In his book The Sabbath, Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about the Sabbath as a sanctuary in time. Just as there are holy places in the world that we might regard as sanctuaries in space, the Sabbath is a holy day, and it creates a sanctuary in time.
The Torah intertwines the relationship between God’s Temple and the Sabbath. For example, before beginning to instruct the children of Israel about all the work of building the Tabernacle, Moses first reminds them of the commandment to rest from work on the Sabbath: “Six days work [on the Tabernacle] shall be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD” (Exodus 35:2). Before they can build God’s Sanctuary in space, they must enter his sanctuary in time.
A sanctuary consists of defined holy space. In the days of Moses, as soon as a person set foot within the Tabernacle he had entered into holy space. Levitical guards watched over the boundaries and guarded the gates of the Sanctuary to prevent people from inadvertently profaning the holy space. Like the Tabernacle, specific defined limits demarcate the holiness of the Sabbath. Specific borders mark off the beginning of the Sabbath and the ending of the Sabbath, setting it apart from the normal day. As the sky darkens on Friday night, the Sabbath has begun, and we have entered into holy time.
Those entering into the holy space of the Tabernacle did so expecting an encounter with God. They entered his courts seeking after his presence. In the same way, when we enter the Sabbath, we should enter with the expectation of encountering God on his holy day.
My new book, From Sabbath to Sabbath, describes how many of the rituals of the Sabbath allude to the ceremonies of the Temple. The lighting of the Sabbath candles can be compared to the kindling of the menorah. The double portion of fresh Sabbath bread can be compared to the bread of the Presence, which the priesthood ate on the Sabbath. The double portion also alludes to the continual burnt offerings, which were doubled on the Sabbath day. We salt the Sabbath bread in accordance with the command to salt the offerings in the Temple before offering them on the altar. The Sabbath table is likened to the altar within the Sanctuary; the kiddush cup of wine is like the cup of libations, which the priesthood poured out over the altar in the Temple.
The Sabbath operates in the same way that the Temple used to operate. Unlike the Temple, however, which existed in the physical realm, the Sabbath exists in time and cannot be destroyed. The Bible says that the Temple is the LORD’s earthly dwelling place, a reflection of his heavenly abode. The Sabbath functions in the same manner. As a day given over to the things of God, it becomes a day filled with the Dwelling Presence of God.