The Holiness of Time and Living a Jewish Life

by Arliene Botnick, September 29, 2018

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his treatise on the Sabbath, “Holiness in space, in nature, was known to other religions. New in the teaching of Judaism, was that the idea of holiness was gradually shifted from space to time, from the realm of nature to the realm of history, from things to events.” Heschel saw the Sabbath as the holiest of times, a foretaste of the world to come. As Jews, I’d like to suggest that time is of paramount importance in defining what it means to live a Jewish life.

Is it time to light the Shabbat candles? Is it time to clean out all the chametz (unleavened food products) from my house for Passover? What time is the sun setting to begin my fast for Yom Kippur? When do I have time to shop for our High Holiday dinners? Remember to make time to get our costumes ready for Purim, or find the Chanukiah we stored away, or dig out the Sukkah that’s stored somewhere in our garage or shed.

Living a Jewish life means looking at a calendar and seeing a whole different set of times. We have December 31st as our ‘secular’ New Year, but as Jews we just celebrated the Jewish New Year (as commanded in Leviticus 23) on the 1st day of Tishrei (the 7th month), then on January 21st, we will be celebrating another New Year, Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the trees. We celebrate that time as we acknowledge our relationship with Israel, which at about that time, sees the almond trees begin to blossom as the rainy season is ending.

In the Fall, we, as many of our neighbours, celebrate the time of community Thanksgiving; but as Jews, we celebrate the harvest, which is one of the earliest times acknowledged, as we celebrate 7 days of Sukkot. We ‘live’ in huts and decorate with symbols of the Fall Harvest.

As I spend time teaching the J.I.C. (Jewish Information Class) for adults who wish to learn more about Judaism, with perhaps the intention of becoming a part of the Jewish people, the class talks a lot about what it means to be Jews. We discuss looking at the world through “Jewish eyes” and we always begin by looking at a Jewish Calendar, so that the significance of the holiness in time will resonate in all our lives.


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