Last session we talked about the nature and purpose of sacred time as well as some of its key characteristics. Today we will dwell mostly on the ways in which sacred time helps us better understand and experience the Divine blessings of creation, revelation, and redemption. Further, we will reflect on the difference these blessings can make in our lives and how the experience of them in sacred time helps us serve God and others in the world.
A. First, though, I want to continue for a moment our
discussion from last week about the Sabbath to see how and why certain mitzvot
extend its principles and purposes through time.
Read Leviticus 25:4-5; Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 15:1; Deuteronomy 31:10-12.
Leviticus 25: 4 But in the seventh year the land will have a special sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord: You must not plant your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 You must not harvest the secondary growth of your produce or gather the grapes of your freely growing vines. It will be a year of special rest for the land.
Exodus 23: 10 For six years you should plant crops on your land and gather in its produce. 11 But in the seventh year you should leave it alone and undisturbed so that the poor among your people may eat. What they leave behind, the wild animals may eat. You should do the same with your vineyard and your olive trees.
Deuteronomy 15: 1 Every seventh year you must cancel all debts.
Deuteronomy 31: 10 Moses then commanded them: At the end of seven years, at the appointed time in the year of debt cancellation, during the Festival of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the location he selects, you must read this Instruction aloud, in the hearing of all the people. 12 Gather everyone—men, women, children, and the immigrants who live in your cities—in order that they hear it, learn it, and revere the Lord your God, carefully doing all the words of this Instruction,
Q1. We will examine the sabbatical year. While these mitzvot are not followed in any significant way any more, what lessons might we learn from the rest and refraining in a seventh year (or other such extended period) that might be of value to us in our own lives?
These mitzvot teach about the sabbatical year, a period of resting and a refraining from activity such as working, cultivating, and reaping every seventh year. Further, there is guidance to focus instead in that time on God’s word - to listen to it, to hearken to it, to learn it, and to observe it - all in awe of God.
1. The surface requirements of these mitzvot are no longer followed in any significant way. But what lessons might we learn from such rest and refraining in a seventh year (or other such extended period) that might be of value to us in our own lives?
(Might it be of value to “shut the machine down” on a periodic basis? Just as with the Sabbath in the week, should there be an extended break over the course of years for rest and restoration? Otherwise, we may hold to the view that life is to be lived without break, virtually exclusively in our work of others and the earth’s resources. To the contrary, we are guided to understand that we have broader purposes in life and that the land and our fellow living beings are God’s possessions, not ours. They’re not to be made subject to our complete and perpetual dominion.
After our redemption from Egypt, we can never create Egypt for any part of God’s creation. These rules slow us down; they break the pattern of our acquisitiveness and inclination to own and to control. They force us to respect the land, the environment, and, as well, our fellows for their intrinsic and permanent value, not just what we can extract out of them for our own use and gain.
These rules turn us back to our souls - the deepest parts of our spirit and the call of our ethics. And, so, we occupy ourselves there in periodic sacred time, with our most profound values, and we hope to come back into regular time in the next cycle with our priorities better in sync with God’s expectations of us.)
2. How would we do this?
(Would we take a sabbatical, literally? Or would we, at least every so often, slow it down, physically and materially, and cease the relentless work and reaping? Or would we pause the climb up the corporate ladder? Or soften our pursuit of the extra edge in our deals with others, perhaps allowing the claims and burdens we impose on others to ease or cease?
It’s interesting the Bible warns
that the lands that are not given their proper rest will get it one day and
that violators will be scattered to the lands of their enemies. Could it be
that loss through mental or physical disease, disrupted relationships, or even
economic setbacks occasioned by greed and overreaching are modern-day
equivalents of such consequences?)
Read Leviticus 25:8-13, 23-24, 29
Leviticus 25: 8 Count off seven weeks of years—that is, seven times seven so that the seven weeks of years totals forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet blown on the tenth day of the seventh month. Have the trumpet blown throughout your land on the Day of Reconciliation. 10 You will make the fiftieth year holy, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a Jubilee year for you: each of you must return to your family property and to your extended family. 11 The fiftieth year will be a Jubilee year for you. Do not plant, do not harvest the secondary growth, and do not gather from the freely growing vines 12 because it is a Jubilee: it will be holy to you. You can eat only the produce directly out of the field. 13 Each of you must return to your family property in this year of Jubilee. 23 The land must not be permanently sold because the land is mine. You are just immigrants and foreign guests of mine. 24 Throughout the whole land that you possess, you must allow for the land to be bought back. 29 When a person sells a home in a walled city, it may be bought back until a year after its sale. The period for buying it back will be one year.
