Science tell us that the most basic unit of life is the cell. It’s the tiny microscopic blob that has these even smaller parts inside of it that process proteins and sugars. Some organisms only have one cell. You and me, we have trillions. The logic is that there are trillions of basic units that come together to form larger units that come together to form systems that come together with other systems and make a body. But the basic most fundamental unit of life is the cell. Or is it?
Life is not only biological. Life is not just built on cells, but on moments. Every moment pulls from the past and pushes into the future. It is the moments that shape the seconds. The seconds that shape the minutes, the minutes that shape the hours that shape the days, that shape weeks and years, that shape your life. Life’s most basic unit is not just the cell, but the moment.
Which means the most fundamental time in your life is right now.
This very moment.
But many of us don’t feel that way. We live in the future and only exist in the present. We fantasize about our success or worry about our failures.
We aspire. We dream. We fear. But we don’t actually live.
Jews don’t believe that God makes a map for your life. We are not predestined to heaven or to hell. The decree over our life is never written until we write it. God does not set a fated path before each us. How you craft your life through every holy moment is up to you. Your life is your responsibility, not God’s.
God does, however, give us a blueprint. A blueprint is not a map. A blueprint tells you how to build the house and where to put the beams and pipes. A blueprint never tells you what paintings to put on your walls or what sports team to follow. A blueprint never tells you which melody to use when you sing your children to sleep. Or what kind of tortilla to use for ‘Taco Tuesday.’
Blueprints are only create an environment, an ecosystem in which those holy moments of living can be found. The blueprint is the background. Your life is the foreground.
The Torah is God’s blueprint. God, according to the rabbis, uses the Torah to set up the foundations of the world. (Bereshit Rabbah 1:4) The Torah gives us commandments and tells us the many stories of our people, but at its center is a single character that matters more than Abraham and Sarah or Moses and Miriam. The Torah’s most important character – the one the whole world depends on – is you.
In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, God makes this clear. “These are occasions of God that you shall ordain as sacred and call them holy – these are those times which are Mine. (Leviticus 23:2) God gives you a blueprint for holy moments – a calendar for the week and for the year full of sacred occasions, but it is up to you to call them holy. To do the work of making your life holy. God gives you the blueprint to build your house and it’s up to you make it into a home.
You have to be an active partner with God to create holy moments. This is your number one responsibility living in the covenant. You must live in the moment and give up on your fears and fantasies. You have to give up on FOMO or worrying about a life you are not actually living.
It’s the difference between “finding time” and “making time.” The Torah does not say, “Find time for your family. Find time for study. Find time for yourself. Find time for community.” Life is too important to just say, “when I find the time.” Because you never will.
Make the time. You have to make the time for family, for learning, and community. The Torah is full of commandments. The blueprint is there. A blessed life is possible. But you must make the time. These are the sacred occasions of life, but you must make them holy.
On our spiritual journeys many of us feel the chasm between who we want to be and who we think we are. It’s like we are trying to live in a finished masterpiece of our lives without doing the basic drawing first, or dancing ballet without ever learning to walk. Every artist will tell you if you want to be a master, you have to start with the fundamentals. If you want to live the most blessed life, you have to start with the holy basics. You have to make holy time. Start with what is sacred in every moment. Craft holiness through your day. Make Shabbat so you can have holiness every week. Create sacred moments throughout the year. You will look back and see that you have created a blessed life because you took God’s blueprint into your hands and made something beautiful.
There’s a little bit of Einstein in here when you bring about the relationship with time and with holiness. We live in a world of multiple dimensions and planes, and to a large degree, time is life. How we spend time defines life. Holiness is another dimension of our universe, perhaps guided by the First Cause principle without which there would be no time, no universe. God created time. Time is therefore holy. We have been given the gift of time to fulfill the Commandments and live a life to make this a better world, improving upon God’s creation. Order, in the form of a Seder, the Siddur, Shabbat, the Haggadah or reading and interpreting the Torah, exists for our benefit. They define a sequence of events, a sequence of time. It is up to us to use that holy time properly. Ritual, holidays, life cycle events take place in time and their repetitive nature reinforces that what we do with time is to reflect on our values and act to create a meaningful life. Time is not measured by clocks but, as you said, upon moments, upon deeds. Just as the universe has order, so must humankind, and that is the blueprint of which you speak, in my mind, created by the God that created the universe and the Commandments.. Holiness is one fundamental dimension in which we live, a plane of creation of God. Using your blueprint analogy, building a home, or building a life, requires at least the intersection of both holiness and time to create a dwelling, a career, a legacy, a better world. Holiness is sharing this life and house among a world of neighbors and strangers.
Thank you so much for this piece (Emor). I look forward to these every week, and I think it’s one of your best ever.