Like any normative system, Judaism is most interesting when it seeks to balance and prioritize conflicting values. It is less difficult to discern between right and wrong than between right and right. What are we to do when two positive values collide? Our double Torah portion Aharei Mot-Kedoshim takes on just this.
In chapter 19 we read two verses about Shabbat. 19:3 says, "You shall each revere his mother and father, and keep my sabbaths; I the Lord and your God," while 19:30 says, "You shall guard my sabbaths, and venerate my sanctuary; I am the Lord."
Each verse has three clauses, each of which stands in relation to the other two. We can read them as a spiritual progression. Respect your parents by keeping Shabbat, and you will know God. And: Protect sacred time and mark it in sacred space and then you will come to know the Eternal One (who nevertheless transcends time and space). In these readings, each clause supports the others.
Take a short moment to consider. Is it the Temple that we are supposed to revere-a building-or is it God whom we ought to revere? In Sofrim [i] 3:17we read, "Do not revere the Temple, but the One who commanded about it..." This brief statement reflects a common and growing concern that popular religiosity focuses more on the structures of religion rather than on its core values. We, too, can be guilty of this, forgetting the synagogue's core mission is worship of and correspondingly coming closer to God. This does not mean we should not continue to generously donate our time and money to help shuls operate; I simply want to remind each of us of the core reason we care so deeply about this sacred community.
In the end, however, keeping Shabbat is as much a state of mind as it is about our activities. On this Shabbat of Aharei Mot-Kedoshim let us "work" to create a "menhuah sheleimah," an uncompromised state of relaxation which will allow us to devote ourselves to Torah, mitzvot and praise of the Holy One. We may not be at a stage where we can do all aspects of Shabbat, but I implore each of us to take on just a little bit more to help make Shabbat holier for our community. I wish you a peaceful and pleasant Shabbat.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham
[i] A tractate augmenting the Talmud.