Q2. We will look briefly at the mitzvot regarding the Jubilee Year without extended discussion.
These mitzvot relate to living true to the requirements of the sabbath of sabbatical years, the Jubilee Year, which, for various reasons, is no longer explicitly followed now. We won’t delve into the specific elements of this year, but suffice to say that its release goes even beyond that of the sabbatical year. In this time, there is to be a more profound re-structuring of our lives and what we’ve built. We are to make sure we understand and live truer to the fundamental principle that God is the owner and that we are mere stewards to the Divine in what we have, including our power in personal relationships with other human beings.
The Jubilee Year was intended to achieve a fundamental alignment back to God’s ways. At its end, people may yet return to ordinary time and get out of balance again. But this period’s demand of a radical adjustment is likely to push us always to be mindful, as well as ever-seeking, of an Original Purpose, an intended ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan. Perhaps it is there at least notionally to give us an ongoing feel of the sacred, one we hope to have always in the messianic era when all will live in accordance with God’s ways, blessed with shalom. Perhaps, too, the idea is one of a foretaste on earth of everlasting life with God.
Read Exodus 12:2, 23:14; Deuteronomy 16:16, 12:5-6
Exodus 12: 2 “This month will be the first month; it will be the first month of the year for you.
Exodus 23: 14 You should observe a festival for me three times a year.
Deuteronomy 16: 16 Three times a year every male among you must appear before the presence of the Lord your God in the location he will select: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Booths. They must not appear before the Lord’s presence empty-handed.
Q3. We will look briefly at the mitzvot regarding marking the new moon without extended discussion.
These mitzvot command us, first, to mark the new moon. Being in sync with sacred time is an essential part of experiencing sacred time, so the time of marking is sacred itself.
This guidance further leads us to journey to sacred space, appear before God, and bring appropriate offerings to God at specific sacred times designed to commemorate the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. We’ll turn our attention to them now.
Read Exodus 12:6, 8-10, 15, 18-20, 43, 45-46, 48; 13:3, 7-8; 23:18; Leviticus 23:10, 14; Numbers 9:11-12; Deuteronomy 16:3-4.
Exodus 12: 6 You should keep close watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month. At twilight on that day, the whole assembled Israelite community should slaughter their lambs. 8 That same night they should eat the meat roasted over the fire. They should eat it along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over fire with its head, legs, and internal organs. 10 Don’t let any of it remain until morning, and burn any of it left over in the morning. 15 You will eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day you must remove yeast from your houses because anyone who eats leavened bread anytime during those seven days will be cut off from Israel. 18 In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you should eat unleavened bread. 19 For seven days no yeast should be found in your houses because whoever eats leavened bread will be cut off from the Israelite community, whether the person is an immigrant or a native of the land.20 You should not eat anything made with yeast in all your settlements. You should eat only unleavened bread.” 43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the regulation for the Passover. No foreigner may eat it. 45 No temporary foreign resident or day laborer may eat it. 46 It should be eaten in one house. You shouldn’t take any of the meat outside the house, and you shouldn’t break the bones. 48 If an immigrant who lives with you wants to observe the Passover to the Lord, then he and all his males should be circumcised. Then he may join in observing it. He should be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat it.
Exodus 13: 3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day which is the day that you came out of Egypt, out of the place you were slaves, because the Lord acted with power to bring you out of there. No leavened bread may be eaten. 7 Only unleavened bread should be eaten for seven days. No leavened bread and no yeast should be seen among you in your whole country. 8 You should explain to your child on that day, ‘It’s because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’
Exodus 23: 18 Don’t offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened. Don’t let the fat of my festival offering be left over until the morning.
Leviticus 23: 10 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you and harvest its produce, you must bring the first bundle of your harvest to the priest. 14 You must not eat any bread, roasted grain, or fresh grain until the exact day when you bring your God’s offering. This is a permanent rule throughout your future generations, wherever you live.
Numbers 9: 11 They will keep it at twilight on the fourteenth day of the second month. They will eat the Passover lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it until morning, nor break any of its bones. They will keep the Passover according to all its regulations.
Deuteronomy 16: 3 You must not eat anything containing yeast along with it. Instead, for seven days you must eat unleavened bread, bread symbolizing misery, along with it because you fled Egypt in a great hurry. Do this so you remember the day you fled Egypt for as long as you live.
Q4. These are but a few of the many mitzvot regarding the sacred time of Passover. What is the purpose of this sacred time? What does it teach us about creation, redemption, and revelation, and what relevance might these lessons have for us?
