Investment of Shabbat helps restore the soul

Rabbi Dale Schreiber is a chaplain providing Jewish care coordination for Pathways Hospice and Palliative Care and has a private practice, Renewal-in-Action, specializing in resiliency, spiritual development and compassion fatigue recovery.


Ki Tisa begins when you lift the head of the B’nei Yisrael. To an ancient listener, “lifting the head” signified a census. This one indicated who would contribute toward building the Tent of Meeting, where the Divine Presence would rest in the midst of Israel. 

The text goes on to tell us that all who contributed a specified amount were equally obligated to build a sacred space. In other words, all were equal in their responsibility irrespective of their wealth. The purpose of the mandatory donation was to redeem or ransom the soul.

A more contemporary interpretation of the opening verse is, by several thousand years, when you elevate the mind of the People of Israel. There is a great difference between counting heads versus elevating consciousness. One is quantifiable. One is beyond measure.

The elevation of the Jewish mind began with instructions given to Moses while sequestered on top of a small mountain. Ki Tisa has rather detailed descriptions about building the Mikdash (sacred place). Moses was instructed regarding who would or could contribute and which group would administer it. These are the quantifiable elements about how to serve God. The text pays close attention also to the artistry involved in creating it. It was to be both beautiful and relevant to the needs of its time. Its ultimate purpose would serve to elevate communal consciousness about the importance of right actions at the appropriate times. Ostensibly these details were a way of pleasing God, but in reality they fulfilled a very human need.

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Immediately after the instructions regarding the artistry needed to build a sacred center, the text refers to the importance of Shabbat. The Sabbath is first introduced at the end of the Creation Story. Rabbinic commentary found parallels connecting the origins of life with the origins of Jewish life. As creation took seven days to complete, the building of Judaism’s most sacred center was instructed in seven paragraphs. Both Creation and the Mikdash were constructed according to Divine design. The Sabbath and the Mikdash invoked blessings upon completion, and both were designated as holy.

The Temple’s holiness in the ancient Jewish world is unquestionable. It was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago. The rabbis, in their wisdom, transferred its sanctity to the human heart. The human heart became a holy sanctuary, commissioned to elevate Israel’s communal mind in the effort to repair the works of creation that include the human soul.

The original Sabbath was an innovation describing the necessity of a time-out to perfect what Rebbe Yitzchak Levi calls the gaze of appreciation. Even God took time to see the distance traveled in creative endeavor. The Sabbath was introduced not as a time of no work, but as a wellspring in time within which to disconnect from the gaze of appropriation. The Sabbath is a strategy releasing all from the bondage of never-ending workdays, an eternal mandate for reconnecting to the beauty of the world and each other.

Ki Tisa gives us the legacy in the words of our song V’Shamru. U’vayom hashvi-i, shavat v’yinafash, and on the seventh day the world was resouled. The commandments to remember and observe a Sabbath are investments, according the S’fat HaEmet, that elevate our behavior during the work week. 

Is that not an investment with a grand return? Take this precious time to redeem and restore your precious self: body, mind and soul.

Rabbi Dale Schreiber is a chaplain providing Jewish care coordination for Pathways Hospice and Palliative Care and has a private practice, Renewal-in-Action, specializing in resiliency, spiritual development and compassion fatigue recovery.