Parshas Ki Sisa
By Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Ki Sisa, 5631 and 5638
In the Sfas Emes's first year as the Gerrer Rebbe, Parshas Ki Sisa
coincided with Parshas Pahra. The Rebbe chose to speak mostly on the
topic of Pahra; he presented only a brief Dvar Torah on Ki Sisa. To see
what the Sfas Emes said in his first year, we will start by presenting the
cameo Dvar Torah of 5631. We then proceed to the full-scale ma'amar on Ki
Sisa that he presented in 5638.
Sfas Emes, Ki Sisa 5631
We begin with the third paragraph of the Sfas Emes on Parshas Pahra
and Parshas Ki Sisa of the year 5631. The Sfas Emes repeats a remark
of his Grandfather. The Chidushei HaRim asked: why did Moshe Rabbeinu
have to spend 40 days (and 40 nights) on Har Sinai when he received
the Torah the second time? After all, he had mastered the entire
Torah during his first sojourn of 40 days (and 40 nights).
The Chiddushei HaRim answered his question. He explained that Moshe
Rabbeinu had to learn the entire Torah anew. Why? Because he was now
on a higher level, the level of a ba'al teshuva. At this point, the
Sfas Emes asked a question of his own. How could Moshe Rabbeinu reach
the level of a ba'al teshuva? After all, Moshe Rabbeinu had not sinned
with the golden calf. How could he do teshuva for a sin that he had not
The Sfas Emes explains that Moshe Rabbeinu had such empathy with Bnei
Yisroel -- who had sinned and who had done teshuva -- that he, too, had to
receive the Torah in a new way. That is, in a form suitable for people
who are on a very high level in their relationship with HaShem -- a level
higher than that of people who are 'frum from birth', 100 percent tzadikim
Sfas Emes, Ki Sisa, 5638
The Sfas Emes begins this ma'amar by quoting a pasuk (Shemos, 31:13):'Ach
es Shabsosai tishmoru ... ' (ArtScroll: 'However, you must observe my
Sabbaths ... ')
The Sfas Emes is puzzled by the word 'Ach'. So too are other
authorities. As you have just seen, ArtScroll translates this word
as "however" -- clearly, a forced meaning. Other translators encounter
the same problem, and come up with equally difficult solutions. Thus,
R'Aryeh Kaplan translates 'ach' as "still". That is, even while you are
building the Mishkan, you must still observe Shabbos. R'Hirsch translates
the phrase as: 'Only keep my Shabbos'. These efforts at finding the
meaning of 'ach' in this context are obviously awkward. The Sfas Emes had
ample reason to be puzzled.
The word 'ach' often indicates something that is being excluded from a
general pattern. In that vein, the Sfas Emes quotes Rashi on the pasuk.
As we know, construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) is a major topic
in this parsha. Rashi explains that this is the context within which we
should understand the word 'ach'. In that context, the word 'ach' is in
fact conveying its standard message of excluding. Excluding what?
Excluding performance on Shabbos of any of the 39 melachos (constructive
actions) used in building the Mishkan ...
The Sfas Emes recognizes that we may not fully understand what is going on
here. So he continues his explanation. Before Matan Torah, Bnei Yisrael
had made the monumental commitment (Shemos, 24: 7) of "Na'aseh ve'nishma'.
(ArtScroll: "Every thing that HaShem says we will do and we will obey".)
The Sfas Emes understands this pasuk differently. Working in non-pshat
mode, he reads the pasuk as saying: We will consecrate all our actions --
i.e., our 'Na'aseh' -- and all our thoughts -- i.e., our 'Nishma' -- to
Avodas HaShem (to the service of HaShem).
Unfortunately, Bnei Yisroel then went on to sin with the eigel ha'zahav
(the golden calf). That action knocked us off our high level with respect
to "Na'aseh'. The Sfas Emes tells us that this is the context within which
we should understand the construction of the Mishkan. Our actions in
making the Mishkan came to repair the unhappy situation of our having mis-used our actions in making the golden calf. How so?
The Sfas Emes explains that building the Mishkan involved the entire set
of constructive human activities ("kohl ma'aseh he'adam"). On Shabbos,
HaShem did not create or construct. We are enjoined to emulate our Maker,
and like Him, not to engage in creation or construction on Shabbos. Let
us be more specific. What activities are forbidden on Shabbos? The 39
melachos (constructive activities) that were used in building the
Mishkan. Because these activities encompass all constructive actions,
these are the activities from which we must abstain on Shabbos.
Note that this formulation also brings with it the possibility of upside
gains. That is, HaShem made this world in such a way that players have
the possibility of taking home some loot. Thus, the Sfas Emes tells us
that by striving to do these 39 melachos be'kedusha (with sanctity) during
the week, we can be privileged to perceive the light of HaShem's Presence
The Sfas Emes leads us forward to more new ideas. He notes that HaShem
refers (Shemos, 31: 13) to Shabbos as an 'os' -- a sign; a signal --
between Him and us. A 'sign'(or a 'signal ') implies two-way
communication. The pasuk says: "Os hi beini u'vei'neichem ... "
(ArtScroll: "... a sign between Me and you). A reciprocal relationship is
especially pertinent in this case, in which both parties (HaShem and us)
are mentioned individually and explicitly. The Sfas Emes comments that we
must hold fast and gain special strength from such a mitzva given as
an"os"between HaShem and ourselves.
This phrase -- 'between HaShem and ourselves' -- calls to mind a pasuk in
Mishlei (27: 19) -- a pasuk that speaks of reciprocal relationships. The
pasuk says: "Kamayim ha'panim la'panim ... '(ArtScroll:"As water reflects
a face back to a face, so one's heart is reflected back to him by
another"). The Sfas Emes applies this perspective to our relationship
with HaShem. To the degree that we are emotionally involved in performing
mitzvos, so too is HaShem emotionally involved with our welfare.
Moving on to a new line of thought, the Sfas Emes discusses another pasuk
that focuses on the meaning of Shabbos. The pasuk (Shemos 31: 15) tells
us that on the seventh day of the week, there shall be 'Shabbas
Shabbason'. (ArtScroll: ' ... a day of complete rest.')
A question. What does the Torah mean with the doubling of the Shabbos
words in this phrase?
As we just saw, ArtScroll tries to handle this question by viewing one
Shabbos word as giving emphasis to the other. Accordingly, the
translation becomes: "complete rest". The Sfas Emes takes a different
approach. He quotes Rashi on the pasuk, who says: "menuchas margo'a,
ve'lo menuchas ara'i." Leket Habohir -- a super-commentary on Rashi --
explains the meaning of the term "menuchas ara'i". He tells us
that "menuchas ara'i" is rest that comes for lack of work, or, rest that
comes in preparation for work. In such cases, the rest is not the essence
of the story, but rather a respite that comes incidentally.
By contrast, "menuchas margo'a" is rest in which the rest itself is a
key feature of what is happening. In other words, the rest has
meaning and significance in itself -- i.e., rest (menucha) which is
truly rest (margo'a).
The Sfas Emes is concerned that we achieve 'menuchas margo'a' on Shabbos.
How do we get there? The Sfas Emes speaks of the necessity of forgetting all weekday matters. Recognizing that such is not easy, he tells us that
a person should teach himself ('le'his'lameid') that when Shabbos arrives,
he/she must forget all non-Shabbosdicke things.
We know that Shabbos is a foretaste of Olam HaBa (the world to come).
Concluding, the Sfas Emes tells us that Shabbos is also preparation for
Olam HaBa. Thus, if we achieve proper menucha on Shabbos, we will be
privileged to adjust easily to the new regimen of menucha in Olam HaBa.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.