A. You know the plot of the Exodus, so we won’t repeat it today. But let me reveal a key fact, and then I want to ask you a question.
The fact is this: Jews celebrate four New Year’s Days! One is indeed Rosh Hashanah, which we’ll talk about briefly a bit later. But it takes place on the first day of the 7th month of the Hebrew calendar. Guess which holiday falls on the first day of the 1st month. Passover. It, too, is a New Year’s event, which, as you know, falls in the spring.
What do you think is significant about the spring festival of Passover being a New Year’s?
(It could be that it commemorates the earth being born again.
It could be that the people are born as a community after enslavement in Egypt, and the rituals experienced in sacred time re-enact the birth of that community.
It could be because of the emphasis on the young in the celebration, as well as the importance of differences of each and every celebrant. This could be in the spirit that each newborn child is different.
Or it could be that the miracles associated with this holy time point us back to the Creation, which as Rosenzweig teaches, leads us then forward to revelation and redemption. (Indeed the purpose of the Exodus is not freedom per se; it is freedom from narrowness, a freedom from being bound to the material. Instead, in freedom, we become bound to God. We are freed to become bound in love and service to the God Who reveals the Divine Self to us, beginning at Sinai, and drives us to a more profound redemption for others and for ourselves.)
(Of course, it is notable that Easter occurs in this
Read Leviticus 23:15, 17
Leviticus 23: 15 You must count off seven weeks starting with the day after the Sabbath, the day you bring the bundle for the uplifted offering; these must be complete. 17 From wherever you live, you will bring two loaves of bread as an uplifted offering. These must be made of two-tenths of an ephah of choice flour, baked with leaven, as early produce to the Lord.
Q5. This text is the basis for the Jewish holiday, Shavuot, the Pentecost, which celebrates God’s Revelation. What does Revelation mean to us?
A. These verses relate to the very important pilgrimage festival in the early summer associated with the offering of the first fruits of the wheat harvest. There is a counting of seven weeks from the second day of Passover that brings to the sacred time of Shavuot. (Note the presence again of “seven,” the idea of a complete and enduring cycle.)
Over time, this period of weeks between Passover and Shavuot has been invested with additional rich, spiritual meaning that teaches of the purposes of our journey from Egypt to Mt. Sinai where we received God’s Revelation. We reap of this harvest at so many levels, as God, in covenant with us, reaps of the harvest of us. We acknowledge these miracles and their effects through the counting, through the growth over the weeks, and the special offering of the loaves from the fresh wheat at the conclusion.
(Keep in mind that our next extended study together will take place during this Counting of the Omer next spring-summer. Then we will take a sort of spiritual/ethical journey of our own “from redemption to revelation” to experience some of the possibilities of what this period of sacred time offers people of faith.)
B. What does Revelation mean to you?
(For Rosenzweig, it is the “moment of the present,” sandwiched between “the long everlasting way of the past and the eternal coming of the future.” It is the intense moment of God’s disclosure of Himself and His Torah to the people, which focuses the people’s hearts and minds on God, God’s presence, God’s word, God’s love, and God’s expectations of us.
people is completely engulfed in its solitude of two with its God.” Through Shavuot, all of the three festivals become
festivals of revelation, and Israel becomes a people of revelation, with God,
and with a mission toward others and in the world.)
The Fall Holy Season
The “high holidays” have the feel of a sacred symphony. Let’s look at them as if each is a movement.
Read Numbers 29:1
Numbers 29: 1 The first day of the seventh month will be a holy occasion for you. You will not do any job-related work. It will be for you a day of the trumpet’s sound.
Q6. What sort of new year is Rosh Hashanah meant to be, and what might be the significance of marking it by the blowing and hearing of the ram’s horn?
A. The beginning of the “music” hearkens back to the beginning of the world, the Creation. This is one of the New Year’s Days; indeed it is the “head of the year.” Let’s recall that this season begins as, for many, the productive period of the earth’s year begins to “die.” Worried about what one sees in the natural world, people of faith are inclined to turn to God, our Sovereign, in hope that the Creator of the world will continue the flow of miracles that extend the process of birth and re-birth by which life is sustained.
What purpose might you see in the mitzvah calling for a day of blowing and hearing the shofar, the ram’s horn?
(We are awakened, nay, startled and aroused by the
sharp sound to re-affirm our faith and covenant. We are both joyful and solemn.
Perhaps, more important, our soul is stirred to begin to reflect through the
broken sounds of this horn on how we have fallen short and must begin the
journey back, of turning again to God. We recall the shofar was sounded at
Sinai, drawing our attention to the motif of revelation. Indeed all this may
involve the essence of the covenant: God renews life with us, and we renew life
with the Divine.)
