Thoughts to Ponder Number 99

The sanctification and importance of time

"This is the burnt offering of the shabbath on its shabbath"
(Bamidbar 28:10)

With this verse the Torah commands us to bring a special sacrifice on shabbath in the Temple. Rashi inquiries into the reason why there is a need to state that this shabbath offering needs to be brought on shabbath. If it is a shabbath offering then it is implicit that it needs to be sacrificed on shabbath!
Rashi replies in a every simple way: One may have thought that in case one forgot to bring this offering on one particular shabbath, one may still bring it on the next shabbath, so that on the following shabbath one would be bringing two sacrifices. To make sure that this will not occur the Torah instructs us to bring this sacrifice only on its own shabbath and not on the next one. Once the day has passed by, the offering is no longer valid.

Although there are definitely occasions where Jewish Law does allow one to make up for certain mitzvoth which were not performed at the right time, this is mainly in a case of duress. (See for example the case of the Pesach Sheni, Bamidbar 9:6-13)) In some other cases one may still have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, but this is only bedi'avad (a posteriori) and not lechatechila (a priori) While the expression "Jewish time" is well known, reflecting a kind of ease with time in which coming too late is not uncommon, it cannot be denied that Judaism is a religion which takes time most seriously. The well known Jewish philosopher Avraham Yehoshua Heshel z.l. used to say that Judaism is the art of sanctifying time and this is of greater importance that the need to sanctify space. Indeed the first occasion that the Torah speaks about holiness is not in relation to space but with time: The creation of shabbath as related in the creation chapter. Indeed commencing shabbath one minute too late or ending it one minute too early may be the violation of its very sanctity.

Shabbath protects man against himself. By nature man is always busy trying to fill time and space with himself. On shabbath he is asked to do the reverse. He must make space for the rest of creation. As such he must let up and not reign over space and time. He is asked to bow his head and to let time and space do their own thing. With the prohibition not to do "work" on shabbath, and through the restriction against moving objects around in a public space on this holy day, he learns how to accommodate and give space its own room. The same is true about time. It is not he who decides when shabbath begins or ends, it is a Power outside himself manifested in the celestial order which determines when this day will start and end. As such he can no longer take time for granted. It suddenly takes on its own life. It is at that moment that man starts to appreciate time.

Familiarity with life is that what makes time speed, but once the world is no longer owned by man and time starts to represent "broken eternity" it becomes an experience, a value and it lasts longer. Time becomes quality time.

Shabbath teaches man how he is able to make more time out of duration. By participating in a meal on shabbath the world begins to get a different face. Spending time together is not just absorbed by the length of time but also by its depths. Songs and words Torah spoken at the table are the components through which every minute does not just have its length but also its distinctiveness.

To be in time is to acknowledge its quality. To set fixed times for meals and other occasions is not just putting order in one's life but also an opportunity to sanctify those moments. A great amount of irregularity is not just creating chaos but also the manifestation of the secularization and profaning of time. It transgresses its sanctity.

This is clearly what the Torah is teaching us in the above mentioned verse. Matters of importance have to be dealt with at their appropriate time. To postpone often means to profane.

Nathan Lopes Cardozo


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