In Vayakhel, the first half of this past Torah portion, detailed descriptions of the building of the mishkan are interrupted by the commandment to observe Shabbat. Despite the awkward flow of narrative, the reasoning seems clear: God capped the creation of a magnificent universe with a day of rest and--after telling them to stop already with the gifts--reminded the Jewish people to do the same after they built a magnificent place to congregate and give thanks for that universe. Writes Arthur Green:
In order for the world to exist over a course of time, God had to hold back Creation by calling out, "Enough!" In the parallel suggested here, human activity needs the same self-limitation; knowing when to stop is part of the task of our human doing.
—The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet
At services this Shabbat, however, the rabbi offered a different interpretation: God asked us to stop because we were in danger of worshipping the products of our own hands, rather than the time in which it took to make them. Judaism is about sanctification of time, not place. We often skirt this line, believing that more of everything will make us better, happier, fulfilled. A good life is about time well spent, not the number of jewels on our ritual objects or dollars in our bank accounts.
This Shabbat I received the gift of some of that good time. With a cold, interrupted by coughing and hoarseness but mostly capable of making pleasant sounds, I helped lead services on Friday and Saturday. But I wasn't nervous, not even after I left my siddur, with seven years' worth of penciled exhortations and exclamation points, at the synagogue on Friday night. It was Shabbat, so I knew everything would be fine. This makes no sense, really; the day carries no magic except for the goodness we ascribe to it. But sometimes belief can change reality. I trekked back to the synagogue after dinner through a foot of melting icy mush, but couldn't find the book. So I borrowed another from a stack in the sanctuary, and went back home and re-applied Post-Its next to appropriate morning passages.
And everything really was fine. I was as confident as if I had led Shaharit yesterday, rather than three years ago, and even remembered to breathe between coughs. Just like other times I've led, the energy and warmth of everyone in the room was a big spotlight of goodness hovering over my head. How is it that the rabbis at my synagogue always seem to be talking directly to me each Shabbat, as if a big neon sign on my forehead was flashing in the direction of the bima: "Problem of the week--please address"? I finally understood, after the d'var Torah, that these good and holy moments could occur with or without the talisman of a lucky siddur, and even if I had a cold. They were not limited to particular places--they could happen in this synagogue or elsewhere, with different people and in any number of situations. As long as I allowed myself to give fully of myself, Time would reciprocate by allowing me to experience moments of sanctity. But if I focused too much of my time on work, jealousy, insecurity, and other pursuits that beg for God's "Enough!"--on getting rather than being--I could miss those moments. I would forget how to see them.