Sacred Time & Space

The Jewish concept of holiness is bound to notions of sacred time and space--and reaching out to those in need.


Provided by American Jewish World Service, pursuing global justice through grassroots change.

Sarah, a member of my congregation, once explained to me why she was proudly a “bad Jew.” She had hated her traditional religious upbringing. As soon as she left home she proudly embraced a fully secular lifestyle. Although she eventually found her way back to Judaism through belonging to a liberal synagogue, Sarah told me that she was a member purely for cultural reasons, because of her connection to Jewish social justice values, and she still eschewed any form of religious observance. 

american jewish world service“Let me tell you how ‘bad a Jew’ I truly am. Every Shabbos morning,” she told me, “I sleep late. Then I make bacon for breakfast and eat it slowly, savoring the smell and the flavor, while reading the paper and catching up on how to be involved in world events. I look forward to that moment all week long.”

“I hate to break this to you,” I told her, “but it sounds to me like you are keeping Shabbos!”

Setting Aside Sacred Time

“On six days work may be done,” we read in this week’s portion, “but on the seventh day there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion (Leviticus 23:3).” When Sarah sets aside time that feels sacred to her, both for her own pleasure and to connect empathetically to people in the world around her, she unwittingly keeps the most essential commandment of Shabbat.

Parshat Emor contains 63 of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot, many of which direct us on how to sanctify time. Chapter 24 of Leviticus deals with the laws of Shabbat and holiday observance. In this chapter we learn about the timing of the Jewish calendar–when to eat matzah, when to blow the shofar, and when to observe other annual rites.

Yet, buried within this lavishly detailed chapter we find a seemingly anomalous verse: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I, the Eternal One, am your God (Leviticus 23:22).”

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Rabbi Elliot Kukla is a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco.

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