This weekend I went away with a few girlfriends to celebrate one friend’s milestone birthday. There we were, a group of Jewish women in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, tasting hard cider, wine and moonshine, and I began to think about the concept of vacation.
Many consider vacation as an opportunity to recharge one’s batteries. In English, vacate means to leave, get out of, make empty. And one can think about vacation as a way to take leave from the burdens of every day, to get out of the daily grind, to empty oneself.
In Hebrew, we can think of it with a slightly different nuance. The word for vacation, נוֹפֵשׁ (nofesh), shares a root, נ – פ – שׁ, nun-fay-shin, with the word soul, נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh). What a lovely thought.
Nefesh is considered the level of consciousness that is tied up in awareness of the physical, both the body and the world. Our living soul animates us. It helps us feel alive.
The Torah divides the soul into three parts, neshama (breath), ruach (wind) and nefesh (rest). The last is addressed “in the verse, ‘On the seventh day, [God] ceased work and rested (nafash).’ (Exodus 31:17).” From this resting state, this state of inaction, we arrive at vacation.