21.4. Sanctity of Space and Sanctity of Time

For the nearly two thousand years of their exile the Jewish people had no Temple. They therefore concentrated on the sanctity of time rather than of space – on the Shabbat, and not on the Temple. Although all this was the result of a glaring deficiency, the absence of the Temple, some Diaspora philosophers reasoned that it was probably better that way anyway. They even went so far as to proclaim that “Judaism does not build temples in space, but only in time.” These philosophers taught that the Divine teachings cannot possibly be identified with any particular physical or geographical place or space, because they believed that any such notion directly contradicts the principle of the universality of God.

But this point of view was only a form of psychological compensation, a defensive reaction – in this case, to the absence of the Temple. And just as the existence of the Sabbath, a specially demarcated sacred time in no way contradicts the fact that God is eternal, and present in each and every moment, so too the existence of a specially demarcated sacred space, the Temple, is no contradiction to God’s omnipresence.

Moreover, the foundations of monotheism require that we acknowledge that God is manifested at all times and in all things, in time and in space. But if we believe in a proposition that God is “especially manifested” in specific moments but not in specific places, then there is obviously “insufficiency of manifestation of Divinity.” Therefore, this approach appears to be incorrect.

Concentrating on the Jewish “Temple in time,” on the Shabbat and festivals, and not on the Temple in Jerusalem, was a necessary expedient. Clearly, it is more helpful to focus on that which is an empirical reality in one’s life. Constraining Judaism to ever narrower confines was necessary for the preservation of Judaism, but it would be categorically incorrect to consider this flawed situation ideal. Indeed, for two thousand years the Jews had built their sanctity exclusively in time, but only because they could not build it in space, and not for any lack of interest or desire to do so. Zionism and the Jews’ return to the Land of Israel have now restored them once again to the reality of sanctity in space.

Many passages in the Torah combine these two aspects, time and space, as represented by the construction of the Temple and the observance of the Sabbath. For example: “… Make everything [in the Temple] that I have commanded you … Nevertheless, you must keep My Sabbaths” (31:7,13). The Halachah interprets this to mean that even the construction of the Temple had to be suspended on Shabbat. And this connection also sheds light on why the thirty-nine categories of labor prohibited on Shabbat precisely coincide with the labors that were performed in constructing the Temple. But even apart from the halachic aspect, the underlying meaning of these verses consists in the idea of unifying the sanctity of time and of space, as represented by the unity of the Temple and the Shabbat.

In this regard, Zionism, which restored the Jewish understanding of the sanctity of space, is a critical element for correcting those distortions of Judaism that were brought about by the exceedingly long exile that the Jewish people endured.


Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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