to refresh our lives.


Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5778

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Tzvi ben Freida, and Ezra Rafael ben Devora Rut.

[1] “The Complete Jewish Bible” on does the same.

[2] All non-Jews are bound by the seven mitzvot of the children of Noach. Performance of these mitzvot is required to keep society running. Shabbat is not one of the seven mitzvot of the children of Noach. The Talmud is speaking on an esoteric level.

[3] According to Kabballah, of all the five senses, smell is the only one that impacts the soul. The fragrant smell of the incense soothes the soul at its most difficult time of the week.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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