Read Leviticus 16:1-34
Leviticus 16: After the death of Aaron’s two sons, which happened when they approached the Lord and died, the Lord spoke to Moses: 2 Tell your brother Aaron that he cannot come whenever he wants into the holy area inside the inner curtain, to the front of the cover[a] that is on the chest, or else he will die, because I am present[b]in the cloud above the cover. 3 No, but Aaron must enter the holy area as follows: with a bull from the herd as a purification offering and a ram as an entirely burned offering. 4 Aaron must dress in a holy linen tunic and wear linen undergarments on his body. He must tie a linen sash around himself and wrap a linen turban around his head. These are holy clothes—Aaron will first bathe his body in water and then put them on. 5 He will take from the Israelite community two male goats for a purification offering and one ram for an entirely burned offering.
6 Aaron will offer the bull as a purification offering to make reconciliation for himself and his household. 7 He will take the two male goats and place them before the Lord at the meeting tent’s entrance. 8 Aaron will cast lots over the two goats: one lot labeled “the Lord’s” and the other lot labeled “Azazel’s.”[c] 9 Aaron will present the goat selected by the Lord’s lot and perform a purification offering with it. 10 But the goat selected by Azazel’s lot will be left standing alive before the Lord in order to make reconciliation upon it[d] by sending it away into the wilderness to Azazel.
11 Aaron will offer the bull for his purification offering to make reconciliation for himself and his household. He will slaughter the bull for his purification offering.12 Then he will take an incense pan full of burning coals from the altar, from before the Lord, and two handfuls of finely ground perfumed incense and bring them inside the inner curtain. 13 He will put the incense on the fire before the Lord so that the cloud of incense conceals the cover that is on top of the covenant document, or else he will die. 14 He will take some of the bull’s blood and sprinkle it with his finger on the cover from the east side. He will then sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times in front of the cover. 15 Then he will slaughter the goat for the people’s purification offering, bring the blood inside the inner curtain, and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: he will sprinkle it on the cover and in front of the cover. 16 In this way, he will make reconciliation for the inner holy area because of the pollution of the Israelites and because of their rebellious sins, as well as for all their other sins.
Aaron must do the same for the meeting tent, which is with them among their pollution. 17 No one can be in the meeting tent from the time Aaron enters to make reconciliation in the inner holy area until the time he comes out. He will make reconciliation for himself, for his household, and for the whole assembly of Israel.
18 Aaron will then go to the altar that is before the Lord and make reconciliation for it: He will take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on each of the altar’s horns. 19 He will sprinkle some of the blood on the altar with his finger seven times. In this way, he will purify it and make it holy again from the Israelites’ pollution.
20 When Aaron has finished reconciling the inner holy area, the rest of the meeting tent, and the altar, he will bring forward the live goat. 21 Aaron will press both his hands on its head and confess over it all the Israelites’ offenses and all their rebellious sins, as well as all their other sins, putting all these on the goat’s head. Then he will send it away into the wilderness with someone designated for the job.[e] 22 The goat will carry on itself all their offenses to a desolate region, then the goat will be released into the wild.
23 After this, Aaron will enter the meeting tent, take off the linen clothes he was wearing when he entered the inner holy area, and will leave them there. 24 He will bathe his body in water in a holy place and dress in his priestly clothing. Then he will go out and perform the entirely burned offerings for himself and for the people. In this way, he will make reconciliation for himself and for the people. 25 He will completely burn the fat of the purification offering on the altar. 26 The one who set the goat free for Azazel must wash their clothes and bathe their body in water; after that they can return to the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the purification offerings, whose blood was brought in to make reconciliation in the inner holy area, will be taken outside the camp. Their hides, flesh, and dung will be burned with fire. 28 The person who burns them must wash their clothes and bathe their body in water; after that, they can return to the camp.
29 This will be a permanent rule for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month,[f]you must deny yourselves. You must not do any work—neither the citizen nor the immigrant who lives among you. 30 On that day reconciliation will be made for you in order to cleanse you. You will be clean before the Lord from all your sins. 31 It will be a Sabbath of special rest for you, and you will deny yourselves. This is a permanent rule.
32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest after his father will perform the reconciliation, wearing the holy linen clothes. 33 He will reconcile the holiest part of the sanctuary and will do the same for the meeting tent and the altar. He will make reconciliation for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. 34 This will be a permanent rule for you, in order to make reconciliation for the Israelites from all their sins once a year.
