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Vayikra/Leviticus 26:2 My shabbats you shall keep and my sanctuary you shall revere; I am Adonai.
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This verse is an exact repeat, including the cantillation marks, of Vayikra 19:30 just a few chapters earlier in parasha Kedoshim. The most common reason for repetition is because of the importance of the text; the author wants to repeat and so emphasise the message it contains. We know that shabbat is important because it appears in the Ten Words (in Shemot 20 and D'varim 5), but a reverence for the sanctuary isn't mentioned in either of those places. Perhaps we need to investigate what this means and why it is coupled with shabbat observance here.
Following the Talmud (b. Berachot 54a), Rashi explains that a person should not enter the Sanctuary "with his staff, nor with his shoes, with his money-belt, with the dust that is on his feet (i.e., he is not to enter with dirty feet)." He then adds, "And although I enjoin you with regard to the Beit HaMikdash, the construction of the Beit HaMikdash does not override the Shabbat." The Sages explain that this why this ruling is repeated: "Since it might have been assumed that the building of the Sanctuary should supersede the Sabbath, it was explicitly stated, You shall keep My Sabbaths, and reverence My Sanctuary" (b. Yevamot 6a).Ibn Ezra initially takes a different position, suggesting that "this refers to the sabbatical years" and should be read instead as "the thing that is sacred to me - the jubilee (25:12)." However, he then continues: "sabbaths (in the plural) means the sabbath that occurs week after week: 'new moon after new moon, and sabbath after sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship Me -- said the L-RD' (Isaiah 66:23, NJPS)."
OvadiahSforno sees these instructions pointing forward to a time when Israel will be in exile, out of the Land. Israel is to keep the shabbat, "in the period of servitude as well, even though the quietude of shabbat is a remembrance of freedom." In that context, he explains, revering HaShem's sanctuary "refers to those sanctified places in exile, namely houses of assembly (synagogues) and houses of study, even though the temple is destroyed, as it says, "I shall be a little sanctuary for them" (Ezekiel 11:16, NLT) and the Sages say, "Rabbi Isaac said: This refers to the synagogue and houses of learning in Babylon" (b. Megillah 29a)." Perhaps the Sforno is allowing himself the luxury of reading back subsequent history into the Torah.
Concerning the text itself,Targum Onkelos inserts a couple of words to clarify the way he thought the text should be read: keeping shabbat days and revering HaShem's holy house to emphasise the physical sanctuary in Jerusalem. Baruch Levine points out that is the traditional vocalisation, with the translation "My sanctuary", but admits that he is tempted to vocalise it as with the suggested meaning "My sacred occasions", which he feels better matches the shabbat instruction in the first half of the verse. Keeping the focus upon the weekly shabbat observace, Samuel Balentine comments that "just as sabbath observance holds the key for Israel's redemption of the land, so neglect of the sabbath thwarts its promise of liberty and justice and leads to Israel's exile from the land."1
Richard Elliott Friedman returns to our main question: "What is the reason for mentioning these two together here: sabbaths and sanctuary?" We need to hear his answer: "This pronouncement brings together the sanctification of time and the sanctification of space. The sabbath is the most sacred time. The sanctuary (meaning first the tabernacle and later the temple) is the most sacred space. This dual command this embraces everything." Bringing together the ideas of time and space is a crucial line of development - the tension and dynamic between them is essential. Abraham Joshua Heschel agrees that "to gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks," but then explains that "the danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time." He warns us that "life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern."2
Arguing that Judaism is a "religion of time" that "teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of the year," Heschel says that "the sabbaths are our great cathedrals" and characterises Jewish ritual as "architecture of time."3 RabbiHirsch complements this, noting that our text includes both "the sanctuary of G-d's Torah in space with all its results to render our moral life holy, and His holy days in time with their results upon our spiritual and social life."
We can take this to say that while particular days - such as Shabbat and the Mo'edim - have their special essence of holiness that is scheduled by the calendar and is not dependent upon space or location, other moments of holiness can occur at unscheduled times when we encounter, or even perhaps trip over, the presence of G-d as we go about our everyday lives. One such encounter happened to Moshe when he had taken his father-in-law's sheep far into the wilderness. There he saw a bush that did not burn up even though it was on fire. Turning aside to look, he encountered the Angel of the L-rd who told him, "Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground" (Shemot 3:5, NJPS). That very spot became, for the instant of the conversation, holy; earth encountered heaven, the mortal conversed with immortality. In that moment of holiness Moshe was called, equipped and sent to be HaShem's messenger and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Many times in the gospels, we read of people encountering holiness when they met Yeshua. Even during the moment that He was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane by the officers from the chief priests, He asks them who they are seeking and when they tell Him, He replies "I am" using the first word of the name that HaShem gave Moshe at the Bush: "I am who I am" (Shemot 3:14). That is the moment of holiness and John tells us that "when Yeshua said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground" (John 18:6, ESV). Yeshua promises those same encounters with holiness when He told His disciples that "where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them" (Matthew 18:20, ESV). We can and should expect to be momentarily standing on holy ground when we come together to pray and worship G-d in Yeshua's name.
Holiness is revealed whenever G-d Himself is revealed. He is revealed in us when we keep His commandments, when we share the good news of Yeshua with other people and invite them to journey with us in G-d's kingdom and when we declare the values and principles of the kingdom for all to see and hear. In so doing, we call people into G-d's sanctuary by entering His presence and asking for the Ruach to flow through us and animate us with His life, to do the "good works, which G-d prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, ESV).
Returning full-circle to our original text, we both honour and reveal G-d when we keep shabbat holy by setting that moment in time apart for G-d. Walter Kaiser says that "the weekly sabbath is a sign of G-d's covenant with Israel and G-d's sanctuary is the continuing visible sign of G-d's presence in the midst of Israel."4 We reverence His sanctuary when we affirm and work for the unity of His congregation or assembly, finding ways to make common ground among those with whom we differ, to expound the narrative of being one in Yeshua rather than the narrative of division. As John Hartley points out, "both the observance of shabbat and the reverence of the sanctuary acknowledge the supreme Lordship of Yahweh."5 It is in those moments of seeing and confessing His Lordship, our moments of holiness in the everyday, that we are again called, equipped and sent out to be G-d's messengers and agents of reconciliation in our days.
1. - Samuel E. Balentine, Leviticus, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), page 198.
2. - Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961), page 3.
3. - Ibid., page 8.
4. - Walter J. Kaiser, "Leviticus" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 648.
5. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 450.
Further Study: 1 Chronicles 16:29-31; Isaiah 35:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Application: Can you find a way to reverence and build up the sanctuary of G-d in your life, job, relationships and times of leisure? How can you reveal G-d's holiness so that others see and hear a compelling invitation to enter the kingdom and find rest and peace in Yeshua?
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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