It’s 12:30 on a Yom Tov, Monday morning. You are about to leave the synagogue for the third day in a row. As you look around, you notice, even as you try to ignore it, a certain wilting of the spirit. A belabored pace. How good you felt on Friday night, with the onset of Shabbat. An effortless serenity set in then.
But ever since the departure of Shabbat and the onset of Yom Tov, your soul feels heavier. It does not soar to its Sabbath heights. And as you walk past the apartment building next to the synagogue on your way home, dressed in your finest clothes and wearing a three-day shadow, you are aware of the curious gaze of the night guard.
“Do these people ever work ?” he must be thinking. “How much longer will they be parading between these matinee and evening performances ?” And yes, you find yourself wondering, perhaps you should be at work. What’s going on there anyway, and will the phone be ringing when you get home? Oh, banish the thought! It’s Yom Tov. Let’s celebrate.
Perhaps we repress these thoughts and never articulate them. But the rabbis, in their honesty and sensitivity, openly address them. Which Havdalah blessing do we recite when Shabbat leaves and Yom Tov arrives?” asks the Talmud. “Blessed are You, God, who separates between holy [Shabbat] and holy [Yom Tov],” suggests the Tanna Kamma. “No,” responds Rabbi Dosa, ‘Blessed are You, God, who separates between concentrated holiness and diluted holiness.’ ”
We awaken to this world with the breath that God first breathed into man on Friday afternoon. And each Friday afternoon, with the onset of Shabbat, God breathes into our souls again. The Kabbalists call this the “neshamah yeterah,” the extra soul. But this Divine bonus is ephemeral. Cinderella-like, it evaporates on Motzaei Shabbat. As it departs, our surviving soul feels faint and lonely and needs to be revived with smelling salts, besamim.
But as we bid farewell to Shabbat and welcome in Yom Tov, we do not use besamim. “Why not?” asks the Rashbam. Because, he suggests, Yom Tov has its own neshamah yeterah, so that our weekday soul is not left alone.
Not true, say the Tosafists. If that were the case, then we would use besamim on Monday night, when Yom Tov departs. But we do not. There is no neshamah yeterah on Yom Tov, insist the Tosafists. But still, they explain, we do not use besamim when Shabbat departs and Yom Tov arrives because we comfort the grieving soul instead with food and drink, “simchat Yom Tov.”
Not surprisingly, the chassidic masters side with the Rashbam. They are not prepared to give up on the existence of a Yom Tov neshamah yeterah. Why then do we not use besamim on Motzaei Yom Tov? Because, explains the Sefat Emet, the Yom Tov neshamah yeterah never departs. It remains with us after Yom Tov leaves.
In that respect, the Sefat Emet continues, the neshamah yeterah of Shabbat differs from the neshamah yeterah of Yom Tov. Like Shabbat itself, the neshamah yeterah of Shabbat is a gift from God that comes and goes automatically, with no effort on our part.
The neshamah yeterah of Yom Tov, however, like Yom Tov itself, does not come unless and until we, through the Sanhedrin, announce its arrival. And we work at it, by cooking, eating, drinking and celebrating. The neshamah yeterah of Yom Tov is the product of our investment. And what we earn, we keep.