Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2002 / 5 Shevat, 5762

The sanctification and importance of time

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

“This is the burnt offering of the Sabbath on its Sabbath.”

                        —   Numbers 28:10 -- With this verse, the Torah commands us to bring to the Holy Temple a special sacrifice on Shabbes, the Sabbath. The foremost biblical commentator, Rashi, is perplexed by what appears to be the stating of the obvious. Why, he asks, is it necessary for us to be told that the Sabbath offering must be brought on the Sabbath. If it is a Sabbath offering then, obviously, it is implicit that it needs to be sacrificed on the Sabbath!

The great commentator answers that were it not for this statement, one may have mistakenly thought that should an individual forget to bring this offering on one particular Sabbath, he would be permitted to bring an additional sacrifice on another.

Thus, the Torah instructs us to bring this sacrifice only on its own Sabbath. Once the day has passed, the offering is no longer valid.

Although there are definitely occasions where Jewish Law does allow one to "make up" for certain missed mitzvas, religious duties, not performed at their intended times, these are mainly during cases of duress.

In other instances, while one may still have the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, doing so is only bedi'avad, a posteriori, and not lechatechila, a priori.

Yet, while Rashi's answer may appear simple, it is quite profound --- and instructive.

The expression "Jewish time" is well known, reflecting a kind of ease with time in which coming too late is not only not uncommon, but in certain cases even expected. Still, it cannot be denied that Judaism is a religion that takes time most seriously.

The well known Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, used to say that Judaism is the art of sanctifying time and this is of greater importance than the need to sanctify space. Indeed, the first occasion when the Torah speaks about holiness is not in relation to space, but with time: The creation of Sabbath, as related in the Creation chapter.

Commencing the Sabbath one minute too late or ending it one minute too early, according to Jewish Law, may well be the violation of its very sanctity.

The Sabbath protects man against himself. By nature, man is always busy trying to fill time and space with himself. On the Sabbath, 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 any "work" on the Sabbath -- and through the restriction against moving objects around in a public space on this holy day -- Man learns how to accommodate and give space its own room.

The same is true about time. It is not Man who decides when the Sabbath begins or ends, it is a Power outside himself manifested in the celestial order that determines when this day will commence and finish. As such, Man can no longer take time for granted. It suddenly takes on a life all its own. It is at that very moment, that time begins to be appreciated.

Familiarity with life is 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. Ordinary time, becomes quality time.

The Sabbath teaches man how he is able to make more time out of duration. By participating in a meal on the Sabbath, 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.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned lecturer and ambassador for Judaism, the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Sephardic Heritage. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo