Study Guide: A Cosmic National Sign

Parashat Ki Tissa Study Guide: A Cosmic National Sign

Background: After the instructions regarding the building of the Mishkan, we are warned to keep Shabbat. Part of this paragraph is used by many for Kiddush on Shabbat.

Text: Shemot 31:12-17

12 And the LORD spoke to Moshe, saying, 13 “And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Shabbats you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, to know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you… 16 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat… as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He ceased-working and was refreshed.’ ”

  • What does the Shabbat signify? How do you think that keeping Shabbat is a sign?
  • The aspect of Shabbat stressed in this section is a cosmic one: the creation of the world. Why do you think that God chose a sign for His special relationship with the children of Israel that is of cosmic and universal nature? Why not choose a more “national” element to signify the connection? What might this tell us about the role expected of us in the world?
  • What tensions might arise between building of the Mishkan and observing Shabbat? Where might such tensions arise today?

Commentary: Rashi on Shemot 31:13

For it is a sign between me and you—It is a mark of distinction between us, that I have chosen you, by letting you inherit My day of rest, for rest.

To know—for the nations of the world to know through it, that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

  • How does keeping Shabbat function as a sign between God and the children of Israel?
  • Why does Rashi understand the words “to know” as referring to other nations? In your opinion, is keeping Shabbat a sign in the eyes of non-Jews? What does it mean?
  • Why is it important to have a sign of God’s relationship with the children of Israel that is visible to other nations? For whom is it significant?

Commentary: Ibn Ezra on Shemot 31:17

And the meaning of It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel is that this is the explanation of the verse above (Exodus 31:13), elucidation what the sign is: for in six days—and therefore, anyone doing creative work on Shabbat is denying the creation.

  • What aspect of keeping Shabbat is the actual sign? If that is the sign, what is the meaning of doing creative work on Shabbat? For whom and why might refraining from such work on Shabbat be significant?

See more: Parashat Ki Tisa

Originally posted as part of the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center’s Torah Sparks. Support Torah learning from the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center/Conservative Yeshiva for leaders and seekers around the world here.


  • Vered Hollander-Goldfarb teaches Tanach and Medieval Commentators at the Conservative Yeshiva and is a regular contributor to Torah Sparks, FJC’s weekly message on the weekly Torah portion. She received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Tanach from the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University and studied at Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Before making aliyah, Vered taught at Ramaz School and Stern College in New York.

  • The Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (FJC) is a home in the heart of Jerusalem where leaders and seekers can find an authentic place in Jewish tradition to call their own. FJC offers opportunities to study, pray and explore within an egalitarian and inclusive setting, creating multiple pathways for finding personal and communal meaning.

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