It was done just as the Lord commanded Moses.
Q7. This describes Yom Kippur. What is the significance of Yom Kippur, and what might it mean to deny oneself during this sacred time?
We spend the first ten days of the month re-centering and re-orienting ourselves to the way that God has given us. This turning, the teshuvah, begins. Critically, it involves our getting right with those we have wronged. The teaching is clear: God is not pleased with our approach to Him if we have failed to try to repair and restore what we’ve broken with others.
This interim period, thus, has a touch of the sacred in it. Perhaps that’s because we recall that part of Revelation in which God’s love spills out to us with the intention that we help spill it forward to others. More particularly, if we are to be redeemed, we must play a redeeming role in the world - all of which requires that the cloth of our human relations be stitched together (and often re-stitched) to the best of our effort.
Why and how do we afflict ourselves?
(The “music” becomes somber, sober as we approach the Day of Awe. All is at stake. There is an awareness of death, as well as of eternity. It’s principally about getting right with others and God, and being forgiven. But it’s also about a readiness for eternity, even through death, to an ultimate redemption.
We offer up a personal sacrifice of sorts through fasting. We are sensitive and attuned to spiritual and ethical challenges and opportunities. The material side of our selves is neglected, in favor of the spiritual - the wise soul - that serves God and relies on Divine direction (Chinuch).
Whatever our physical fate might be in the world, generally and specifically in the coming year, we reach out to God, in prayer and turning, and in righteousness and with love for others. In doing so, we seek to avert whatever may be stern in the decree as to the physical dimension of our lives, and find shalom in and for our soul.
This has a deeply and pervasively redemptive effect,
first, in promoting our role in furthering the redemption of others through our
making things right in our world and, second, in our own redemption through
being right, ultimately, with God.)
C. Sukkot, and the Closing Movement of the "Fall Symphony": Read Leviticus 23:40, 42
Leviticus 23: 40 On the first day you must take fruit from majestic trees, palm branches, branches of leafy trees, and willows of the streams, and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 You will celebrate this festival to the Lord for seven days each year; this is a permanent rule throughout your future generations. You will celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 For seven days you must live in booths. Every citizen of Israel must live in booths.
Q8. We will discuss Sukkot and the closing period of the fall sacred season. What might it have meant to people in days past to dwell in booths during the fall harvest? What might such activity mean to people today?
As was the case with the counting of the omer, the related “music” in the “Spring Symphony,” there is wilderness “music” in the fall sacred period, too. Here it is less contemplative in a way, less anticipatory. Rather, it is simpler, more festive, more, I think, full of faith. It is the holiday of Sukkot.
What would it mean to dwell in booths that open to the sky during the fall harvest? What might this be all about? What might it teach us?
(We experience nature, and we are open to it and God’s protection. We have vulnerability, to be sure, but also faith. There is a sense of being near the harvest, and very grateful to God and joyful for it. There’s also a touch of the nomadic in our lives. We celebrate with the fruits of the earth, the so-called Four Species, hearkening back to the Creation. The booth may be as frail as a cloud, but, as with the clouds of glory, we are sheltered by it and by God as we stay before wandering forward.
There is a sense that the “sacred music” of the fall is nearing its end here. We have experienced the Revelation and very much feel God’s transcendent presence and love. We feel redemption and know it lies ahead, though it is, as of now, still incomplete. Though our existence has a frailty to it, we feel the great power of our Sheltering Force, which is forever present with us.)
The music of this season proceeds quickly through the mysterious time of Shemini Atzeret, which feels both joyous and serious, when we “close out the party” by focusing really solely on God and contemplating in awe the revelation of God’s way. And then the “Fall Symphony” ends with the joyous festival of Simchat Torah. On this day, we rejoice in Torah, completing one year’s cycle and starting up the next on the same day. It’s as if we are now readying ourselves to go back to life from sacred time in joy and in service, as God has called us to.
Conclusion - final reflections of the meaning and experience of creation, revelation, and redemption to people of faith.
Creation, revelation, and redemption - the experience of these three Divine blessings is at the core of what we do in sacred time, especially the holy days we’ve discussed today. I hope we come away from our study with a deeper appreciation of how such experiences strengthen us and enable us to understand and to fulfill God’s hope that we grow closer to the holy and bring more of it out from sacred time and into more of the ordinary time in our lives.
Further, I hope we leave with a better sense of how
God’s word guides us to appreciate each of these blessings
- the power of miracle in Creation, the presence and love of God in Revelation,
and the glorious purpose and goal in this world and eternity of redemption.