Ki Tisa–A Cathedral in Time

[God said,]  “Look, I am about to seal a covenant . . . Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall  rest.” (Ex. 34:10, 21)

It is natural to hear echoes of the episode of the molten calf in the terms in Ex. 34, since that episode is why the covenant needs to be renewed in the first place.  One obvious resonance is the prohibition against “molten gods” (Ex. 34:7).

We can also see an opposition or antidote to the calf in the attention paid to sacred time in the festival calendar and, especially, the Sabbath.   We have already spoken of how the interiority of the mishkan (abode, tabernacle) contrasts with the calf in terms of sacred space, a place we can enter.  Here, the emphasis is on sacred time, which is even more important in Judaism.  We are always in time.  To sanctify its rhythms of labor and rest, of seedtime and harvest, directs us away from projecting our fantasies and fears onto a fetish and toward the liberating awareness of God that is the aim of the covenant.  We carve, as Heschel puts it, a “cathedral in time,” built of the very stuff of our lives.

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