Space: it’s the infinite beyond; what we used to call ‘the heavens’; it’s everything around us – most of which, we have filled up … The account of the creation of the universe we find in the Torah begins by telling us: ‘Now the Earth was uninformed and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters’ (Genesis 1:2). So, gradually, stage by stage – the Torah speaks of ‘days’ – the narrative unfolds: first, light and darkness; then the heavens; then the Earth; then the vegetation; then the waters teeming with life; then the Earth filled with every kind of living creature, from creeping things crawling on the ground, to the animals; finally, Humanity (Genesis 1).
It’s not so very different from what the scientists tell us about the process of evolution. The only element that is related out of order is when the text pauses on the fourth day, between the vegetation and the teeming waters, to tell us about what most people probably think about as Space – with a capital S – that is, the stars, the sun and the moon (Gen. 1:14-18).
While the sun, with its seasons, and the moon, with its months, regulate the cycle of the Jewish year, the lens of Jewish attention is not directed skywards; instead it tends to focus on what’s happening on the ground – or rather, on what people are doing on the ground; how we live day by day and relate to one another and manage our affairs. And yet, the intersection between the cycle of the weeks and months with daily life is very important: throughout the account of creation, the Torah tells us that ‘God saw that it was good – tov’; only when it comes to the seventh day do we learn, ‘then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it’ – va-yikaddeish oto (Gen. 2:3). The seventh day is sacred – kadosh; it is set apart – which is what kadosh means – from the days of productivity and creativity as an oasis in time; an opportunity to cease from our labours and rest. As the colloquial idiom puts it, Shabbat gives us the ‘space’ we need in our hectic lives to relax and unwind and refresh our bodies and our souls.
So, there is sacred time, but what about sacred space? Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Jewish life has been much more preoccupied with sacred time. Nevertheless, as we read the Torah, week after week we are aware of just how much it does say about sacred spaces: Mount Sinai and the Tabernacle – the Mishkan – in particular. But, interestingly, the Mishkan was a tent; a mobile sacred space – also called the Mikdash (Sanctuary) – that the Israelites carried with them as they wandered through the wilderness. Ultimately, the sacred in Judaism is about space: the spaces in time we create; the space for the sacred we carry with us, wherever we are, on all our journeys…