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The Extra Soul of Shabbat

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

In this week’s Torah Portion, God again instructs the Jewish people in the Mitzvot of Shabbat, telling us that it is a sign between Him and the Jewish people that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In expressing this, the Torah uses the language of ‘shavat v’yenifash’. Shavat means resting, but the meaning of vaynifash is not immediately clear. It is normally translated as refreshed, but the Gemara sees an allusion to a very important concept. The Gemara1 states that the word ‘vayinafash’ is a construct of two words – Oi and nefesh, and it alludes to the fact that a person receives an ‘extra soul’ (Neshama yeteira) on Shabbat which leaves at the end of Shabbat. Upon its leaving, the person feels a loss, which is expressed in the words, ‘oi avdah nefesh’ – woe, the soul has been lost. Thus, the Torah is alluding to the fact that a person receives an extra soul on Shabbat, which leaves at the end of Shabbat, causing a feeling of sadness. This is the reason that the Sages decreed that we smell spices as part of the ceremony of Havdala where we acknowledge the end of the holy day of Shabbat – smelling the spices helps alleviate the melancholy that a person experiences upon the loss of the extra soul 2.

There are a number of explanations as to what exactly this extra soul refers to, and how it effects a person on Shabbat. Rashi3 writes that it refers to an enhanced capacity to have serenity and joy, and it gives a person an ability to eat more food. The Shita Mekubetset4 explains that the extra soul gives a person Divine flow that enables him to learn Torah and understand God’s actions on a higher level. The Ben Yehoyada cites the Arizal who states that the extra soul is the crown of light that each Jew received at the Giving of the Torah and which was taken away after the sin of the Golden Calf. Every Shabbat, God returns this crown to each Jew.

The question arises as to whether a Jew also receives the extra soul on Yom Tov. The Gemara5 discusses the order for Havdala and Kiddush on a Yom Tov that begins at the end of Shabbos. Everyone agrees that we do not say the blessing on spices. The Rashbam6 explains that this is because we receive an extra soul on Yom Tov, as well as on Shabbat. Accordingly, there is no need to smell spices, since their purpose is to alleviate a person’s distress at the end of Shabbat when he loses the extra soul, and when Yom Tov falls on the end of Shabbos the extra soul remains.

Totefot7 ask a very strong question on the Rashbam’s opinion. He notes the law that when we say Havdala after a regular Yom Tov, the Sages did not decree that we say a blessing on spices. They conclude that, evidently, the reason for this is that a person does not receive a extra soul on Yom Tov, and therefore he does not need to smell spices at the end of Yom Tov. Why then, does he not smell spices at the end of Shabbat that falls on Yom Tov, if he does indeed lose the extra soul? Totefot explain that the meal that we eat on the night of Yom Tov alleviates our distress in place of the spices, hence the Sages did not include spices as part of the Havdala when Yom Tov falls on then end of Shabbat8.

However, a number of opinions agree with the Rashbam9, that we do indeed receive a extra soul on Yom Tov. How then do they answer the question as to why we do not smell spices on the end of Yom Tov? The Ramban explains that we do receive an extra soul on Yom Tov but it does not leave us at the end of Yom Tov, hence we do not feel the same distress as we do on the end of Shabbos, and there is no need to smell spices. Yet at the same time, on the end of Shabbat that falls on a Yom Tov, there is no need for spices because we have the extra soul of Yom Tov. The question arises as to why the extra soul does leave us after Shabbos, but remains with us after Yom Tov?

In order to answer this, it is first necessary to analyze a fundamental difference between Shabbat and Yom Tov. The holy writings discuss the concepts of “Arousal from Above” and “Arousal from Below”: Arousal from Above refers to time periods where the inspiration is sent from Heaven, as a gift. Arousal from Below refers to time periods were the inspiration begins from this world, which requires human action in order to activate it. Shabbat is characterized by Arousal from Above, whereby its holiness arrives regardless of human input. This is part of what the Sages mean by the expression that, “The Almighty said ‘I have a wonderful present in my treasure house – and it is named Shabbat”. When somebody gives a gift, the recipient does not necessarily have to deserve it – Shabbat is a gift.

In contrast, with regard to Yom Tov, we need to prepare ourselves to achieve the effect that the day is intended to have upon us. This is the meaning of Arousal from Below. This idea is borne out by the fact that man defines when each Yom Tov begins, based on how he organizes the calendar, whereas the timing of Shabbat is not defined by man. Yom Tov is not a gift, like Shabbat, rather it is something that must be earnt.

Based on this understanding, the Kedushat Levi10 and Sfat Emes11 explain why, according to the Ramban, the extra soul does not leave after Yom Tov. The reason is that since it is earnt by the person’s preparations for Yom Tov, he merits keeping it forever. Whereas, the extra soul of Shabbat is essentially a gift, hence the person has not earnt the right to keep it forever.

We have seen that the extra soul of Shabbat comes regardless of human input. Yet, one Scholar points out that if a person does not feel a special holiness on Shabbat, it means that he has not tapped into his extra soul. The reason for this may be that he has not done enough preparation to make Shabbat a holy experience, and that on Shabbat itself, he does not treat it with the sanctity that it deserves. If someone looks at Shabbat as merely an opportunity to sleep more, eat more, and catch up on the news, then it is likely that he will not feel its holiness. But if he treats it with its due reverence, and focuses on learning more, talking Torah at the meals, and spending time with his family, then he will surely tap into its holiness to a far higher degree. This applies all the more so to the Yamim Tovim, where a person only merits the extra soul by earning it through preparation. This seems to refer, in addition to preparing for the Yom Tov on a physical level, to learning the ideas and laws of the Yom Tov so that he can properly appreciate it.

May we merit to feel the holiness of every Shabbat and Yom Tov.

  1. Beitsah, 16a.
  2. Tosefos, Beitsah, 33b, Dh: Ki havinan.
  3. Beitsah, 16a, Dh: Neshama yeseira.
  4. Ibid, Dh: Nassan.
  5. Pesachim, 102b.
  6. Ibid. Dh: UShmue.l
  7. Ibid. Dh: Rav amar.
  8. The Rashba, Shut, Chelek 3, Simun 290; Rosh, Pesachim, Simun 9 and Shibbolei Leket, Seder Pesach, SImun 218, hold the same way.
  9. Ramban, HaEmunah Vehabitachon, Chapter 21; Derech Aniyah, Pesachim, 102b, Dh: Rav; Kedushas Levi, Drush LePesach.
  10. Drush L’Pesach.
  11. Cited by the Dvar Shmuel al Tosefos, Pesachim, 102b.

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