This week’s parashah opens with detailed guidelines regarding the holiness of priests and sacrifices. The text places the emphasis on avoiding the desecration of sacred space by insuring the sacredness of the people and offerings entering that space (Leviticus 21:1–22:23). Later, the discussion shifts from the sacredness of space to the sacredness of time (Leviticus 23:1–44).
It is this shift from space to time that separated the Jewish community of the Bible from the other communities in which they communed. It is easy to place a fence around sacred spaces and wall them off from the infectious impurity of the outside world. It is much more challenging to wall off time and set it aside as sacred. This, I believe, is the greatest gift that Judaism brings to the world of religion.
While the focus in Leviticus may be on the priestly obligations during these sacred moments, in a world where we are a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) the obligations and opportunities fall to us. In Leviticus 23, we are all included in the Revelation about these sacred days. Each day brings its own special collection of tasks and benefits. Each day becomes an obligation for every Jew.
Here is the entry way into Jewish life for the post-Exodus Jew. On a regular cycle, we are asked to come into the presence of God and share of our world. Through the sacrifice of goods and, especially, time, we are taught to give—and give freely. It is through this sacred giving that we establish a sacred community in this world. Today, in a world where time is a very precious commodity, how much more important is the opportunity to give of that which is most precious to us for the service of God.
Maybe that is the truest test of our understanding of this parashah today. If we are truly engaged in the give and take with God and the divine relationship is central in our lives, then setting aside precious time for sacred relationship is the pathway to that goal. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel knew this best when he wrote his book, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005).
Time is most precious, in many cases more important than money. Often it is easier to write the check than volunteer the time. Maybe our portion, like the prophets of old, simply asks us to give a little time for sacred causes. As Torah teaches, “it is not in the heavens . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:12). Time is in our hands.
Rabbi David A. Lipper is spiritual leader of Temple Israel in Akron, Ohio and is an avid student of Torah.