Time and Space.

Parshat Emor contains a large proportion of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot [commandments], many of which direct us on how to sanctify time. In it, Leviticus 23 begins: “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: The Lord’s appointed [holy days] that you shall designate as holy occasions. These are My appointed [holy days].”  From ancient times, we have been instructed to set aside sacred time, to pay attention to times.   It seems that time is always running away from us, or we never have enough of it.  The songwriter, Jonathan Larson, reminds us that our lives are measured in time – 525,600 minutes, each one of them sacred, challenging us to value and pay attention to each one.

The most regular of our sacred times is Shabbat, our weekly exercise to live mindfully in holy time.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his profound book, The Sabbath: “It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: ‘And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.’ There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness….. The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”  Time, rather than space or location, is what is transcendently holy.

Marking the standing sacred moments of Jewish tradition gives a rhythm to our lives.  When I participate in a Pesach Seder, I am connected to the entire Jewish world in that moment across time – in the present with all who are celebrating, with every generation that celebrated Pesach back to the first night back in Egypt, and with every future generation that will ever participate in a Pesach Seder.  This is true for every Jewish festival and sacred moment. Every shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah is an echo of years past and a call into the future. Each Yom Kippur fast links me to my ancestors. Each sukkah that I build connects me back to the generation who lived in the desert for forty years, in sync with every sukkah that is erected around the world.  As we celebrate receiving Torah on Shavuot, we are again at Mount Sinai, just as the midrash that teaches that all souls were present in that ancient moment of revelation; our presence spans generations, enabling it to exist also for generations yet to be.

Living these sacred moments puts me in sync with the larger Jewish community, past, present and future.  It is the rhythm that guides my Jewish life, across all strands of the Jewish people. The big challenge is to embrace that rhythm.  As we live our lives according to numerous calendars that compete for slices of our time: school calendars, work schedules, sports calendars, or family events, I constantly strive to find the integration of all of these strands of time that will weave the tapestry reflecting all of these pieces, bringing the sacred into the everyday.

Our Jewish holy times are phenomenal access points to enter Jewish life and Jewish community, to underscore the sacredness of time. Sharing a Shabbat meal, experiencing its rest and joy, dwelling in a sukkah, singing, discussing and remembering around the Seder table, embracing the sefer Torah in my arms on Shavuot, these are all opportunities to mark and embody sacred time, to live with meaning. As I re-enter work that requires of me to be more bound to carving out the hours of my calendar, I pray that I always live and teach the rhythms of Jewish time and space in a way that will bring harmony and attentiveness to each moment. Shabbat shalom.

[Parashat Emor – 2014]



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy
    May 02, 2014 @ 17:29:18

    Thanks for that, as usual! Susan, we are truly going to miss your annual presence in Singapore, BUT congrats on your new position!
    Kathy Herder


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