Why Shabbat Cannot Be Postponed
Rashi asks the question: Why does the Torah need to specify that the Sabbath offering should be brought on Shabbat? If it is called a Shabbat offering, then is it not implicit and obvious that it is supposed to be sacrificed on Shabbat?
Rashi answers simply that one might have thought that if he or she forgot to bring this offering on a particular Shabbat, they could still bring it on a subsequent Shabbat (i.e. two sacrifices the following week). To make sure that one will not make this mistake, the Torah uses this language to instruct us that we may only bring this sacrifice on its own Shabbat. Once the day has passed, that offering is no longer relevant and valid.
Although Jewish law does allow a person to make up for missed mitzvot in certain instances, this is usually only permissible in cases of duress. (See for example the case of Pesach Sheni, Bamidbar 9:6–13.)
In a few cases, a person can perform a mitzvah whose time has passed, but only at a bedi’avad (a posteriori) level, and not lechatechila (a priori).
While the expression “Jewish time” is well known, and suggests a more relaxed attitude towards punctuality, Judaism actually takes time very seriously. The Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel z”l explained that Judaism is the art of sanctifying time, and that this is of far greater importance than sanctifying physical space.
Indeed, the Torah first speaks about holiness in relation to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” (Bereishit 2:3.) So too, we know that commencing with Shabbat even a second too late, or ending it even a second too early, violates its sanctity.
The Shabbat protects man from himself. By nature, man keeps himself very busy trying to occupy time and space with his self-expressions. On Shabbat, he is asked to cease from this activity and reverse it. He must make space for the rest of creation and for God. As such, he must release the reigns he holds over space and time and let them proceed without his intervention. Because he is not allowed to “work” on Shabbat (which includes even transporting objects from a public domain to a private place and vice versa), a Jew learns how to distance himself from his physical space.
The same is true about time. It is not the Jew who decides when Shabbat begins or ends. God decides, via the orbits of the celestial bodies, the duration of this holy day. As such, man can no longer rule over time. As the Sabbath comes in, a Jew suddenly finds himself in a position to simply appreciate and experience “quality” time.
To set one’s schedule around fixed times — for prayers, for meals, for learning, etc. — does not only inject order into one’s life, but also meaning; and as such, one gains an opportunity to sanctify those moments. The chaos of a week without order, of days without set times, is yet another manifestation of the secularization of society and the profanation of the sacred.
Opening shopping centers on Shabbat in Israel or outside Israel on Sunday so as to accommodate the population may seem to advance more liberty, but it comes with high cost, the loss of the individual as an autonomous person who has become the victim of an attitude where “having” becomes more important than “being” and “becoming.”
The internationally renowned French professor of neuropsychiatry Henry Baruk (1897-1999), in a letter to David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, wrote:
[People] believe themselves obligated on the day of rest to exhaust themselves with their automobiles and are the slaves of annual vacations, often returning from them ill. Such vacations may represent for many a goal of the whole year, but medically and psychologically they are less beneficial than the weekly repose of the Sabbath. After all, short and regular, ryth-metic quietens, without disturbing wonted habits.
A long rest however may result in disturbing one’s accepted habits … according to our medical experience such situations are becoming more and more frequent. … A life of meditation, reading, thinking, following upon six days of action brings, on the contrary, not only admirable rest to the nervous system but also extraordinary psychological enrichment. We were able to prove this in our experiments. … In order to be effective the Sabbath must be a complete social institution. There cannot be a Jewish State without Sabbath observance. The Sabbath must regulate the whole nation, for it is the cornerstone of Jewish society and veritable of world society.
Thus the Torah emphatically tells us to bring the Sabbath sacrifice at its proper time. Matters of importance have to be done promptly and with alacrity. To procrastinate and postpone too often means to profane.
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy, as well as the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism.