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Torah Portion: Ki Tisa

Book of Exodus

Chaps. 30:11-34:35

February 26, 2016

            One question remains the same among all religions: Where did we begin? Each religious culture has its own creation story. The crowning achievement of the Babylonian creation myth was the erection of a temple to the pagan god Marduk. For Jews, the crowning achievement of creation was the Sabbath. For one culture it was the creation of Holy space, for another Holy time.

After giving Moses an extensive description of the architectural design for the portable desert sanctuary, in addition to instructions on how to construct it, God concludes by telling Moses, “Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages.” (Exo. 31:12). Why end the sanctuary discourse with a stark reminder of the importance of Shabbat?

Jewish tradition has always taught that Holy time creates Holy space, and not the opposite.   Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “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.” The ancient rabbis understood a building was just that, a building. Something composed of brick and mortar. Heschel points out, “The seventh day is a palace in time which we build. It is made of soul, of joy and reticence.” Only when the two are combined does the building become a sanctuary, the “brick and mortar” become Holy. The Torah comes to teach when building a Holy space, one should not lose sight of what makes it special: the Holiness of time.

Jewish communities spend too much time concerned with structures and institutions, and not enough time concerned with Jews. Artson concludes, “While contributing to the upkeep of Jewish institutions is indeed a necessary base, it is but a start. The task of the Jew, to establish the sovereignty of God in the here and now, takes much more than just a proper place. It requires a good deal of heart and soul.”

Think about this the next time someone suggests, “we need a new synagogue building.”

Rabbi Howard Siegel

© 2017 Beth Tikvah Synagogue, Richmond, BC, Canada
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