Parashat Emor

Sacred Time & Space

The Jewish concept of holiness is bound to notions of sacred time and space--and reaching out to those in need.

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This verse contains one of the most famous commandments of the Torah--the mitzvah of pe’ah (leaving the corners of our fields for the poor), which is the underpinning for many of the contemporary laws of tzedakah (just giving). Why is this injunction to feed the poor found among detailed rules for celebrating the Sabbath and festivals?

Time & Space

The placement of this verse offers insight into the true meaning of Jewish holiness. The Hebrew word for holiness, kedushah, literally means set aside, designated as different. In this portion, the obligations to sanctify space and time are woven together. We sanctify our time by putting aside our daily occupations and designating Shabbat and holy days as sacred. We sanctify space by putting aside the corners of our "field" for those in need due to poverty or estrangement.  

When Sarah reads the paper and cooks "Shabbos bacon," she is taking a first step toward fulfilling the vision of this portion. She is making the day holy by setting aside time for her own version of a sacred moment. She is also engaging with the concept of sacred space by reading about world events. However, Sarah (like most of us) is only beginning to express the values of this portion. The sanctification of time and the sanctification of space are inextricably bound through action.  

What if we make the values of the Torah real by binding together our celebrations of Shabbat, holy days, and other joyous occasions with setting aside corners of our modern-day fields (our money and resources) with concrete actions that meet the needs of others?

What if we allocate ten percent of the money we put into our weddings and bnai mitzvah to feed those in need in our neighborhoods? What if every time we plan a holiday meal in our congregation, our synagogue also supports a community in the Global South in need of food?

In the coming year, may our holidays be holy in the fullest sense of the word--a moment when we set aside both time and space for our own sacred delight, as well as an opportunity to express our radical compassion for the needs of others through acts of justice and giving.

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Rabbi Elliot R. Kukla

Rabbi Elliot Kukla is a rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center in San Francisco.