The Holiness of Shabbat

March 12, 2021
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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Most of this week's Parsha reads like the manual that came with my desk. Put this screw here, the small piece there, the larger one here. But the Parsha doesn't start that way. The Parsha starts like this; Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: "These are the things that the Lord commanded to make. On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, holy, to the LORD…You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwelling places on the Sabbath day." The Torah then goes on to talk about the instructions of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

This contrast reminded me of two Jewish thinkers I have been learning about in a class I have been taking. Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Rabbi Heschel. Rabbi Heschel and Rav Soloveitchik both speak a lot about the concept of holiness and where it is and where it comes from. Rav Soloveitchik teaches us that as humans in a physical world we need something present in our reality to connect us to G-d, such as time and space. Rav Soloveitchik teaches us that this is the function and objective of Halacha, Jewish Law. Our laws were meant to help us manage how we use our space and what we do with our time. This is an idea that really resonates with me personally. I, myself have been on a religious journey of my own for the past few years of my life, searching for holiness. When I was younger, I knew I believed in G-d, but G-d seemed like such a distant idea. G-d and holiness were far away, not something that was within my grasp. Instead, it was simpler to focus on rituals than trying to find an elusive spirituality. It started with a few annual Jewish such as the High Holy Days, Hanukkah, and Passover. I was always concerned with doing things the 'right' way, so I became obsessed with performing these rituals properly. I encouraged my family to start using real candles for Hanukkah, instead of the electric ones. I started to do the ritual of Bedikat Chametz, searching for the Chametz with the spoon and feather I had received in Hebrew school. I made sure our Seder ran according to Halachic standards.

On the high holy days, my favorite moment was when the sounds of the shofar would fill the whole room with its beautiful pure notes. I found meaning, comfort, holiness, and G-d in ritual, but I felt like I needed more. Slowly, I began learning all I could about Jewish thought and practice and I began incorporating them into my life. Rituals like Shabbat Kiddush and Motzi became standard practice for me. On Saturday mornings too I began to attend synagogue more regularly. I built my first Sukkah, albeit unsuccessfully. The next year I bought one, thereby incorporating Judaism into my space and my time.

I believe that the more rituals of space and time we incorporate into our lives, the closer we feel to holiness and to G-d. As Rav Soloveitchik says, instead of bringing ourselves to G-d's realm, we can G-d bring down into ours because the Torah knows that we cannot escape our material, earthly existence, nor does it want us to. We are needed on this earth and we must never forget the important work we are responsible for on earth such as pursuing justice, feeding those in need, and caring for the wellbeing of those around us. Halacha keeps us grounded in this world, it keeps us from trying to find G-d on high and forgetting about our earthly existence and mission. Instead, it brings G-d down to us. It allows us to be both in relationship with G-d and intimately connected to the world around us.

Although the religion of what Rav Soloveitchik calls the Homo religiosus, a religion of fleeing this world to purify our spirits can seem more compelling than the boundaries of time and space, as human beings we must remain grounded in our world. “Halakhic man craves to bring down the divine presence and holiness into the midst of space and time, into the midst of finite, earthly existence.” In other words, the two Mitzvot in our Parshat, Shabbat and the construction of the Tabernacle offer us a way to connect to G-d in the two present realities of this world, space and time.

But the addition of some laws of Shabbat before the instructions of the Mishkan are to remind us that, in the words of Rabbi Heschel, “We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.” The service in the Mishkan was connected to time. Different services and sacrifices for the normal days, Shabbat, and holidays. It was not the Mishkan that gave meaning to Shabbat, it was Shabbat that gave meaning to the Mishkan.

G-d gives us holiness in space only because humans require space. Time and G-d are not physical, but are eternal, that is why Shabbat, our vehicle to sanctify time still exists. However, things that occupy space may be physical, but they are only temporary, therefore the Mishkan (and later the Temple) was only a temporary method for sanctifying space. Shabbat is mentioned before the Mishkan to remind us that holiness cannot be found only in the space of the Mishkan but more importantly, in the holy times and moments that we create in our lives.      

Shabbat Shalom,

Mateo Levin

Shaliach, Manhattan Region

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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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