Part of the series 'Practical Mishneh Torah,' following the 3 chapter-a-day Rambam daily study cycle of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah.

In the opening to Hilchot Shabbat, Maimonides describes the obligation to rest, which translates into the prohibition against working.1 But at the beginning of Hilchot Yom Tov, we find the exact opposite: Maimonides emphasizes that during festivals work is forbidden; the element of rest is secondary.2

This noteworthy textual nuance is not merely semantics.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe3 infers a fundamental distinction between Shabbat and the festivals from this discrepancy. On Shabbat, the focus is the obligation to rest. Not working is simply an outgrowth of that obligation. On the festivals, however, we are commanded to desist from work. The rest that emerges from this cessation is secondary.

This knowledge helps us understand why we do not smell the spices (besamim) during havdalah on occasions that Shabbat leads directly into a yom tov.

Each week, at the close of Shabbat, we recite the havdalah service, which includes smelling spices to provide comfort to the soul over the departure of the “additional soul” that joins us for Shabbat.4 If, however, Shabbat is directly followed by a holiday, although we still recite the havdalah (during the kiddush for the festival), we leave out the blessing over the spices.

But why?

A State of Mind

In order to understand this, we must first be clear to what we are referring. The additional soul we receive can be understood in two different ways. The Zohar describes it as a spiritual phenomenon—an extra soul we receive for the duration of the day.5 Others, however, explain it as a state of mind—the state of being more disposed to rest and joy, without being constrained by one’s general concerns.6 With this second definition in mind, we are able to decipher the following debate.

According to the Rashbam, the additional soul, this uplifted state, is present on yom tov, too, and therefore no consolation is necessary when Shabbat directly leads into a yom tov.7

Tosafot poses the obvious question: If this is true, shouldn’t we add the spices to the havdalah we say at the end of a festival? But we do not, seemingly because the additional soul is not present. The state of complete rest felt on Shabbat, referred to as the additional soul, is not present on yom tov. Rather, Tosafot suggests, when going from Shabbat directly into a holiday, the soul is consoled over the loss of Shabbat, by the joy of the festival, and therefore the spices are unnecessary.8

Per the Ran9 (whom the Rashbam seems to follow), we leave the spices out because on a festival we do not rest to the same extent as we do on Shabbat. On yom tov we are permitted to cook, which interferes with rest. As such, even though this additional soul is present—we are still in an uplifted and restful state—the shock of leaving the festival and entering a state of weekday is not so great that the soul requires the comfort provided by the spices.

According to Tosafot however, although pain of the loss would necessitate the spices (since according to him the state of mind of yom tov is not on the same plane as that of Shabbat), the joy of yom tov itself provides the comfort.

We can now revisit the distinction made at the outset between Shabbat and yom tov: On Shabbat the focus is on the obligation to rest, whereas on yom tov the emphasis is on the prohibition against working. This conforms with the view of Tosafot, who maintains that the spices would be needed after a Shabbat that leads into yom tov because they are two completely different states of mind. Shabbat is a time of rest, and we are given an “extra soul” to be in a state of complete relaxation. On yom tov, however, there is no “extra soul,” no particular state of mind. Therefore spices would be necessary, were it not for the joy of yom tov, which comforts the soul.

According to the Rashbam, on the other hand, there is no such distinction. Both Shabbat and yom tov necessitate rest and the cessation of work, therefore spices are not necessary for the transition; it is a continuation of the same state of mind. Due to the fact that on yom tov we may cook, however, the state of rest is not quite as all-encompassing as that of Shabbat, and the shock of leaving is not as great as the jolt of transitioning from a regular Shabbat to weekday. As such, spices are not needed to cushion the blow of exiting yom tov and entering the weekday.

Practical Application

Every Shabbat we enter a new, G‑dly state of being. We are no longer troubled by worldly pursuits; we are given a day of respite, a day to focus on what is truly important. Shabbat, as the cornerstone of Jewish life, must be strictly guarded, not just by meticulously observing the laws of Shabbat, but by keeping all our activities within the “spirit of Shabbat.” Even our speech should not veer into mundane territory; instead, we dedicate our time to prayer, Torah study, and quality family time.