Shalom Orzach

Law and Order

To a great extent the portions of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim revel in juxtapositions. From the sequence of the names of the portions, remaining Holy or pure despite death, for the priests, or becoming Holy as a result of death. The interplay with the themes are fascinating if not disconcerting. We are encouraged to carefully follow how the themes and ordinances arise out of the context and order in which they are presented.  

You will recall the injunction arising out of the juxtaposition regarding the observance of Shabbat outweighing the construction of the Tabernacle. The famous restrictive “Ach”, Shemot 31:13;

 וְאַתָּ֞ה דַּבֵּ֨ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר אַ֥ךְ אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֖י תִּשְׁמֹ֑רוּ כִּי֩ א֨וֹת הִ֜וא בֵּינִ֤י וּבֵֽינֵיכֶם֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם לָדַ֕עַת כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶֽם׃ 

Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I God have consecrated you.

The commentators explain that even though you are anxious and fully involved to complete the building of the Tabernacle you must desist for the Shabbat.

In the portion of Kedoshim this directive appears again albeit in a rather ambiguous  manner, 19:30;

אֶת־שַׁבְּתֹתַ֣י תִּשְׁמֹ֔רוּ וּמִקְדָּשִׁ֖י תִּירָ֑אוּ אֲנִ֖י יְהֹוָֽה׃ 

You shall keep My sabbaths and venerate My sanctuary: I am God.

On first reading one is almost encouraged to see this implying the opposite of what has previously been taught, keep my shabbat could well be outweighed by, be in awe, exalt My sanctuary. Keep my Shabbat but fear and exalt my Temple. Interestingly many of the commentators are struck with the Temple instruction and enthuse what that phrase implies, whilst the expounding of the Shabbat directive is lacking. Rashi quoting from Tractates Brachot and Yevamot, that curiously are solely focussed on the the etiquette employed when entering the Temple and not necessarily supporting his claim, argues the following; On “And you shall revere My Sanctuary”- This implies that one should not enter it with his staff in hand or in his shoes, or with his money belt or with the dust on his feet (all signs of irreverence) . But — says God — although I warn you with regard to the reverence due to the Sanctuary, yet — את שבתתי תשמרו  You shall keep my Shabbat indicating that not even the building of the Sanctuary can set aside the Sabbath law.

Surely in order to make this claim the order of the verse should have been reversed. Be in awe of My Sanctuary but the keeping of Shabbat out flanks that instruction. 

Perhaps more than an exclusion there is an equation of interdependence, and a framework for both understanding and practicing being in relationship with God. Shabbat is predominantly an individual practice in terms of how we differentiate it from the rest of the week. Granted, there are family and communal moments but the actual “keeping” or observing of shabbat becomes an expression of our personal commitment to this larger relationship. The Temple on the other hand seems to be the exact opposite, it is designed around large communal events, where I show up as past of the we. Our belief and connection to God finds expression both in the private and the public domain, there ought to be no contradiction, rather a sense that our relationship is all encompassing and abiding. 

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter and serves on faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. He was a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, following which he was the Executive Director for Jewish Renewal at the UJIA in England. Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion.
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