Becky Arbiv is a student at Duke University studying biomedical engineering and is a member of the Duke track and field team.
“Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered.”
– Abraham Joshua Heschel
The passage of time is a bizarre phenomenon that we are all more attuned to lately as we are living in quarantine. Some days have flown by, while others creep by hour by hour; the days have turned into weeks and then months. The way we fill our time says a lot about us, as it defines who we are and our priorities. Parshat Emor contains 21 mitzvot purely dedicated to instructing us on how to sanctify our time:
דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם מוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מוֹעֲדָֽי׃
Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the LORD, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.
We learn that time, in and of itself, is sacred. The Sforno teaches us that simply by designating and consecrating these times, we allow for the שכינה, or divine presence, to rest amongst us. Clearly, there is something incredibly powerful about designating time in which we abstain from malacha and engage in the comfort and pleasure that is Shabbat and the Moadim.
In the midst of this discussion on the holiness of time, a seemingly unrelated mitzvah is brought up:
וּֽבְקֻצְרְכֶ֞ם אֶת־קְצִ֣יר אַרְצְכֶ֗ם לֹֽא־תְכַלֶּ֞ה פְּאַ֤ת שָֽׂדְךָ֙ בְּקֻצְרֶ֔ךָ וְלֶ֥קֶט קְצִירְךָ֖ לֹ֣א תְלַקֵּ֑ט לֶֽעָנִ֤י וְלַגֵּר֙ תַּעֲזֹ֣ב אֹתָ֔ם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the LORD am your God.
This verse is, at first glance, out of place as it is sandwiched between the detailed descriptions of the moadim, Shavuot and Rosh Hashana. We learn here how to sanctify space: we can make our field holy by leaving its edges for the poor. How is the mitzvah of פְּאַ֥ת, or refraining from harvesting the edges of the field, related in any way to the sanctity of time?
The intersection of these two concepts forms a more complete understanding of holiness, קדושה. The word קדושה literally means to separate, to designate between mundane and special. By intertwining the sanctification of both time and space, we learn that in order to reach a state of true elevation, both time and space must be taken into account. The parasha teaches us that we sanctify time through the moadim, and we sanctify space by using what we have to help those in need.
As many of us will spend yet another Shabbat in our homes, physically separated from our synagogues, family, and friends, we must make the effort to elevate both our time and our space. The scenery will be invariable, constrained to the same living room and kitchen as we are all week, but we will renew the space. Living rooms transformed into sanctuaries, kitchens into banquet halls fit for royalty. When the sun sets Friday evening, the time itself becomes holy.
I hope this Shabbat we are all able to learn from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel to become attuned to the holiness of time. “The Sabbath itself is a sanctuary which we build, a sanctuary in time.”