Parshat Ki Tisa

By Rabbi Beth Lieberman, ’15

“There are few ideas in the world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath. Aeons hence, when of many of our cherished theories only shreds remain, that cosmic tapestry will continue to shine.”

— Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath 


Out of all the peak moments in Ki Tisa: the construction of the Mishkan, the molten calf episode, and Moses delivering God’s Aseret HaDibrot to the people, let us not overlook one of Judaism’s most enduring teachings that is here also—the designation of Shabbat.


As it is written in Exodus 31: 12And GOD said to Moses: 13Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I GOD have consecrated you. 14You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you….15Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to GOD….16The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: 17it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days GOD made heaven and earth, [before] ceasing from work and being refreshed on the seventh day.


I need a reset every seven days, especially on those extraordinarily challenging weeks. Shabbat is that reset. It is a gift to be able to halt the pace and to connect with people I don’t get to spend time with otherwise. It is an opportunity to speak with my kids, who live out of town, and to bless them. On Shabbat I take the time for deep reading in order to nourish my soul.

According to the sages of the Talmud, we are meant to refrain from 39 categories of work (deriving the melachot from the activities involved in construction of the Mishkan). My personal practice is more conceptual, yet its overarching frame is similar: to remind us that God has given us everything we have—including our abilities of skill, our powers of intellect, and our creative energies. As Heschel writes, the “spiritual power” of Shabbat endures — and the Jewish people are living testimony of its value.