Holiness in Time and Space

June 20, 2024

You shall not make false gods for yourselves, and you shall not erect an idol or pillar. And an ornamented stone you shall not place in your land to bow down upon it, for I am the Lord your God. You shall keep my Sabbaths and revere my sanctuary: I am the Lord. If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. (Leviticus 26:1-4)

The Sabbath and the Sanctuary?

These verses are followed by blessings that will be bestowed on Israel if they are obedient to God, and the punishments, should they stray. The second verse quoted above is strange:

It seems like a non-sequitur. Why are the commandments to keep the Sabbath and to revere the sanctuary, which refers to the Tabernacle and the subsequent Temple, placed together in a single sentence? What do they have to do with each other? Looking at the fuller context of this verse, what do keeping the Sabbath and revering the sanctuary have to do with the promise of abundance and blessing that follows in the next verses? 

This is not the only place in the Five Books of Moses where the sanctuary and the Sabbath are juxtaposed. Exodus 35, the first of five consecutive chapters entirely devoted to the construction of the Tabernacle, opens with three verses about the importance of the Sabbath. So, what is the connection between the sanctuary and the sabbath?

Sabbath: The beginning of Holiness

The Sabbath is the first thing in the Bible that is called “holy”. 

What does it mean when we say that something is “holy”? Something that is holy is set aside for a higher purpose. So, what is the higher purpose of the Sabbath? Here is the fourth of the ten commandments:

Remember the Sabbath day, to make it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, and the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. – Exodus 20:8-11

We are commanded to rest from all work because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. And as the final verse in this passage tells us, this is the reason that God made it holy. 

Simply understood, the purpose of the Sabbath is for us to recognize that God is the creator and master of the world. By ceasing our own creative activity for one day each week, we acknowledge that it is God who is the master of time, and not us. And this is the meaning of holiness in general. Let me explain.

A “Holy” nation

Another thing that is called holy is the nation of Israel. (Deuteronomy 7:6, 14:2,21) What does this mean? God is the master of all nations. He is the Master of History. But how does He display this mastery? The answer is that God shows His mastery of history through the nation of Israel. Because the history of Israel fulfills the promises that God made thousands of years ago, everyone in the world can see God acting in the world. But here’s the key, if Israel’s history was similar to that of other nations, God’s hand in Israel’s history would not be clear. 

Think about it. If there were other examples of nations, small in number, who were exiled and persecuted for thousands of years and then later returned to their homelands to become more numerous and more prosperous than their ancestors, there would be nothing miraculous about the history of Israel. Israel’s rebirth as a nation after a long exile would not be evidence of God. It is only because of the unique and miraculous history of the Jewish people that God is revealed as the master of the histories of all nations. In other words, something that is holy is set apart to be treated differently so that God is revealed through that difference.

Holiness reveals God’s control

The Sabbath works the same way. We work all week. We try to make a living. We can easily slip into the illusion that we control our own financial destiny. By singling out one day as a “sabbath to the Lord your God” when we don’t do any work, we remind ourselves that it is God who controls our work and the fruit of our labors. To illustrate the point, we could easily imagine someone who chooses to work on the Sabbath because he feels that he can’t miss the day of work and still make ends meet. Such a person clearly has no understanding of where his financial well-being truly comes from. By resting on the Sabbath day, we make it holy. Meaning, we set aside this day as different, as a lens through which to see God’s mastery over our labors.

Holiness in Time and Space

But the message of the Sabbath goes deeper. By strictly honoring the Sabbath day, we recognize God’s mastery over time. Our time is not our own. God is in control. By separating this one day a week as a time for God, we recognize that He is the master of all time.

And this is the purpose of the sanctuary. What the Sabbath is for time, the sanctuary is for space. The same way we can easily see ourselves as the masters of history, of our labors, and of our time; we can just as easily see ourselves as the masters of our spaces, our land, our homes. By dedicating a place for God, where we make pilgrimages and bring our first fruits, we recognize that God is master over space as well. 

Now we can understand why this verse comes right before the blessings of prosperity. When we acknowledge that it is God who controls our time and space, that it is God who determines the success of our labors, we earn the blessings of God. 

By keeping the Sabbath and revering God’s sanctuary, we show God that we acknowledge that He is the true Master of our lives. We thus show God that we will never use our prosperity and independence to stray from Him.

Allowing a Palestinian terror state in the heart of Israel would destroy the Jewish State.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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