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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Constructing Holy Space

by Jason Goldstein (Posted on May 19, 2022)
Topics: Behar, Sefer Vayikra, Torah

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After a long chapter that puts forth the details of Shemita and Yovel, the Torah concludes Parsha Behar with “You shall keep my Sabbaths and revere my Sanctuary” (Lev 26:2).

While these are essential mitzvot, why does the Torah conclude its elucidation of the laws of Shemita with two unrelated commands? Many commentators connect these mandates to the preceding passage. The concluding verses of the previous chapter outline that a Jew who is forced to indenture himself to a resident alien, a gentile living in the land of Israel, is to be set free upon reaching the Jubilee year (Lev 25:48). According to their analysis, the Torah then adds that, despite being subject to a gentile master, the subjugated Jew must nonetheless still carefully observe Shabbat and offer proper reverence to the Beit HaMikdash.

This verse may also be understood as not only referencing what immediately precedes it, but also our entire parsha as well. There are two underlying principles to Shemitah: the holiness of time and the holiness of space. Every seventh year is sanctified time, a year when the holiness of space, of Eretz Yisrael, is brought to the forefront. Our verse summarizes this notion by emphasizing the observance of Shabbat, holy time, and the veneration of the Temple, holy space.

Those living in Israel experience holiness in space on a regular basis. How can those living in the diaspora relate to this concept?

The Seforno comments that the Torah’s command to “revere my Sanctuary” does not only refer to the Beit HaMikdash, but also to synagogues and batei midrash in the diaspora. These are holy spaces that demand our respect. Holiness, however, is not inherent to our synagogues and other communal spaces. Even if the Jewish people did not observe Shabbat, Shabbat itself is inherently holy, but our spaces are only holy if we make them holy. 

A place as mundane as a living room or a lecture hall is transformed into holy space having introduced a Sefer Torah and devout prayer. A social hall is remade into a midkash me’at, a small sanctuary, when it becomes the focal point organizing a food drive. We must strive to make our synagogues and communal spaces holy, by ensuring that they are welcoming centers of heartfelt tefillah, chesed, and Torah.

Shabbat Shalom